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A Literary Summer

July 25, 2014

Summer is flying by. The days dedicated to gardening, catching up with jobs around the house, visitors, and coffee in the The Tea Rooms & the Soda Parlour  have been bookended by two literary firsts for me. As I head off to the second one, it’s about time I mentioned the first!

Welcome to Listowel

Listowel Writers’ Festival is must for readers and writers alike. Now running for 43 years, it’s a festival embraced by the community which hosts it. In that respect it reminded me very much of the relationship the people of Wexford have with the Wexford Festival Opera. When I lived in Dublin it was difficult to get time off work and, as I didn’t drive then, Listowel seemed a far off place to get to. This year, I told myself, THIS year I’ll get there. No exams, no job… feck the no money. Just pull it out of the savings and go! And, if I was going, I was going to do a workshop.

Writers’ Week  ran from 28 May to 1 June this year. I signed up for a couple of events – as my budget allowed. The workshop was Travel Writing with Mary Russell – a woman I’ve long admired. Anyone interested in knowing about Syria (before it was torn apart) should read My Home is Your Home. And also check out The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt a book about women travellers that inspired a young artist friend of mine, Clodagh Kelly. Her painting of the same title hangs in my kitchen. For Mary, travelling from Dublin to Listowel sans voiture is not a problem. Bus and train and an unhurried attitude. That’s all it takes.

The workshop was fantastic. Weeks before, we had emailed work to the wonder-workers at the Festival Office. This Mary had already read and written comments on – it was handed out to us on the first day. That day too we had homework – 500 words if you don’t mind. Not having a laptop, mine had to be written and then written out ‘good’, as we used to say in school. It was fun managing that between readings, socialising, and an open mic in a pub!

The three days spent with Mary and in the company of fellow classmates flew by. The sun shone – most of us went for al fresco lunches together. Mary joined us. She ensured a class photo was taken, and made time to meet up with anyone who wanted to discuss their work. Such commitment to her class was truly appreciated. Everyone had time to speak or read in class, the information and tips that were given were really helpful, and we had to work hard while we were there. What more could you ask of a workshop?

Mary Russell: a damn fine writer; a true lady; a pleasure to meet.


Listowel is situated in lush north Country Kerry, surrounded by hills. The river Feale runs through it and behind the Listowel Arms Hotel where many of the readings took place.  Staying in a B&B in the centre of town was a great decision. There was free parking for the whole of the festival and many of the venues were either near or in the central Square. Lucky Listowel to have the Seanchaí Centre as well as  St John’ s Theatre (in a small renovated church). Pubs had music, readings and open mics. I took part in Poets’ Corner myself – with the support of a classmate and the locals.


Like Wexford, Listowel is a place to which people return year on year. This first-timer enjoyed watching the ebb and flow of conversations, laughter and greetings. For myself, it was a chance for a face to face meeting with a Facebook friend, writer and poet Mary O’ Donnell, as we flew in different directions to & from readings. I reconnected with a woman I’d met when I read at last year’s Strokestown Poetry Festival, and with its 2013 artistic director, poet Martin Dyar. And proving the phrase ” You can do nuthin’…”  I bumped into Ríona, the Societies’ Officer from my University!

After a morning’s workshop, with a limited budget and a choice of up to 20 events a day – what was a girl to do? I focussed mostly on poetry: The Gallery Press Tour with readings by Vona Groarke, Gerald Dawe and Peter Fallon;  Sinéad Morrissey interviewed by the wonderful Anne Enright; and the fiction writer and poet writer Tishani Doshi – who was new to me. Doshi’s collection Everything Begins Elsewhere is worth seeking out.

Saturday was a fiction double-bill.  Writer Louise Doughty was paired with Canadian writer Mary Lawson: a refreshingly down-to-earth interview. Lawson’s self-deprecation had a witty edge as she described how the writing process works (or doesn’t work!) for her. In the evening, it was standing room only for Philip King and Joseph O’Connor. Anyone who has read O’Connor’s early journalism or listened to his radio diaries will be familiar with the humour that the writer delivers – he had the Listowel audience in stitches with his readings from The Thrill of it All.

Those of you travelling to Ireland should consider making Writers’ Week a part of your holiday. The Festival offers a huge choice of events, workshops and – for the writers out there – competitions. It is run like clockwork with enthusiasm, humour and pride.  There’s time for sitting in the cafés, walking by the Feale, or haring off to Ballybunion for a swim.  And, of course, time for browsing in the local bookshops. My birthday present to myself: a signed limited edition of George Moore’s Héloise and Abelard, found in Woulfes Bookshop.

Oh, the hidden cost of festivals – book buying!


The problem with Ireland now is that you could spend your whole summer going from one literary festival to another – if you had the dosh. I’ve been drooling over the programme for Kilkenny Arts Festival. But my summer will be bookended by a trip to the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo. I head off on Sunday and I’ll blog about it soon. I’ve noticed that Enniskillen is hosting, at the same time, the Happy Days Festival – dedicated to dear Samuel Beckett.

I feel a drive over the Border coming on….

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One Comment
  1. currankentucky permalink

    Great post, super jealous of the fun!

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