All the fun of the West Cork Literary festival is back!

The West Cork Literary Festival will return in July, after three pandemic years , says GRAINNE McGUINNESS
All the fun of the West Cork Literary festival is back!

Eimear O'Herlihy, Festival Director for the West Cork Literary Festival. Picture Darragh Kane

“I THINK it will be a wonderful week and it is lovely to see the enthusiasm from audiences.”

After facing a steep learning curve in Zoom and other online events over the past few years, Eimear O’Herlihy, festival director of West Cork Literary Festival, is counting down the days to this summer’s programme.

Taking place in Bantry from July 8-15, this will be the first full, in-person festival since Covid upended all our lives. Although the team has retained some online events, and will put recordings of others online, there is a particular energy that sweeps over the town when it is packed full of writers and readers.

“We did a number of outdoor events last year, but it will be the first time in three years we have a full gathering,” Eimear says. 

“So that’s very exciting, bringing all of these writers down to Bantry.

“It was brilliant that festivals were able to do so many online events in the last number of years, but writers are very excited about coming back and being in the room with other writers – it is such a solitary job.

“Particularly, there are some writers who have had books out in the last year or two and they have never managed to meet their audiences.”

A wide array of writers will be meeting their readers at the festival.

“We have a very broad programme that represents all genres, it is a cliché to say there’s something for everyone but that is certainly what we are trying to achieve,” Eimear says.

“I want to reach out to as broad an audience as possible, we bring a real festivity to it by having loads of different genres and topics.”

The result is a programme that includes “writers from Cork, writers who are living in Cork, writers from all over Ireland and international writers as well”. Maeve Higgins (inset below), whose new collection of essays is Tell Everyone On This Train I Love Them, is one of the Cork authors appearing.

“It was supposed to happen in 2020 and was postponed, we did an online event with her, but it is brilliant that she will be in person here this summer,” Eimear says.

Higgins will be paired in an event with Yan Ge, a Chinese writer who lived in Ireland for several years and is now based in the UK.

Other well-known local names appearing include Caroline O’Donoghue, Catherine Kirwan, Danny Denton, Madeleine D’Arcy, Tadhg Coakley and West Cork’s Louise O’Neill.

JR Thorp, an Australian writer living in Cork, who was named Debut Novelist of the Year by the Observer, will read from her debut novel Learwife. Syrian-American Dima Alzayat, also living in Cork, will read from her collection of short stories Alligator and Other Stories.

“Jenni deBie will read from her novel Heretic,” Eimear adds. “Jenni has been working as guest liaison at WCLF for the past number of years and is now reading at the festival. She is originally from Texas and came to Cork to complete the Masters in Creative Writing at UCC and then a PhD.” 

The programme also acknowledges the stunning landscape in which the festival takes place. 

“Because of our location in West Cork, there are always books relating to the sea and the natural world and that runs through the programme,” Eimear says. 

“We will be doing an event with Sara Baume on Whiddy Island. We do an event on Whiddy every summer, the audience and the writers travel over on the boat together.”

Marianne Lee will read from her debut novel A Quiet Tide, based on the life of Ireland’s first female botanist Ellen Hutchins, who came from Bantry. At the same event, Martina Devlin will read from her new novel Edith, about the life of Edith Somerville.

There are also a host of writers from further afield taking part.

“Our opening event on the Friday night is with Nick Laird and Zadie Smith,” Eimear says. 

“We have Com Toibin doing an event, he is the Laureate for Irish Fiction and will be speaking about his term as Laureate and also about his new novel The Magician.”

The move to online, while challenging, also made events and readings accessible to a wide audience, and there are online events included in this year’s festival, allowing them to host writers who are not able to attend in person.

“We’re also going to record a number of events during the festival and make those available online and make the recording subtitled,” Eimear says. 

“It just increases the accessibility of the festival, it enables us to bring a little bit of the festival into people’s living rooms, no matter where they are in the world.

“Not everyone has the capacity to attend the festival, be it because of taking time off work, arranging childcare, the cost involved – so while it is wonderful having people in the town of Bantry, we also want to make a number of events available to people who are not able to join us in person.”

Eimear says the festival will also be an opportunity to showcase the town of Bantry itself and the efforts of local businesses and community groups, who are staunch supporters of the festival.

“It is something when whole town gets behind, which is wonderful,” she says. “It is lovely to see the town buzzing.

“It was wonderful to see Bantry last summer, all the outdoor seating and the amazing job Bantry Tidy Towns have done, there was such a vibrancy in the town. I think that is something that will continue.

“People are enthusiastic to get back out and about. They have been waiting for an announcement and now they are very enthusiastic about the names that they are hearing.”

Details of the festival programme are available on www.westcorkmusic.ie/literary-festival.

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