Monday 21 October 2019

Literature fans gather for summer festivals

Take a break from reading and listen to your favourite authors discuss their work. There's something for everyone, writes Deirdre Conroy

Liz Nugent. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Liz Nugent. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

Get your pen and diary out. Not your iPhone calendar. If you don't write down this stuff on a page, where you can fiddle around and cancel less unique experiences, you are going to miss out on phenomenal fun this summer.

Book tickets with your lover, your mother, your gang and take off and immerse yourself in drama, drinkies and who knows what else. In our country of literary extremities, writers are coming from far and near to share their mind sets with us.

I've heard it said many times, "we all have a book in us" but how to write it? Getting started is where Borris (not Johnson!) comes into its own. Some festival dates overlap, many include the same writers, for example if you miss out on Michael Ondaatje in Dublin this month, you can meet up again at Dalkey next month.

The International Literature Festival Dublin comes of age this year and celebrates 21 years of gathering the world's finest writers to debate, provoke and delight. The nine-day celebration from May 19-27 combines over 100 events in 36 city locations, with workshops, literary trails, advice from industry insiders, a spotlight on New Zealand writers and a bigger than ever Tall Tales programme for families and young readers.

This Wednesday there's a pre-festival event, with globally acclaimed writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Ruby Wax talks about her new book How to Be Human: The Manual; and you can hear a great storyteller, Neil Gaiman, all at the IFI.

At Liberty Hall there's a post-festival event on June 16 with the renowned poet, novelist, editor and filmmaker Michael Ondaatje.

There will be war journalists, crime writers, poets and literary luminaries, including Orla Guerin, Caelainn Hogan and Samanth Subramanian, Liz Nugent, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Colette Bryce and Kayo Chingonyi, Alicia Kopf, Sara Baume, and Maggie O'Farrell to name but a few (

In the south-west, the 47th annual Listowel Writers' Week is on from May 30-June 3. The market town hosts a famous literary fiesta with global writers and journalists, plus a rich schedule of music, theatre, comedy and entertainment for all ages. Award-winning novelists will include Edna O'Brien, Colm Toibin, Margaret Drabble, Anthony Horowitz, Alex Preston, Eimear McBride, Ruth Fitzmaurice, Carlo Gebler, Jon McGregor, Louise O'Neill, Julie Parsons, Alex Barclay, Lidia Yuknavitch, Sally Rooney, Mary Morrissy, Rachael English, Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen.

As the Ennis Book Club Festival had to cancel this year due to Storm Emma, Listowel is hosting one of its events featuring Sally Rooney and Mary Morrissy on May 31. Evening theatre includes The Good Father, Unforgotten, After Sarah Miles and Ragman (

Back to the east, and the Borris House Festival of Writing & Ideas is in its seventh year, with over 60 speakers participating in 50 events from June 8-10.

The main event at Borris House, Co Carlow, seat of the High Kings of Leinster and home to the same family for more than 800 years, flows out into the picturesque Georgian village where every pub and restaurant hosts scheduled performances and impromptu gatherings.

The first evening has the highly elusive Donna Tartt on stage. Her first novel, The Secret History, which took over a decade to perfect, is one of my all-time favourites. Described by a previous participant, Ian McEwan, as "one of the most stimulating literary festivals in the world..." this year has a stellar line-up, including Margaret Atwood, Rachel Kushner, Alan Hollinghurst, Patrick McGrath, Kit de Waal, Elizabeth Strout, Philip Hensher and Hanan Al-Shaykh.

Music features too. There will be discussion with John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) about his opera project Ghost Sonata, Guy Pratt (guitarist with David Gilmour, Madonna, Roxy Music), Viv Albertine (The Slits) and a candlelight performance by Iarla O Lionaird and fiddler Caoimhin O Raghallaigh of The Gloaming and guitarist Steve Cooney (

South of Borris, in Co Waterford, the 16th annual Lismore Immrama Festival of Travel Writing is on from June 13-17 and held at various venues in the charming town, where you may access the gardens of Lismore Castle, Irish home of the Duke of Devonshire. The weekend includes some world-renowned writers and explorers, including Michael Smith, Jacki Hill-Murphy, Rosemary Mahoney and foreign correspondent Isambard Wilkinson (

Back to Ireland's Atlantic coast, the West Cork Literary Festival takes place from July 13-20 in Bantry. The line up of guests includes West Cork native Louise O'Neill, Bernard MacLaverty, Margaret Drabble, Joseph O'Neill, Ruth Padel, Imogen Hermes Gowar, Nick Laird discussing his latest book Modern Gods, his wife celebrated novelist Zadie Smith, Catriona Perry, Inua Ellams and many more (

There is a marriage foundation to a couple of Irish festivals. This year’s debut of Amergin Poetry Festival in Waterville is sponsored by Jane Clare in memory of her late husband, Professor Anthony Clare, while the Dalkey Book Festival was set up by Sian Smyth and her husband, David McWilliams, as a response to the closure of local businesses and bookshops during the economic recession.

“It was dreamt up round the kitchen table in 2010,” Sian recalls, “now we welcome 15,000 people over these four midsummer days. Curating the festival is a joy and it’s a thrill to see favourite writers milling about Dalkey and bumping into their fans.”

Taking place from June 14-17, the seaside village highlights include war correspondent Robert Fisk on Syria, Harvard professor and psychologist Steven Pinker on the case for science, humanism and progress, John Banville and Roddy Doyle together about Writing Dublin, as well as author and musician Willie Vlautin, poet Paul Muldoon, author of The English Patient Michael Ondaatje and New York Times bestseller Sebastian Junger on life in Trump’s America.

Sian adds: “I am especially excited to have an outstanding group of female writers: Deborah Levy, Kit de Waal, Lionel Shriver, Olivia Laing, Caoilinn Hughes, Anne Enright and Tishani Doshi all in one place.” For some comedic fun, Ross O’Carroll Kelly comes home and Oliver Callan Kicks Dalkey. As the cultural carnival coincides with the celebration of our literary genius, James Joyce, on Bloomsday, June 16, there will be a lot of outdoor wining and dining in Dalkey too.

The following weekend (June 20-23) in Kerry’s lovely Waterville there is an entirely new literary event, the Amergin Solstice Poetry Gathering. Legend has it that Irish poetry first came ashore here. According to the Leabhar Gabhala (Book of Invasions) the Milesians landed in Iveragh and as Amergin put his right foot on the ground, he recited his poem to claim the country for his Goidelic (Gaelic) people. As the Milesians travelled from Galicia, events will include celebrated poet and novelist Manual Rivas and Carlos Nunez, the great Galician piper and composer. Among the Irish bards taking part are Paula Meehan, Harry Clifton, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill and Michael Longley, who will bring their own poems in honour of Amergin. The initiative of Jane Clare, triggered by the completion of her Masters in Poetry at DCU, Amergin is in memory of her late husband Anthony Clare, the celebrated clinical psychiatrist. Mental wellbeing and creativity is an integral part of the festival, and there will be at least five poetry workshops, in Irish and English, and a painting workshop.

The festival will be opened by Olivia O’Leary and will have events with Marie Heaney, Theo Dorgan, and Professor Brendan Kelly who is currently working on a biography of Clare.

As Jane reflects: “Iveragh was our spiritual and emotional home, I can’t think of anything better to remember Tony; he would not have wanted a bronze plaque or a statue, but a poetry and wellness festival, yes that would delight him.”;


In every corner of the country it seems there is bookish merrymaking. Here’s a selection of what is on offer.   On Trinity’s elegant campus, DU Players is running its Summer Festival (May 30-June 2), with the theme Rúin - Secrets and Hidden Stories.

It will stage Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman and Eden by Eugene O’Brien, as well as international drama practitioners, workshops and ancillary theatrical events on the menu; @duplayers.

Across the bay in Howth (June 8-10), book lovers can listen to a first class array of writers, including Claire Keegan, Paula Meehan, Julie Parsons, Michele Forbes and                    Hilary Fannin;

Kells Hinterland, formerly the Hay Festival, (June 21-24) promises talks with former Chief Justice Susan Denham and literary agent Jonathan Williams;

The Yeats International Summer School in Sligo (July 19-27) is in its 59th year. Directors Professor Matthew Campbell and Dr Lauren Arrington have chosen The Greening of Yeats as their theme. Expect the usual roll call of international scholars and indigenous writers, among them Mike McCormack and Leontia Flynn;

Another venerable culture fest, the MacGill Festival in Glenties, Donegal (July 22-27) is 38 years on the go; this year’s offering will focus on the Future of Ireland in a New Europe;

Others to watch out for are UCD’s Summer Festival which will feature a literary component (June 9); The Dublin Writers’ Conference (June 22-24) on the business of a writing life;

The John Hewitt Summer School Armagh (July 23-28); And a celebration of books in Graiguenamanagh (August 24-26);

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