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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon


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Once again I paid my annual visit to the most prestigious literary festival in Europe, if not in the world. On Wednesday 30th May Writers’ Week 2007 was officially opened by renowned writer Joseph O ‘Connor. The author of such masterpieces as Star Of The Sea and more recently Redemption Falls, as well as many humorous works, complimented the Kerry people on their organising skills, literary and artistic prowess, footballing ability and of course . . . their great humility.

He later gave an example of Kerry wit when he told about meeting a friend of his who was on his way to meet Carlo Gebler and Joseph was asked, “Will you follow me up to Carlo?” Prize-winners were announced (Roddy Doyle won the €10,000 Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award for Paula Spencer). Pauline Scanlon who spent three years with the Sharon Shannon Band provided music, to a packed house.

On Thursday a full schedule started with a recording of Sunday Miscellany in Saint John’s Theatre where local writer Cyril Kelly regaled us with the story of how he had been in that particular venue when it was a mortal sin (Saint John’s was a Protestant Church at the time).

Through the day readings by Joseph O’Connor, Colm Tobin, John McGrath (whose book of poetry Blue Sky Day was launched), Roger McGough, and others stimulated the literary minds of the visitor.

Food for thought was in plentiful supply at Amnesty Event with Fergal Keane, Gerard Stembridge and Zlata Filipovic. Next Door by Listowel man John Mcauliffe was launched and Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion read from his autobiography In The Blood; A Memoir of My Childhood.

Poets, essayists and others got a chance to perform their own work at the microphone at Poet’s Corner where the Master-of-ceremonies was the inimitable George Rowley.

On Friday self-taught painter Liam O’Neill had an exhibition of his paintings in Saint John’s Theatre. This was followed by a one-person show written and performed by Martha Furey. It tells the, sometimes, tragic story of Isadora Duncan the American dancer who introduced the art of modern dance.

Roger McGough, OBE , one of Britain’s best loved poets, made an appearance in the Listowel Arms at 1.30 and Alice Hogg and Aslison Weir Brought History to Life” in The Seanachai Centre at 4. O’clock. This was followed by an art exhibition (the work of Maria Simonds-Gooding) titled The Dingle Peninsul at 5. O’clock.

Friday evening saw the launch of Shadows On Our Doorstep, a collection of poetry by farmer/poet P.J.Kennedy from Belturbet, Co. Cavan. ( Have you ever noticed how farmers speak in a poetic manner in everyday conversation? Recently I heard a farmer commenting about a wet day in May, " That's coming in the right time. A day of that would do more good in a fortnight now than a eek of it would do in a month later on in the year"). It is no exaggeration to say that P.J. is a 21st century Kavanagh. Like the man from Enniskeen he can take the banal and make it universal.

The vet being called for a sick cow is portrayed in such a way that it grips the imagination of the most urban reader.

I phoned the vet:

“Mastitis in one quarter and travelling,

Mother’s milk reduced to whey.

Tell him to come quickly”.

“Is she in calf?”

“Yes and strong twins suckling her”.

Noel listened with his stethoscope,

He could hear she was very ill indeed.

I caught her dewless nose

With the Siberian tongs.

She moaned as if to say, “ Ah, go easy.””

P.J’s cow survived and his poems, in the words of Carlo Gebler, “ . . . give equal pleasure to readers who know the world the poet describes and to readers who know nothing of that world”. Shadows On Our Doorstep is available from

You’ll be hearing more of P.J.

Playwright Billy Roche brought his singing, acting and musical skills into play when he read from his short story collection Tales From Rainwater Pond.


On Saturday morning that Cork Legend Niall Toibin unveiled a statue to the late John B.Keane in the small square.

It is at the intersection of Church Street, where John B. was born, and William Street, where he died.

The annual Literary and Historical tour, starting at 2 O’clock, took in Gortaglanna, Knockanure, Moyvane and Lenamore. Gortaglanna was the scene of a brutal killing by the Black-and-Tans. (Octogenarian songwriter Dan Keane, has written a new version of The Valley of Knocknanure to commemorate the slaughter.) Moyvane was the birthplace of poet, philosopher and mystic, John Moriarty, whose funeral was on the day of the tour.

Bi-location would have come in handy because An Audience with Melvyn Bragg got under way in the Listowel arms at 2.30, followed by a reading by Liam Browne and Mia Gallagher at 4 O’ clock.

And it would have meant very tight scheduling if one tried to fit in a meeting with author Irvine Welsh at 5 O’clock. His first novel Trainspotting was described as, “ the fastest-selling and most shoplifted novel in British publishing history”.

I missed the lecture by Alain de Botton in Saint John’s Theatre at 6 30. and later Frank Pig says Hello because I was making preparations.

Wait ‘til I tell you.

I have told you before, about when I first became interested in storytelling. It was when my, visually impaired, mother was given a radio by the National Council For The Blind in 1959. Once a week, on The Rambling House, the Seanachai of all Seanachais, Eamon Kelly came into our humble kitchen.

Occasionally, in later years, people who didn’t know any better, would describe me as a storyteller. It must have gone to my head because this year I submitted a story to the International Storytelling Competition dedicated to the memory of the above-mentioned Eamon Kelly.

I got into the final, which was held at 9.30.

Now, no self respecting Seanachai (even one as amateur as yours truly) would be seen without the traditional garb of the Irish storyteller. It’s not the sort of clobber you can purchase in Saville Row or from sartorial purveyors on the high street.

Being a man of modest means, who was doing his small bit to keep the art of storytelling alive, I thought that some native drapery merchant would sponsor my outfit. I approached many but I am sorry to say that not one supplier on the Island of Saints and Scholars donated as much as a bootlace. (I even contacted the County Secretary of the GAA in Wicklow asking for a shirt in the county colours but I wasn’t even granted the courtesy of a refusal. I was ignored.) But, a number of offshore benefactors came to the rescue.

Because of the nature of my act a number of shirt changes was necessary, but not just any shirt. It had to be a Grandad shirt. Those garments were very kindly sponsored by;

Boden On-line shop (

Starlight; (

Ethnic Fashion;


Stars; (

And of course the waistcoat.

A collector of waistcoats who wants to be known only as “The Waistcoatman” ( donated a period waistcoat.

In the past no true Irishman would be seen bareheaded unless he was in bed or in the Church (some of them slept in both places). As the aforementioned Eamon Kelly used to say, “There was respect for the brain then”. The necessary Fedora was provided by Treasured Parts ( The top half of me was now period.

Men of my father’s era wore a two-and-a-half-inch wide leather belt with a rectangular brass buckle. In the Beano and the Dandy misbehaving juniors were punished with the slipper but in rural Ireland the male parent’s belt was the “correction tool” of choice. My father was a kind man and (apart from the occasional “larrup” on the backs of the legs for severe mischief) I escaped. So, as a tribute to Tim Lennon (no mean story teller himself) long gone to his reward, I decided I would wear an appropriate leather belt on stage. But where would I get one? Susan McKenzie, Director of The Inner Bailey, in Kentucky “gave me a belt”. She can be found at


I won a prize but didn’t come first.

On Sunday I missed a reading by Gisele Scanlon, “Allergic to Beckett”, a reading by Giles Foden and “A Treasury of Poets”.

Those omissions weren’t through laziness or apathy; I couldn’t miss the Dan Keane children’s poetry event in Finuge This is a poetry competition for children where the next generation of literati are judged by the critical eye and ear of Dan who was born in 1919. There had been children’s events all week but to my mind this was the highlight. It was an open competition but not surprisingly Kerry schools shone; particularly pupils from Drumcluck National School. There is a healthy crop of young poets in the Kingdom.

The Irish Network of Dramatic Arts, from West London, presented Big Maggie, by John B.Keane, in saint John’s Theatre on Sunday night.

On Monday morning as “the road to Abbeyfeale” brought me further from the culture capital, I hoped that the Great Creator would leave me here to repeat the experience in 2008.

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