Monday, July 1, 2024

Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

The Revived Listowel Writers’ Week and Grave Matters

Regular readers may remember my comments about the 2023 Listowel Writers’ Week which I made before I went to the festival. It turned out that my predictions were accurate. There was friction all around but thank God that had changed for this event which journalist Billy Keane described as “a revived Writers' Week.” And revived it certainly was. There was healing in the air and a return to the standards which had been maintained for more than half a century. No day had less than twelve events and there were twenty on Saturday.

On opening night prize for the Kerry Gold Irish Novel of the Year went to Daragh Kelly for his novel Remembrance Sunday. Paula Meehan won the Piggott Poetry Prize for Solace of Arthemis. President Michael D. Higgins was given the John B.Keane Lifetime Achievement Award, by John B’s son Coner, and his acceptance speech was really one for the books. Michael D., who is a president not afraid to put his toe over the line, spoke of how writers suffer for telling the truth and a lot of truth was told at this year’s Writers’ Week.

Photo from Irish Indepent.

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There were six two-day workshops given by authors who are the top of their game.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday started off with a different, excellent, walking tour each morning where experts on the history, architecture, characters and folklore of Listowel, gave commentaries and told stories.

Some brilliant literary works were launched. Tralee poet Noel King launched his fifth collection of poems. ”Suitable Music for a View,” published by SurVision Books. You could hear a pin drop when the poet read from his collection in Listowel Library. Poems had a deep and sometimes subtle meaning. The title poem, Suitable Music for a View, is one of the shortest in the collection; Crossing the river in ListowelMy Walkman sweeps Evita’s funeral; Sounds to match a view I don’t tire of-an odd little house by the river, A Hollywood set in Ireland, A scratch on the map.

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Ninety-two year old Father Tony Gaughan launched his umpteenth publication; he published his first book in 1969. This latest is Some Occasional Writings, a collection of 23 articles and reviews written from 2003 to 2024.

In the introduction Dermot Farrell sums it up, ”The illuminating volume will inform, and occasionally entertain its readers, while also showcasing Tony’s extraordinary ability to connect with a wide variety of topics” The heading of the first article is, “Priceless Heritage Sold for Two Hawks.” What would a reader expect after that? It tells the story of how the Earl of Desmond “sold” the Blasket Islands to the Ferriter family for an annual payment of two hawks. The link with the Ferriters ended in 1653 when the poet rebel Piaras Feirtear was hanged by the Cromwellians.

In four pages he gives a condensed history of Listowel Writers’ Week from the first one in 1971 to 2020. Elsewhere we a given an account of how Madame Gong Pusheng, the Chinese Ambassador, spent a day at Writers’ Week. She was staying at the Listowel Arms Hotel. Late in the night a prowler entered her room claiming that he was looking for a vacant room in which to spend the night. The ambassador was shaken and upset and departed at first light while the intruder got free lodgings at the Garda Station in Church Street.

If you to go “On the Road with the Kerry Junior Football Team," to get eye-witness accounts of the Easter Rising ofr learn “How the laity saved the Catholic realign during those long dark centuries . . .” , this is the book for you. You can contact the author at:

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James Anthony Kelly’s Novel This Great City was available along with several of his poetry collections. Details of all from the poet/author himself;

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There were open mic sessions to beat the band and with MCs like Sean Lyons and John McGrath we were assured of top class entertainment.

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Saint John’s Theatre, the greatest small theatre in the country, had a fantastic programme for the week.

I’ll mention just a few. Listowel Drama Group got a well-deserved standing ovation for John B. Keane’s masterpiece, Big Maggie.

Stories, Songs and Shenanigans, with Andrias de Staic, was a show to remember.

Katie, A two act play by the Sugan Theatre Company from Newcastle West was a moving experience. This play was written and directed by Theresa Prendeville a person who obviously has a lot of insight into human nature.

The Kings of Kilburn High Road was written more than twenty years ago, by Irish playwright Jimmy Murphy, but the first time I saw it was the St. Johns Drama Group’s production and they deserve an award for the set design alone. It was a top class performance.

Agnes of God, written by John Pielmeier, questions everything from belief and disbelief to sanctity, guilt, innocence and everything in between. It is about a Novice Nun accused of murdering her infant son and is supposed to be based on a true story. Each character is expertly brought to life by Saint Patrick’s Drama Group, from Westport.

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“The Healing Session” an annual event, a marathon open mic session in John B. Keane’s on the Sunday was, as usual, a great success, with poets, singers, songwriters and story tellers strutting their stuff for five hours.

A big thank you all concerned who revived Listowel Writers ‘Week for 2024.

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Grave Matters

“How poor this world would be without its graves, without the memories of its mighty dead.” (Robert Green Ingersoll.)

“Would you take my grave as quick” Often asked when the opportunist in me would surface and I’d grab a person’s seat if they vacated it for even a few seconds. If you are near my age and of rural Irish background you remember the awkward and not very witty chat-up line, “Would you like to be buried with my people?”

Graves are central to Irish culture. The word crops up time and again in the titles of books, songs and poems; From “The Graves at Kilmorna” to “Sharon’s Grave”. It’s there in comedy and tragedy. At the tail-end of Listowel Writers’ Week I learned of a publication titled Reusing Old Graves, an examination of, among other things, the reuse of graves by a different family.

Professor Douglas Davies was commissioned to carry out research resulting from concerns by managers of municipal cemeteries in the UK that local authorities were running out of land for burials. Ian Hussein delivered a paper Graves for the Future, to the Joint Conference of Burial and Cremation Authorities. As part of Professor Davies’s research the question, “What period of time should elapse before a grave could be used for new burials by a different family?” was put to 1,603 adults from Glasgow, Sunderland, Nottingham, and the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham.

Three percent were undecided and of the other 97% 35% said they shouldn’t ever be used. The other 62% gave periods ranging from 1 year to 200 years. The most popular being 100, 50, 20, 30, 75, 150 and 10, in that order.

I feel that the “not evers" would be more than 35% on this island. Our family burial ground is in Baltyboys. Whenever my mother or I would suggest any conversions in the home my father, who wasn’t a fan of change, would usually say, “Do what yez like when yez lave me in Baltyboys.” However, I don’t think his permission would extend to having his remains disturbed by strangers.

See you in August.

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