CULTURE Rolling Sun sets on big crowds


Professor Diarmaid Ferriter
Professor Diarmaid Ferriter at The Plaza Hotel, Westport, during his powerful lecture  on the impact of emigration.

Rolling Sun sets on big crowds

Áine Ryan

ELEMENTAL energy, cultural craic and shenanigans were all part of the exotic menu of the fourth annual Rolling Sun Book Festival in Westport over the weekend. From Saba to the Clew Bay Critters and Acappella songsters Coda, Friday’s launch in The Clew Bay Hotel propelled all participants into a characteristic festive mood for the town’s season of Samhain quirky carnival. This year’s programme included writers Gerry Stembridge and Hilary Fannin, poet Geraldine Mitchell and photographer Liam Lyons, children’s writer Karen McCombie and historian Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, as well as comedian and mental-health campaigner, Ruby Wax.
While the format for each year’s gathering changes to suit the eclectic nature of this festival, the focus is always on retaining an intimacy between the guest writer and the audience. The Rolling Sun Book Festival is underpinned by the strong sense of place evoked by the ancient spiritual mountain of Croagh Patrick and its heritage hamlet of Westport while transporting the imagination across Clew Bay to open ocean and the metaphysical and magical world teetering on the horizon.
Opening festivities, Roslyn Dee, writer and Associate Editor at the Irish Daily Mail, quoted  Paul Durcan’s poem ‘Going Home to Mayo: “My father drove us through the night in an old Ford Anglia/ His five-year-old-son in the seat beside him/ The rexine seat of red leatherette/ And a yellow moon peered in through the windscreen./ Each town we passed through was another milestone/ And their names were magic passwords into eternity.”
She observed that the programme ‘embraces all that is best about us – culture, craic, and our immense sense of our own history and identity. And food, of course. As a Famine people we have surely earned the right, all these centuries later, to take pleasure in that’.
In his talk on the complex and emotive subject of emigration on Saturday night in The Plaza Hotel,  Diarmaid Ferriter reminded the audience that in 1961 there was £14 million spent on primary education in Ireland and in the same year emigrants sent back £13.5 million in remittances. Such a statistic, of course, didn’t reveal, on the one hand, the pathos or, on the other, the happiness of the individuals and families involved in this human haemorrhage. As one female emigrant told the late writer, Sean Ó Faoláin: “I saw what my mother went through.” But many of the statistics also showed, particularly in more recent times, that being an economic emigrant was not necessarily an enforced fate like in famine times.
Professor Ferriter engaged in a lively questions-and-answers session afterwards with the large audience, which included many members of Westport Historical Society.

Best Loved Poems
THE beautiful new book, ‘Best Loved Poems of the West of Ireland’, edited by Thomas Walsh and with photographs by Westport’s elder photographer, Liam Lyons, attracted a huge crowd, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny, to Hotel Westport on Sunday afternoon.
Launched by Mark Patrick Hederman, the Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, he observed that just as poets like William Wordsworth ‘created a whole climate of mysticism around natural beauty and the aura of the countryside’, the photographer while wielding his camera could capture beautiful scenes equally as creatively as an artist with his brush.
Liam Lyons spoke of his early photographic work in Kenya, when he visited Aror with Michael O’Donnell and Father Benny McHale.
Later on Sunday night, in the company of a large audience, Ruby Wax talked, with her inimitable quick-wittedness and acerbic asides, to playwright John Breen about her journey through depression and her discovery of Mindfulness.