If the success of the Wild Atlantic Words literary festival in Castlebar proved one thing, it is that the written word is alive and thriving across the country. In spite of reports of falling interest in books and the reliance of a new generation on electronic media, the large crowds which attended every event on the programme points to an entirely different conclusion.
Even more encouraging is the huge interest among young people in literature and writing, and Wild Atlantic Words was well justified in devoting so many high profile events to childrens’ and young people’s writing.
Perhaps it is the success of young Mayo writers like Elizabeth Reapy, Mike McCormack and Eimear McBride which has sparked off such a renewed interest in writing, strikingly reflected in ‘Letters to my Hero’, where transition year students read from their own works as part of an innovative festival project.
Both Shane Hegarty and Anthony Broderick attracted large and lively childrens’ audiences to their sessions, while Sally Rooney’s panel discussion with John Patrick McHugh, Nicole Flattery and Thomas Morris – emerging new writers – was a highlight.
Interestingly, many of the book launches and subsequent discussions over the Wild Atlantic Words festival centred on particular genres of writing, each with its own specific following. Paul Byrnes’ book, ‘At the End of the Day’, attracted a huge sporting audience to Bridge Street Bar for a launch embellished by the author himself, hurling stars Michael Duignan and Eoin Kelly, and a warmly received interview between Martin Carney and our own GAA star, Andy Moran.
Aran and Colleen McMahon hosted their namesake, JP McMahon, to a sold-out foodie night at Rua, and the excellent singer songwriter, Padraic Jack, delivered a highly entertaining talk about his work at Gnó Maigh Eo.
Enda Kenny was on hand for the launch of ‘Years of Transition: Mayo County Council’, the second tranche of the hundred- year history of Mayo County Council at Aras an Contae, while Alice Kinsella’s poetry writing workshop at the Linenhall endorsed the renewed interest in poetry and poetry writing. Saturday’s night’s informal ‘A Poem and a Pint’ was a further confirmation of how far we have come since a youthful Paul Durcan admitted, hesitatingly, that he dabbled in poetry.
There is always an audience for a well turned phrase or an engaging piece of writing, and the mischievious Billy Keane, partnered by the award-winning Donal Ryan, had the ‘house full’ sign up at the County Library. Hosted in her own inimitable style by Marie Louise O’Donnell, this was another event from which nobody wanted to go home, and which continued with gusto in Tolsters’ Bar around the corner.
Bridge Street Bar – rapidly becoming the cultural centre of the town – hosted a reading by Cormac O’Malley of the works of his father, Ernie O’Malley. There is nothing to quite match living history, and Cormac’s first hand accounts of life with his famous father – freedom fighter, writer, artist, art critic, historian, photographer, folklorist - was fascinating. And the fact that the great man had once dismissed his hometown as ‘a shoneen town’ only added to the spice of the occasion.
The festival came to an end at Bridge Street with ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’, featuring a panel of hometown writers which struck a perfect balance between nostalgia, humour, banter and gravitas.