PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has been announced as the keynote speaker at this year's Éigse Michael Hartnett festival, which takes place in Newcastle West in April.
President Higgins will launch the three-day literary and arts festival in Newcastle West library on Thursday, April 26 and will also present the Michael Hartnett Annual Poetry Award 2012.
Belfast-born actor Stephen Rea will also be among the high profile guests this year, reading some of his favourite poems, including a selection from Michael Hartnett's work.
President Higgins' commitment to the literary and cultural festival has been described as a huge honour by those involved.
"Since the festival was established in 2000, we have welcomed many distinguished keynote speakers, but it is very special indeed to have the President both launch and speak at the opening ceremony," said Limerick County Arts Officer Joan Mackernan.
"As a published poet in his own right, Michael D has visited Newcastle West and Éigse Michael Hartnett on several occasions, so it is a source of great delight and satisfaction to us to be welcoming him back in his new role of President of Ireland. We are absolutely delighted and I think there will be huge interest in what the President will say. I have absolutely no doubt but that it will be stimulating, challenging, thoughtful and pertinent and that it will come from the heart."
Among the President's functions during the festival will be presenting the Michael Hartnett Annual Poetry Award 2012 — regarded as one of the most prestigious and valuable poetry prizes in the country. Established in the year following Michael Hartnett's untimely death, it carries a purse of €6,500, funded by Limerick County Arts Office and the Arts Council and is awarded, on alternate years, for work in English and in Irish.
This year, the award will be made for a third or later collection 'as Gaeilge' and the winner will be announced in advance of the festival and will give a short reading on opening night.
"This year's programme is very much a celebration of the creative breath," said Ms Mackernan, who described the programme as wide-ranging, with events that will enthuse, stimulate, inspire, occasionally bemuse, and also celebrate the literary legacy of Michael Hartnett, the poet and man.
Other highlights will include readings by British poet Fleur Adcock and John F Deane and the programme will feature drama, storytelling , dance and musical gettogethers as well as book launches and a chance to win the Hartnett Viva Voce competition. The Michael Hartnett Memorial Lecture will be given this year by Christy Kenneally.