Are you fond of an auld’ book? If you’re Irish you’ll probably answer an emphatic yes to that question.
The Irish devour literature like few other nations on earth. Over the years we’ve had 10 winners of the Nobel Prize and four of these were in literature, so no other nation has a higher per capita number of Nobel Prize winners for writing.
Ireland’s most effective secret weapon has always been the strength of its culture. The tiny island nation with a population roughly the equivalent of Manchester has always hit far above its own weight when it comes to poetry, prose and song, and to this day it’s amazing how little notice we take of the fact.
When you think about the impact Irish writing has had upon the world it’s a wonder that our arts are not given the same strategic development that government pays to our tourism and commercial enterprises.
Nonetheless, Ireland’s literary arts have created their own forums – and you’ll be amazed at how lively and passionate they actually are.
If you thought rugby or hurling was a competitive sport, wait until you’re in a room with 12 competing Irish poets angling for the one prize. You won’t see more drama and intrigue on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, trust me.
To get started with your own literary tour of Ireland here’s a list of the 10 top annual Irish literary festivals to check out. Pick any one of them and in no time you’ll be completely absorbed by Irish culture and craic (the Irish word for a good time).
1. The Dublin Writers Festival
The annual gathering place of Irish writers and poets in the Fair City is one of the most invigorating annual literary festivals in the world. Past participants have included Nobel Prizewinner Seamus Heaney and the 2010 Dublin Writers Festival is scheduled to run from the 1st of June, so book your place now!
2. The Franco-Irish Literary Festival
The Franco-Irish Literary Festival is held every spring in Dublin and its aim is to enhance the long-standing friendship that exists between Ireland, France and other French-speaking countries. It welcomes writers in both the English and Irish languages, together with writers of the wider francophone world and other European literatures. In doing so it provides an opportunity to showcase a wide selection of Irish and French writers before the Irish public.
3. Cuirt Literary Festival Galway
Cuirt, meaning “word,” is a celebration of all that is excellent in contemporary literature, the finest writers in the world visit Galway each year to participate in this festival. New ventures in recent years include the "In Conversation" series with famous writers and filmmakers.
4. Listowell Writers’ Week
The cream of Irish writers will take the road to Kerry in May for Ireland’s unique and sociable literary festival, Listowell Writers' Week. A much-loved festival both by writers and their public, the festival offers workshops as well as readings.
5. Yeats International Summer School
I will arise and go now, and go to a summer school. For longevity and seriousness of purpose the Yeats Summer School is the granddaddy of them all. Featuring lectures, seminars, readings and poetry and drama workshops, participation is by application only and be warned, you’ll encounter some of the most lively - and occasionally the most eccentric - people you’ve ever met here. Come cast an amused eye on life, on death…
6. Bram Stoker Summer School
Was Dracula an Irishman? His creator certainly was. Bram Stoker (1847-1912) was a Dublin man who never set foot in Transylvania. The son of a civil servant, he was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and became a civil servant himself, spending ten long years thinking about vampirism. No surprise there, then. This summer school is a Johnny come lately the organization welcomes members from all over the world - young and old, male and female irrespective of race or creed. Contact: Dennis McIntyre, 101Foxfield Grove, Raheny, Dublin, 5, Ireland. Fax +353 1 833 0356.
7. Cumman Merriman Summer School
Cumann Merriman was founded in 1967 in honor of Brian Merriman, author of the marvelous eighteenth century Rabelaisian poem, "Cuirt an Mhean Oiche" ("The Midnight Court"). Their aim is to encourage interest in the poet and in the history and tradition of Thomond, the ancient Munster district that includes parts of Tipperary and Limerick, along with the County Clare in its entirety.
8. Synge Summer School
The Synge Summer School’s focus is on the theatre and on celebrating the life and mighty achievements of the man who’s legacy it honors, John Millington Synge. Established in 1990 by Professor Nicholas Grene, the school meets in Rathdrum, County Wicklow each year, offering participants the chance to enjoy lectures and seminars on Synge and Irish drama in one of Ireland’s most beautiful counties.
9. Donegal Bodhran Playing School
This annual school provides the interested learner with an opportunity to study the various techniques of Bodhran (Irish drum) playing. Learn how to accompany solo and group musicians in a seisiun, and how to play at different speeds for hornpipes, jigs, reels, mazurkas and polkas. A guaranteed good craic weekend set in the breath taking landscape of County Donegal.
10. Parnell Summer School
The Parnell Summer School, organized by the Parnell Society, explores the legacy and relevance of Charles Stewart Parnell and the politics of his era. Of the two dominant themes of Parnell's life, home rule and the land question, it is land and people's relationships with it that has continued to play a significant role in Irish society and culture. A recurring theme for the Summer School is land, people and politics.