13 June 2011

Writers' Week in Ireland

Here's what I like about the Irish: they're in a full blown economic meltdown and they throw a writers' festival and then flock to it. A whole week to celebrate good writers, good books, good poetry. And this is just one of many across Ireland. I love it. I stumbled on this literary happening on the first day I arrived in County Clare. I was graciously picked up at the airport and on our way to the house, we passed through Listowel towards the end of Writers' Week.

This is the Country of such great writers as James Joyce, Thomas Moore, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, G.B. Shaw, W.B. Yeats, Bram Stoker and Samuel Beckett, just to name a few. Ireland boasts four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: Yeats, Shaw, Beckett and Heaney. During Writers' Week, the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award is given. There were five short- listed novels for this prize featured in the bookstore with readings and workshops by the authors.

As you can see from the sign, they also have a Seanchai Centre (pronounced shawnakee),  named after the traditional Irish lore keepers and tale spinners. It's an ancient form of story telling and passing on lore that was never written down from generation to generation by these custodians of Irish oral tradition. The seanchai were respected, even revered, practitioners who kept track of important information and wisdom then shared it in such a way that it was remembered and cherished down the ages.

I understand why the Irish came to love words and eventually writing those words to tell stories in whole new ways. I understand why welcome signs (fáilte in Irish) are flown for those who want to partake in this tradition. I understand why so many do; to feel this respect, this reverence, this love for the words that help us communicate with one another in ways that touch hearts and change minds. It's a worthy endeavor to improve such a craft. It deserves festivals galore no matter what the economic realities are. Economics will change, our efforts to reach each other remains.

The Kerry Literary and Cultural Centre is named after these fore bearers.

One of the sign posts pointed me to the statue of Bryan McMahon, a favorite son of this town, a writer and a poet who also ran a local bookshop. I picked up his book: The Master and read it while in Ireland. I highly recommend it for the glimpse it gives of Irish country life through the eyes of the school principal who taught the children of the town for 30 years. He instilled in them a love for reading and writing and helped inspire an amazing number of authors and poets in this Kerry area. His views on teaching and awakening the gifts in each child are remarkable given how long ago he taught. I found it to be a treasure.

It was a rare, sunny, warm day in Ireland and I strolled the river walk suggested above. People were stretched out reading, writing, chatting with one another. Made me proud to be part of this grand tradition. These are my people. Writers are my tribe.


  1. I have a bit of Irish blood in me, but mostly I am Welsh. We also love language. Perhaps it comes from our common Celtic roots. Thanks for sharing a bit of your visit with us.

  2. This sounds so interesting, Mary! If I visit Kerry again I would love to visit this center.

    I am half Irish on my father's side and whenever I visit Ireland I feel the pull of my roots! Two tmes I visited Dublin and enjoyed wonderful exhibitions about Irish writers in the National Library of Ireland. One was about one of my favorite authors: James Joyce. The next time it was devoted to Yeats. I felt so fortunate to have seen both!

  3. Wonderful! Just, wonderful....

  4. I remember years ago reading "Angela's Ashes" and really feeling the experience deeply. You are so lucky to be spending time in what must be a writer's paradise! :-)

  5. Sally, Yes, a love of language, of words connecting us to one another.
    Pat, I hope to explore Dublin next time around and see the Book of Kells. So many books, so little time…
    Lauren, It was. I was going to say "yes" but did you know the words "yes" and "no" are not in the Irish language?
    DJan, I read it and loved it; took place in Limerick and I was there this visit. It has changed remarkably. It's a university city with a large shopping mall!

  6. I'm trying to recall what I have read about the Celts, pushed back up out of Europe into Ireland...during the Dark Ages, they kept the written word alive... I think that's it.
    This post makes me think of my mother talking about "Grandmother Courtenay from County Clare."

  7. June, During the dark ages in Europe, the Irish continued to educate their young people, including women. Other countries sent their sons to Ireland during that time for university education. And the monks went to collect all the books they could from Europe as they were burning them, took them back, copied them and illustrated them. There's a great book about this called: "How the Irish Saved Civilization".
    As for your grandmother, if you have the last name, folks can tell you just where she came from. Imagine.

  8. I am SO inspired by you, Mary! I am off to download The Master right now. I would give my eye teeth to be able to visit Ireland. My mother's given name is Kerry and her people are from County Kerry. We have both always wanted to visit.
    "Economics will change, our efforts to reach each other remains." LOVE THAT!

  9. Can't think of anything that could beat 'Writers' Week' in Ireland. The only thing I can think of that might equal it would be 'The Mozart Open' in Prague ... :-)

  10. Krissa, You'll appreciate the book even more with your family connection. It's a beautiful area that has spawned an amazing number of writers and poets. Do go.
    TB, True enough!

  11. sometimes I just can't get a comment to appear on your site.......I'm here just can't comment.

    I know your enjoyed your day so very much!

  12. Nanny, I'm so sorry. Is it because of the word verification thing? Thanks for your perseverance.

  13. Yes, yes! That's the book that I was reading about, I believe! It IS good then, eh?

  14. Andrea, What's not to love when values and celebrations align?
    June, Informative and inspirational.


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