Sunday 18 March 2018

Bringing the big names to where Molly said 'Yes'...

John Spain on this weekend's intimate new arts event

Roddy Doyle
Roddy Doyle
Anne Enright
John Banville
Richard Ford

If ever a place was designed by the gods for a literary festival, it has to be the fishing village of Howth at the end of the Dart line on Dublin's northside. Accessible, spectacularly beautiful, with cliff walks for quiet contemplation and restaurants for lively discussion, Howth has it all. Plus the castle, behind which Molly Bloom lay back near the rhododendrons and said Yes.

The wonder is it has taken so long. But that changes this weekend when the inaugural Howth Midsummer Literary Arts Festival takes place in the historic Lutyens Library in Howth Castle.

Five "in conversations" are the key events with Pulitzer Prize winners Richard Ford and Michael Cunningham and Booker Prize winners Roddy Doyle, Anne Enright and John Banville.

The Ford conversation opened the festival last night and was a sell-out. Anne Enright is on today from 12-1pm, Roddy Doyle from 2.30-3.30pm, John Banville from 5-6pm, and Michael Cunningham tomorrow from 5-6pm.

All these "in conversation" events are being held in the small Lutyens Library, with just 80 seats in the semi-round, making them unusually intimate encounters with the writers. A few tickets are still available.

Banville, a resident of Howth for some 40 years, is a strong supporter of the new festival.

"Given Howth's literary and cultural connections, I'm surprised no one before now has thought of holding a book festival here. It's especially fitting that readings and events will take place in Howth Castle, famous as it is for both Grace O'Malley and Molly Bloom", he says.

"There's also the fact that years ago the novelist Aidan Higgins and the painter Patrick Collins lodged in a flat in the castle. And then, of course, there's the Lutyens connection at the castle and on Lambay Island. I'm sure this festival will become a prominent item on Ireland's literary calendar."

Banville, who is often seen at weekends walking his dog on Claremont Beach, deep in thought, clearly loves the place. "It's an ideal site for a book festival," he says.

No festival in Howth would be complete without the pirate queen Grace O'Malley, Granuaile, who was refused entry to Howth Castle in the 16th century. She retaliated by kidnapping the Earl's grandson and only returned him when a promise was given that a place would always be set for her at dinner in the Castle, a promise still kept to the present day.

Two festival events will remember Granuaile. Mary O'Malley will read from her poetry - several of her poems are in the persona of Granuaile - and Anne Chambers, author of Grace O'Malley, Pirate Queen, will bring the woman behind the legend to light.

As well as the literary events, the festival will pay homage to the great British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, who had a special connection with Howth and Lambay Island.

Children's books events will be on in the local Burrow National School.

Full programme and bookings on

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