Thursday, June 1, 2023

Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

Dolly Day, and An Expensive Loo, and A New Look at Writers’ Week

By the time you read this I Hope to be ensconced in the Culture capital of Ireland.

Listowel Writers’ Week, Ireland’s oldest literary and arts festival, is a welcoming place where writers, artists and poets gather in the beautiful heritage town Listowel, County Kerry. They promote the writing of all genres and create an environment in which literature can be appreciated by the widest possible audience – where writers and readers gather to celebrate the written word together. At the heart of this annual celebration is a commitment to developing and promoting writing talent where we showcase works through literary panel discussions, moderated talks, poetry readings, interviews, cultural tours, walks and more.

Founded in 1970, with the first festival taking place in 1971, the dream of Listowel Writers’ Week was a simple but daring one; to transform a beautiful Kerry heritage town into a literary universe, and make it a literary haven where writers and book-lovers from all corners of the globe could gravitate to, for a celebration of literature, cultural experiences and inspiration. Listowel Writers’ Week was founded to foster new and exciting talent and to give aspiring writers wings. Each year, this dream of the original founding members, writers, artists and prescient personalities like John B Keane, Bryan MacMahon & Brendan Kennelly is realised through r programme of events, workshops and competitions.

This year is different. Efforts to resolve a row, which started in 2022 and is still overshadowing Listowel Writers’ Week have failed and the voluntary committee is disengaging completely from this year’s festival, they confirmed. It is the veteran committee’s first statement in the row which erupted at Ireland’s oldest literary festival in September when the long-serving volunteers were dismissed on foot of a consultant’s report recommending restructuring, including the appointment of a professional curator. The committee had been ‘unceremoniously’ disbanded without explanation, they have now said. They would have supported the appointment of a professional curator — but with whom they could share their long knowledge and experience. However, the board, under its chairpwrson Catherine Moylan, had not ‘actively’ engaged with them, they claimed.

This bitter row with the board of the 52-year-old Writers Week has already seen the resignation, in November 2022, of long-standing President Colm Tóibín. World renowned author Mr Tóibín said Writers week depended on a literary community in Listowel. "who read deeply and widely" and this meant that the festival had "genuine roots in the town".

A professional curator, Stephen Connolly, was appointed in December and in early March, the festival put out an appeal for volunteers to help sell tickets and distribute information. However, the comments section on the social media site was shut down after an angry backlash lamenting the treatment of the committee and its volunteers. A move by a third party in recent weeks to secure input from the veteran volunteers of the committee into this year’s festival have failed.

    The 18 names on the signed statement include Joanna O’Flynn, a tireless worker, lovely person and the daughter of founder member John B Keane, was one of those fired by the board last year.
    The committee claimed to have sought since September to meaningfully engage with the board on the implementation of the report "but to no avail".
    They had engaged with the consultant, Dermot McLaughlin during the consultation process but their concerns were not reflected, they also said.
    This is the result; "It is with regret that we have to disengage from Listowel Writers’ Week under the current board of directors, resulting in no involvement by the community-based committee in Listowel Writers’ Week for 2023. While this is a heartbreaking decision for us, we wish the very best in 2023 for the festival we have nurtured over the decades," .
    Meanwhile, former arts minister Jimmy Deenihan has rejoined the board of Writers' Week.
    A previous statement from the board of Writers’ Week said the curator would steer key events to “strengthen the quality of our artistic programming, to broaden and deepen the reach of our festival, and to make sure that our programming reflects the rich diversity and challenging complexity of the world we live in.” Chairwoman Catherine Moylan said governance, artistic policy, and programming had become “a matter of concern” requiring attention. "Dealing with these has created discomfort for some people, and that is not unusual. Our position is that we are fully committed to good governance to protect the festival’s interests, to safeguard the public, private, and other funding that we receive annually, and to ensure that staff and volunteers work in a safe environment,” she said.
    SOME of the nation’s leading writers – including Roddy Doyle and Edna O’Brien – called on Listowel Writers’ Week to reinstate the festival’s committee . In a letter to The Irish Times novelist and actor Gabriel Byrne, warned of ‘irreparable damage’ should the Board of the festival fail to reinstate a committee the writers describe as a ‘foundational stone’ of the famous Kerry literary fleadh.

Every year I could look forward to seeing six plays in Saint John’s Theatre. Not this year. Artistic Director, Máire Logue has confirmed that , “Listowel Writers Week are not using the venue for their events this year.” I’m hoping for the best with the changes this year.

* * * * *

Expensive loo gone.

Monday May 22 2023, Market Street and the most expensive loo ever is gone, never to be forgotten. This is how our public convenience used to look. It was costing us nigh on €40,000 a year and bringing in around €1,000. It gave spending a penny a bad name.

A public toilet in Listowel was ever and always a contentious issue and the present plan to locate it temporarily at the old Neodata site is not meeting with universal approval either.

Expensive Loo

* * * * *

A Fact that I picked up in Listowel.

The English language syllable “ough” can be pronounced in eight different ways. The following sentence includes all eight, “A tough dough-faced ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough, coughing and hiccoughing thoughtfully.”

* * * * *

Dolly Day in Listowel is on June 24 2023 and it promises to be a good one. The lady herself has been invited to attend and she is checking her calendar.

There are a few instructions laid down by the Guinness Book of Records people about how you should be dressed. Nothing major. So, if you are in Ireland at the time there is no reason why you shouldn’t be a Dolly. And don’t say that I didn’t tell you where you can purchase your wigs etc

You can contact Liz Horgan at And if you fear falling and injuring your face Emily at will fix you up with a Dolly Bust.

Dolly Chairperson , Cora O’ Brien told me,”In an extraordinary gesture of generosity Dolly Parton is supporting the Listowel world record attempt for the most people dressed as Dolly. She has donated two nights’ accommodation with 5 star treatment , costing $10,000 in her personal tour bus. Eugene Naughton, the manager of Dollywood, who has relatives near Listowel heard of the world record attempt in aid of two cancer charities, The Kerry Hospice and Comfort for Chemo Kerry. He rowed in behind the record attempt and is traveling to Listowel on June 24th to represent Dolly. Eugene will speak at the event” Cora O’ Brien, says “the people of Kerry will be eternally grateful to Eugene for his commitment to helping those with cancer.”

Dolly Day in Listowel

Dollyday is organised by a local committee of volunteers.

See you in July, Dolly's

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