Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

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Campaign for the Right to Blog Listowel Writers’ Week

June 09, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: 2010

Blogger Paul O’Mahony to launch Campaign for the right to blog at the Listowel Writers’ Week Festival, after being attacked by Committee Member on the last day of this year’s Festival.

—- Paul O’Mahony calls on bloggers across the world to support his campaign by emailing the Chairman of Listowel Writers Week – – demanding he be allowed to continue blogging unhindered, and without violence or intimidation.

In an incident that many might have thought only happens in China or Burma, Blogger Paul O’Mahony was attacked verbally and physically as he tried to leave Listowel Writers’ Week. His crime? Doing his work as a blogger, voluntarily and unpaid, seeking to report on a writers’ festival he dearly loves. A full report follows below from a shocked and badly shaken Paul about what happened.

But the big question now is will Paul O’Mahony get an apology from the Listowel Writers Festival Committee? Even more importantly, will he be assured no further action will be taken against him, when going about the business reporting for his blog?

You can help by standing up for the right to blog and getting in touch with the Listowel Writers’ Week Festival and making your voice heard in defense of a brave and courageous member of the blogging community…….


I was on my way out of the Michael Hartnett memorial event at about 2.15pm on Sunday when a cross woman came up to me. She demanded “Have you recorded that session?”

“Yes”, I replied gently – but my heart was starting to beat strongly as I experienced the woman’s anger, the rage on her face.

“Who gave you permission?”

“No one.”

“You are a disgrace. You had no right to do that” – the woman was very agitated and I was nervous.

She reached over and gripped my arm. “How dare you.” Her grip felt fierce. This was in front of at least twenty people including Christopher Reid & Anthony Cronin. I had never met the woman before.

“I’m from the Writers’ Week Committee for 23 years. You are a disgrace. You are not welcome in Writers’ Week.” I felt in a difficult situation: she would not let go of my arm.

“Please let me go. I need to go to Dublin now. I don’t have time to discuss this.”
She still held me – I couldn’t get away from her – and I was expected at Dublin Writers Festival, Abbey Theatre, for the Gallery Press celebration. This was a public confrontation and I felt vulnerable, at risk of doing something stupid like pushing the woman away from me. If I used any force to free myself from her grasp, what might she do to me? It was like being taken hostage in public.

I kept repeating “Please let me go, I have to drive to Dublin.” Eventually, she let me go, and I got out from the crowd into fresh air.

I was shaken, fairly traumatised, shocked. It was the most unpleasant experience I’ve had since returning to Ireland after 30 years in UK.

It was like some sort of secret police person tried to arrest & disgrace me – in front of people who’d been to “Two Poetic Voices in Memory of Michael Hartnett“. The incident was terrible. I hope Michael wasn’t bothered by it.
The implications of all this:

I’ve been blogging Listowel Writers’ Week in an open & transparent manner throughout 2009 & 2010. I don’t know the state of Irish law on such blogging. Never have I made a cent from blogging Writers’ Week. It is an act of love as far as I’m concerned. I wish to bring Listowel to the wider world – so that people who can’t be there can share some of the experience I’ve enjoyed so much. Until now. Do I really need permission to use my iPhone to record material I’ll later use for the benefit of Writers’ Week? If I’m breaking a law, what is the penalty? What is due process for taking a case against me? I would be prepared to defend my action in court – and stand in front of the people of Ireland. Have other bloggers been charged with an offence for recording poets?

Contrast that woman’s action with the experience of Dublin Writers Festival. On Sunday evening, Sinéad Connolly, director of Dublin Writers Festival publicly thanked the bloggers, tweeters & facebookers from the stage of the Abbey Theatre – at the final event of Dublin Writers Festival. I was moved by the honour she paid to those of us who do our best to communicate the joy, excitement and creativity of festivals in Ireland. I could not help comparing the two experiences. What do other Irish festivals think of bloggers who publish and broadcast the festival?

Did the woman who said she was from the Listowel Committee represent the Committee? Is her view and behaviour representative of the values, style and policy of Writers’ Week? Today I think of her as a single individual. But I don’t know for sure. I do want an apology. I feel I’m entitled to a public apology from the whole Committee of Writers’ Week – because I want to be assured that the official view and style is completely different from what I was subjected to. I ask the Chairperson of Listowel Writers’ Week Michael Lynch to make this clear in public not for my benefit but for the sake of others in future. Bloggers, social networkers, new media people – we won’t go away. This dreadful experience may do some good for the future. I care for the reputation of Listowel Writers’ Week and the future audience for all Irish festivals.

I rest my case.


9 Comments to “Campaign for the Right to Blog Listowel Writers’ Week”

  1. A public apology and a written letter of apology are definitely in order under these circumstances. The nerve!

    If I had seen the woman behaving that way I would have likely named and shamed , at least you are being a gentleman about it. I’ll be writing a letter.

  2. That you wish to have a campaign seems rather ridiculous to me. especially as you’ve established no connection with the Festival regarding your perceived complaints . You appear to have an issue with one person in Listowel, unclear from the article whether she is a member of the committee or simply a member of the public.

    Raising a series of questions, as you’ve done does not merit any such action, especially as you’ve obtained no answers to any of these questions, nor indeed appear to have made any effort to obtain any clarifications . Of course you should not be subjected to verbal or physical abuse, thats totally unacceptable. However, from your above piece, you don’t appear to have checked with the organizers whether this person represented an official view or a personal one?

    You come over to me as a rather amateur quasi journalist to be honest. You openly state you don’t know your own rights and responsibilities, which should be your first point of reference as a responsible blogger.

    To clarify: I have no connection with Listowel Writers Week, Listowel, or anyone in Listowel.


  3. I had already decided to contact the commitee about this .I was just behind you when this occurred and I was shocked and saddened by this womans behaviour .I have been considering ever since whether it would be better to e-mail the committee or to write a letter to them . I asked some people if they
    knew her name but haven’t yet been able to identify her. Michael Lynch does know who she is obviously as she approached him outside St. Johns . I will send you a copy of whatever I send (e-mail or letter ).

  4. Hi,
    The womans appaling behaviour aside, my experience around voice recording another person is that their permission is required – I believe it’s a copyright thing. (Based on working with students who had a disability and who had to seek the lecturers permission to record the lecture. Not always given, I might add). I would have thought though that the committee would have secured a blanket permission from all their participants given the nature of the event. Hopefully a lesson learned for the future.


  5. What exactly did you record for public distribution? And did you record it with an iPhone in plain view?

    Recording audio or video at public events can unnerve participants. Some leading Irish bloggers make a point that they’re not recorded but when people are in public places and when people attend events subsidised in full or part by public money, the expectation of total privacy is much lower. In fact, the sponsors expect the kind of follow-on conversation that unfolds through blogging words, sounds and images.

    In our third level institution, we have to record audio files while on field trips because we have dyslexics, foreign language students, and visually impaired students. I record for them in a very visible way. I normally tell the speaker we’ve an open mic.

    Organisers at events should have no objection to events recorded by note-taking.

    If you re-work someone else’s voice into an Audioboo or podcast, you’re in mash-up territory. There are plenty of case studies that demonstrate the protections afforded to the original artist (in this case, the speaker you recorded) and to their rights as media properties.

    This sounds like an incident with a back story. I’m writing to the LWW organisers to express my interest in hearing what they think happened.

  6. What an utterly weird incident.

    It’s certainly put me off ever attending the Listowel Writers’ Festival.

  7. I am really sorry that this happened to you, Paul.
    Blogging is part and parcel of absolutely everything nowadays from U. S. presedential elections to the humble Leaving Cert. I can only presume that this lady is unfamiliar with this global phenomenon and completely misunderstood what you were doing. If this is the case, she should be given an opportunity to meet you and to apologise.
    Meanwhile, I hope you dust yourself off and get back on that horse.
    Keep up the good work.

  8. Goodness Paul!
    This must have been quite a traumatizing experience!
    All the posts you have been writing and sharing with the worldwide community are invaluable!
    I hope this incident is not going to stop you in your blogging journey. This woman obviously is blinded by a sectarian way of thinking that “information is power as long as I keep it for myself”.
    We are living in an open world, a world where ideas, communication, thoughts – positive or negative – can now be shared with virtually anyone on the planet. This is how our world evolves, this is how we can connect faster and better.
    Now, one could argue the legal aspect of the story. As far as I am concerned, if there was no notification given to you prior to the event that recording is forbidden, how could you have known?
    I am not a lawyer but a fierce defender of common sense!
    Paul, please continue to right, this is what you do since this is who you are, and that freedom should not be taken from you nor anyone!

  9. Pauline,
    Thank you. I’m in a bit of a state about it right now. But so glad there was a witness. In the moment, I took nothing in but my personal experience.
    I want no vendetta against her. I don’t even want to know her name.

    I thank you.


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