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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

Listowel Once Again

It’s that time of year again and I’m in the culture capital of Ireland, Listowel. And as Listowel Writers’ Week Chairman, Sean Lyons, says, “Forty Second Street in Manhattan is the home of New York’s theatre district and for the coming days, the forty second Writers’ Week is the home of Ireland’s literary heartbeat.”

On Wednesday 29th May the 42nd Listowel writers’ Week was opened by author and Broadcaster, John Bowman.

Mr Bowman has broadcast on the National airwaves since 1960. His latest book window and Mirror: RTE Television, 1961-2011 is a comprehensive history of the National Broadcaster.

Music was provided by, five times Oireachthas na Gaeilge winner Noel O Grady (pic above.) Author Jane Urquhart described his singing as Superb, musically and emotionally.” Which is not surprising since he has graced venues such as Vicar St, the National Concert Hall, Berlin, Sarajevo and Russia? His debut album, The Enchanted Way has received universal acclaim.

In September 2010, Noel represented James Joyce and Ireland in Russia in a celebratory week of international events marking the centennial of the death of Leo Tolstoy.

The high point of the evening was the announcement of the winner of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year award worth €5,000. This year’s winner is Gavin Corbett for his novel This is the Way.

The John B. Keane Lifetime Achievement Award went to John Montague (pic below) who finished his acceptance speech with, "Long live the book and long live Listowel Writers' Week."

It was a late night in the Listowel Arms but yours truly made it to the Morning Walk on Thursday Morning. This was an evocative stroll through Listowel in the footsteps of two literary giants John B. Keane and Bryan McMahon. With local historian Vincent Carmody as guide there was no shortage of song, story and north Kerry folklore.

Anybody who was ever in Galway or who has watched TV on Christmas Day will be familiar with the film The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O Hara. Not everyone will know that it was based on a short story of the same name written by Kerryman Maurice Walsh. It was published in the Saturday Evening Post on 11th February 1933 and the rest, as they say, is history.

And now Irish-American writer Frank Mahon has adapted it for stage and that’s what I forfeited lunch to see in Saint John’s Theatre and it was well worth it. I missed Colm Toibin’s reading in the Listowel Arms but I couldn’t be everywhere.

However I did make the lunch of Honor Donohoe’s and Maeve Devoy’s books Babylon and The Tell Tale Collection. The former is a moving story of an adopted girl’s search for her roots and the latter has been described as “ . . . a rich tapestry of Irish life woven from the fabric of the decades as seen through the eyes of subjects born in the 1920s right up to the turn of the century.”

Dubliner, Colum McCann appeared in the Listowel arms at five o Clock, a quick look into Amy Sheehy’s Art Exhibition in the Seanchai Literary & Cultural Centre and it was time to go back to the “arms” for Across the Waves, the experience of migration in contemporary Irish writing. A great experience but I had to leave prematurely to attend I Do Not Like Thee Dr. Fell, a play by our greatest living playwright.

Later in the evening Poets Corner an open mic session went on until . . .I’m not telling you!

Friday; The day (or my day anyway) started with Walk in the Shadow of the Famine, a walk around the famine trail of Listowel where we learned where thousands of victims were buried in mass-graves. The two wonderful tour guides were John Pierce and Michael Gueran. I learned of a website which gives a lot of information and some lesser known facts about the great potato failure.

It is the brainchild of author and Donegal man John Cassidy. Further details from:

Diverse Voices is a Tralee group of writers whose work is a must. They were in the Listowel Arms from twelve o clock. Flann’s Your Only Man, a one man show by Val O Donnell, based on the works of Flann O Brien was a howl. Book Launches by Peggie Gallagher and Gabriel Fitzmaurice, in the Plaza Centre and Dermot Bolger in Saint John’s proved to be a very entertaining evening.

Mapping the Irish Famine was a revelation. Riveting discussions with Thomas Keneally, John Crowley, William J. Smyth and Mike Murphy was a wonderful education.

There are more than 100 events at the festival and by the time you read this I’ll have fitted in a fair few.

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