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Limerick Literary Festival – how it challenged my preconceptions

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My thanks to Darren O’Dea, a young Limerick-born student of creative writing at UL, for this guest blog. Darren attended this year’s Limerick Literary Festival in honour of Kate O’Brien and here he describes an event that proved to challenge preconceptions.

A common misconception of the people of Limerick myself included was that this festival is elitist and unattractive to our younger population.

This could not be further from the truth. I was lucky to get a weekend pass and, let me tell you, I squeezed it dry. Whilst the festival hasn’t yet attracted a younger audience I think there is huge potential in this regard.

The people I met there were kind, friendly and up for a laugh. We all shared the common interest of wanting to learn something new and to discuss all things bookish.

The Festival honours Limerick’s Kate O’Brien for her courageous, witty and raunchy (for their time) stories that have paved the way not only for Irish women writers, but writers in general around the world.

Limerick-Literary-Festival-Opening-0002Olivia O’Leary officially launched the weekend in the Limerick City Gallery of Art, the set location for the festival, and no better place.

I never realised that the current home of the LCGA used to be the city library. In fact, my aunt was perusing the bookstands (set up by O’Mahony’s and Arlen House Publishing) when she was reminded me that this was the location, amidst the white walls and stunning artwork, where she once used to line library books with plastic jackets when she worked as a library assistant.

O’Leary gave some excellent anecdotal tales of Kate O’Brien which set the tone for the weekend. These tales were intermingled with stories of her own upbringing. She was engaging, informative and gave us a great insight into the many commendable women that have helped shape our society.

As we know from Kate’s novel As Music and Splendour, she held a great affinity to music of all kinds.

Smith Fans pay Homage at University of Limerick Seminar Dr. Eoin Devereux, Head of the Sociology Department at the University of Limerick. Picture:Liam Burke/Press 22 It's almost ten years since Morrissey played a sell-out show at the University of Limerick concert hall and today it was the turn of his many fans who attended a packed seminar examining the cultural significance of the music of Morrissey and The Smiths.  Fans from all walks of life came together to hear Dr. Eoin Devereux, Head of the Sociology Department at the University of Limerick, outline how The Smiths were strongly influenced by their Immigrant Irish and Catholic backgrounds. Dr. Devereux, who convened the seminar, detailed how Morrissey's many fans relate to their icon in an intense fashion, stating that "Morrissey's fans invariably speak of the many ways in which the music of The Smiths and Morrissey has redemptive qualities. Fans speak about their close emotional relationships with the music and often express this in religious terms.  Morrissey's appeal rests in his canny ability to be able to combine the authentic and the ambiguous all at once. He manages to appeal to a very diverse range of fans many of whom see themselves as outsiders just like their hero." Jointly organised by the Department of Sociology and the Irish World Academy for Music and Dance, the seminar attracted interest from all over Ireland, the UK and as far away as Estonia. -Ends- For Further Information: Sheena Doyle Press Officer, University of Limerick 061 202219 / 086 3807859

On Thursday night, the eccentric and cosy Chez le Fab Wine Bar in Arthur’s Quay Park played host to an event in honour of O’Brien’s love for music. UL professor and author, Eoin Devereaux, blended literature and music to show how the talents of Morrissey and The Smiths can be traced back to Oscar Wilde’s vivacious, flamboyant character and repertoire.

To further honour Kate’s love for music, the Festival annually offers a platform to up and coming musical talent. Past performers have included Claudia Boyle and the illustrious Sarah Dolan.

This year we heard from the bass-baritone Kevin Neville.

I can’t claim to boast a classically trained ear but it didn’t take a musical virtuoso to recognise that Kevin’s performance was filled with an eclectic range of emotions that followed an arch, sure of itself, and always within Kevin’s control.

Saturday was the marathon day holding six events back-to-back and I can truly say the knowledge and points of view I was exposed to is immeasurable.

Both Doireann Ni Ghriofa and Mary Lawson gave heartwarming and honest accounts of their lives as writers.

Doireann put all of our struggling writer’s fears to ease with inspiring tales of the hustle and bustle of everyday life as a mother, a woman and how to find time to write.

Mary Lawson captivated the audience with her warm and confident delivery of the effort it takes to be published, the importance of family and who you should trust to read your work.

Mike McCormack read from his transcendent new award-winning novel Solar Bones and aptly signed my copy with his motto ‘Patience and Stickability’ – wise words for any aspiring writer.

Richard Blanco
Richard Blanco

My highlights of the weekend were Richard Blanco’s moving presentation of his work, The Desert Island 5 Books event and Donal Ryan in conversation with Cecelia Ahern.

Every event captivated me and gave me a deep insight into a wide range of ideas: these speakers had come prepared and were willing to take us on their journey of discovery.

Richard Blanco told of a journey which led to his becoming the 5th inaugural poet at Barack Obama’s second inauguration. He read One Today, the poem he wrote for the occasion, as well as giving us heart-warming tales from his childhood. A self-proclaimed Limerick man, he finished by reading his poem dedicated to and inspired by our ever-changing city.

Everyone loves a good dish on a life-changing book and the brilliantly eloquent broadcaster Liz Nolan and ever-amusing musician Bill Whelan gave us just that on Sunday.

Their task?  Pick five of their favourite books (a daunting task by anyone’s standards).

Powerful extracts were read and their camaraderie and passion put the audience at ease and made for a thoroughly entertaining hour.

Cecilia Ahern and Donal Ryan on stage
Cecilia Ahern and Donal Ryan on stage

The final event of the weekend was the conversation between Donal Ryan and the national treasure that is Cecelia Ahern. Their conversation brought to light the humility behind writing.

Cecelia, with a whopping 25 million books sold worldwide, was graceful and honest, showing her enjoyment of all genres, including literary texts, but what motivates her most is a really good story.

I think this is a remarkable point we should remember; if you evoke a response in someone, anyone, you’ve done your job. We are storytellers at the end of the day, snobbery doesn’t come into it.

I remember when PS. I Love You came out and you couldn’t turn sideways without seeing it everywhere. She wrote that at 21. She could have sat on her laurels, but no, she wrote a book, sometimes two, every year since. The talk showed a superb example of a successful author, who writes for a living. Fantastic.

Though I enjoyed every event I attended, there’s definitely scope for this festival to branch out. The weekend lacked an extension into evening like the Thursday night. I would love to see them collaborate with Stanzas Poetry readings or perhaps the International Society in UL for an open mic night.

A host of people attend these events and just think how many more would attend with the prospect of a cosy pub setting listening to new Irish writing over a Guinness or a hot whiskey – the ultimate Irish experience.

Indulging in a little light reading at the launch of the 2016 Limerick Literary Festival in honour of Kate O’Brien were, Oscar, 6 and Mannix, 4 Buckley. Picture: Alan Place/Fusiosnhooters
Indulging in a little light reading at the launch of the 2016 Limerick Literary Festival in honour of Kate O’Brien were, Oscar, 6 and Mannix, 4 Buckley. Picture: Alan Place/Fusiosnhooters

There’s opportunity to tap into the tourist industry to further celebrate our city on a global scale. Why not sure? We all know that Kate had a great hankering for travel herself!

I was happily surprised to find that these events were nothing like I expected them to be. They were passionate, successful people sharing their own experiences getting by in this world to an equally passionate and friendly audience.

What I love about literary events is that when you go, you see that people you hold in such high esteem, are really just like you and me. The barrier you set up yourself, without even knowing it, comes crashing down and everybody and anybody can be inspired.

I for one have found an annual weekend to pencil into my calendar.


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