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RECAP of Listowel Writers’ Week 2009

June 03, 2010 By: Laura Category: 2009, creative writing, events, historical, journalism, memoir, novels, painters & paintings, participants, photographs, poem, poems, poet, poetry, poets, Reflections, short story, songwriting, Speaker, storytelling, theatrical plays

RECAP of Listowel Writers’ Week 2009

“Poet’s Life” by Laura Jean Zito (Photos and text) laurajeanzito@gmail.com

“Where’s your husband?” yelled the man exiting the theatre, St. John’s Church, in the main square in Listowel, Ireland.

“Do I care, if Gabriel Byrne’s about?” retorted a woman as I passed her.

Gabriel Byrne himself had expressed surprise as to just what an object of female adoration he was regarded here in Listowel, where he opened the 39th Annual Writers Week Wednesday, May 27th, 2009. Inside the theatre he had been reciting a poem he penned for the “Sunday Miscellany” program that is aired on RTE radio every Sunday morning. His oratory the night before for the opening night ceremonies made less reference to writing and more to film, as he recounted an amusing anecdote about a cab driver in Dublin who, upon recognizing him, pitched his own script about a cocaine dealer that he insisted Gabriel would be perfect for, along with fellow “gang” members Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell. “And what about Stephen Rea?” he asked. You can see this speech on You Tube.

Gabriel talked about how the only reference to 39 that came to mind was the film and recent play from John Buchan’s novel, “The 39 Steps,” about the archetypal “man who knew too much” that had launched Hitchcock’s career in 1935 and spawned several remakes, including a 2008 BBC television production.

Gabriel delighted the crowd by reminding them of the warm welcome he never forgot when he had first come to Listowel many years ago, cast as the lead in “Dev,” by GP Gallivan and directed by Peter Sheridan of the Projects Theatre in Dublin. Later I heard Gabriel elaborate on an RTE radio interview that his love affair with Listowel was deepened by an actual “romantic liaison,” as he put it, set in the town here. He went on to say how honored he felt to be asked to return to open the world-renowned literary festival on this eve when the winners of so many important literary competitions would be announced.

In his Intro, Michael Lynch had already pointed out that 2009 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bryan MacMahon, Writers’ Week founder, along with John B. Keane. John B’s play

“Sive” was enjoying via the Listowel Players the 50th anniversary of its first staging in 1959, a year before it won the All Ireland finals. 2009 also marks the 30th anniversary of the last taping of an episode of the Reardons, in which Gabriel Byrne got his start as a sheep farmer before appearing on Bracken, and the morrow would bring with it the performance of “Sive” in St. John’s Theatre on the seventh anniversary to the day of John B.’s death.

Another writer died this year, beloved by many, David Marcus, an Irish Jewish writer and editor of fiction and poetry who hailed from Cork. The ee cummings poem he loved the most that Niall MacMonagle read at his funeral, “what if a much of a which of a wind” was shared with the audience by Colm Toibin, President of the Festival.

The Euro 15,000.00 Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award was taken by Joseph O’Neill for “Netherland,” a book that Barak Obama himself was quoted in the NY Times to have said was, “wonderful,” (without specifically pinpointing what appealed to him.) Seamus Heaney’s wife even made a copy of “Netherland,” her 09 anniversary gift to her husband, adding to its aura.

Thursday morning O’Neill read from his tome, followed by others.

David Park, although a Protestant from Belfast, by developing the Sinn Fein character in his novel, “The Truth Commissioner”, noted that he developed sympathies he didn’t know he had. To paraphrase, he said something like ‘Truth is relative to whoever is considering it.’ When you seek out truth some of it is probably going to be damaging to one’s own political point of view. When his teenage daughter asked him “Are the troubles coming back in?” he said “No,” as the groundswell against the atrocities had grown so big that it was hard to conceive such a notion. He failed to mention the most recent atrocities, those of the night previous, in which an innocent Catholic man was beaten to death by eight Protestants, who then targeted the dead man’s son.

The themes of love and death seemed to carry all through the festival, right up to the reading of Colm Toibin from his recent novel, “Brooklyn.” He drew inspiration for the novel’s main character, a female emigrant to Brooklyn from Wexford in the fifties, from a woman who came to visit at his house after his father died when Colm was 12. She spoke about her one daughter who had also died, and another who had emigrated to Brooklyn, a word that then took on mythical proportion.

After was heard a witty interview by Billy Keane of George Kimball,


American sports writer for the Boston Herald, who now writes the “America At Large” column for the Irish Times. He read excerpts from his best-seller 2008 boxing classic, “Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and the Last Great Era of Boxing.”

Rebecca Miller, the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and photographer Inge Morath, read from her first novel, “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee,” published in 2008, currently being filmed. She won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for a screenplay adaptation of her own short story collection “Personal Velocity.” She also directed Daniel Day Lewis, her husband, in her film “The Ballad of Jack & Rose.” The film is screened in the Festival’s film club in its nightly screenings at the Classic Cinema.

“All About Eve” was performed by the Classic Revival Theatre fromDublin in a remake of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s classic directed by Pegeen Coleman.

After a spectacular recitation of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” byConor Lovett of the Gare St. Lazare Players, I was filled with admiration for the actor’s talent at interpreting the text as well as expressing it. This performance is not to be missed.

Other theatre pieces in the nightly lineup of plays included a treatise on incest that is bounding continents, “On Raftery’s Hill” written byMarina Carr and performed by the Allen Little Theatre from County Kildare.

Also noteworthy, I found Ballinrobe’s Benny McDonnell’s

“Bondi Beach Boy Blue,” about attaining goals in the sports world, and other worlds, as two hurling teens hurl themselves Australia to represent Kilkenny.

After a wonderful art exhibition opening reception at the St. John’sTheatre of splendidly painted landscapes by ,

Joanna Keane O’Flynn, the daughter of Ireland’s most celebrated playwright,

John B. Keane, introduced John Montague, who announced it was his birthday. The audience received the presents of many of his poems read aloud by himself, and then his books readily signed thereafter.

Dermot Bolger, famous for his plays, poetry volumes and nine novels, as well as his associations with Trinity College and the Abbey Theatre, rounded things out on Sunday, the final day of the Festival.

The last word was had by Carol Drinkwater, known as Helen Herriot in the BBC’s “All Creatures Great and Small.” She wrote a best-selling award-winning children’s novel, “The Haunted School.” She is filming a documentary series around the Mediterranean Basin with UNESCO about the history and culture of the Olive Tree, based on her series of memoirs.

Most everyone could be found after at the “Healing Party” in John B’s Pub, anannual tradition to top off the oratory on the last day of Writers’ Week. The last

night was filled till the wee hours with memorable melodies, several by James Sheehan of the Dubliners,

sung and strummed by the Listowel Arms Hotel stayers and savourers of every last crumb of culture of the 2009 festival.

Certainly this all bodes well for the life of the Listowel Writers’ Week and for the celebrations of its 2010 40th Annual.

All inquiries can be directed to info@writersweek.ie or by calling 011 353 68 21074

“Poet’s Life” Copyright 2009 Laura Jean Zito All Rights Reserved For use of any photos and/or text contact laurajeanzito@gmail.com


John B Keane by Mattie Lennon

July 15, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: connections, historical, photographs, poem, storytelling

John B. Keane By Mattie Lennon (August 2007)

“He’ll be elected all right if he gets the Jewish vote in Lyreacrompane”.

One of the many memorable quotes of the late John B.

John B. Keane was born in Listowel on Saturday 28th July 1928. He was fourth in a family of five boys and four girls. Those who knew him in later life were surprised to learn that he didn’t speak until he was three.

As a child, living in the town, he had a great love of the countryside. In “Self-Portrait ” he says, “Always as a small boy I had a longing to go to the mountains, particularly on sunny mornings when the air was fragrant and the skies were blue”.

Towards the end of his life I interviewed him for my radio programme, “The Story and The Song”.

He told me about how he was dispatched “on the Creamery lorry” to his relatives in the Stacks Mountains during the summer holidays.

” . . . I was dropped off at the Ivy Bridge which for me was to turn out a magic bridge, because the minute I crossed over that bridge I became a new man. I began to know something about country people. And they had a beautiful language, all of their own; half Irish, half English . . . and when that was fused with the language of Elizabeth . . . it became a beautiful language altogether, with great range. You’d never be stuck for a phrase or a word. It’s such a beautiful language. I was never as happy as when I was up there. If I hadn’t crossed the Ivy Bridge on that day long ago . . . I wouldn’t have been a writer”.

He met and observed some very interesting characters in the Stacks. He told a story about a German named Karl Gutthind who acted as technical advisor to Bord na Mona and,

“When the second World War came he left for Germany. The Russians, I’m sure, must have been surprised at his Lyreacrompane accent and wondered what strange business a Stacksmountainman might have in Stalingrad. He gave me a small flashlight which I swapped a week later for ten Woodbines . . . “

Writing was to become his life. One early experience would probably have turned a lesser person against the pen. During an elocution class in school each pupil was asked to recite a poem. John B. recited “Church Street” which was his own composition. When asked who wrote it he replied,

I did Father“. ” . . . there followed the worst beating of all and ejection from the class”.

During school holidays he worked at many jobs from fowl-buying to toiling on a farm in Wicklow.

He wrote a one-act play, “The Ghost of Patrick Drury” which was performed on the top floor of the Carnegie Library, Church Street, Listowel.

After leaving school he worked as a Chemist’s Assistant in his native town for five years. When he said that he wanted to be a writer and that he was going to England his boss pointed out a fact that John B. was to fully agree with later in life, ” It’s as easy to write here as there”.

It was about this time that, with Stan Kennedy, he started a local Newspaper, The Listowel Leader. The first edition sold 960 copies. There was no second edition simply because the Editorial, in the first edition, told the truth about some local Councillors.

Prior to the 1951 General Election he set up a fictitious political party, the Independent Coulogeous Party, complete with a fictitious candidate, Tom Doodle, who appeared in Listowel.

(It’s a long story but if enough readers petition the Editor I may be permitted to tell it in a future edition)

During Writers’ week 2007 a life-size statue of John B. was unveiled in the small Square, Listowel by his friend Niall Toibin. (John B’s son, Billy, told me, with true Keane solemnity, that “the statue moves at night”

And this year a limestone monument by Kerry Sculptor, Padraig Tarrant was unveiled in the European Garden by Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker.

(left)Billy Keane with father’s statute

The following is by no means a comprehensive list of his works but it gives an idea of his prolific output:

Sive (first staged 1959)

Sharon’s Grave (1960)

The Highest House on the Mountain (1961)

No More in Dust (1961)

Many Young Men of Twenty (1961)

Hut 42 (1962)

The Man from Clare (1962)

Seven Irish Plays (1967)

The Year of the Hiker

The Field (adapted later as a film of the same name starring actor Richard Harris)

Big Maggie

Moll

The Crazy Wall

The Buds of Ballybunion

The Chastitute

Faoiseamh

The Matchmaker

Novels

The Bodhran Makers

Durango

The Contractors

A High Meadow

Letters of a successful T.D

Essays

Love Bites

Owl Sandwiches

I was always fond of quoting from his works and once when I was spouting a piece from “The Chastitute” the motley gathering listening to me shooting my mouth off thought I was making a boastful autobiographical utterance. The line in question was, ” I was seduced by a sixty-two year old deserted wife when I was fifteen. After that auspicious beginning I never looked back”.

While he could be hot-headed in matters such as Gaelic football, in the area of understanding the shortcomings of others and forgiveness he was out on his own. Didn’t one of his Characters in “The Bodhran Makers” point out that no man should be penalised because he had an industrious penis? He laughed heartily when a person, who hadn’t seen “Sive” condemned it on the grounds that, “‘Tis all about bastards isn’t it?”

During Writer’s Week 2002 I walked behind the coffin of this, the humblest of men, who only wanted to be remembered as..” . . the player who scored the winning point in the North Kerry Intermediate Football Final against Duagh in 1951“.

I was moved to take up my pen and make a feeble effort to commemorate him:

JOHN. B.

By Mattie Lennon.

Chorus

Before you went you told us not to cry.

On that sad night.

“Let the show go on” you said and then “goodbye”.

We shouldn’t question why you had to die

Before you went you told us not to cry

As Writer’s Week had opened,

For it’s thirty-second year,

Where poet and peasant mingle

To absorb Listowel’s good cheer.

A cloud crossed hill and valley

From Carnsore to Malin Head,

As news went ’round our island

“The great John. B. is dead”

Chorus.

He who walked with King and beggar

Will lift his pen no more,

To bring out the hidden Ireland

Like no one did before.

He banished inhibitions

To put insight in their stead.

The world stage is brighter

But The “Kingdom’s King” is dead.

The dialogue of two Bococs

Is known in every town.

Now the Ivy Bridge links Broadway

To the hills of Renagown.

While men of twenty emigrate

And Sharon’s Grave is read,

Or a Chastitute ‘s forlorn

His memory won’t be dead.

Chorus.

They stepped out from the pages

Of The Man From Clare and Sive

To walk behind his coffin

Each character alive.

His Soul, with One-Way Ticket

To The Highest House has sped,

And this world has lost a genius;

The great John. B. is dead.

Chorus.

Copyright Mattie Lennon 2002

(Put to music by John Hoban.)

The first time I went into J B Keane’s pub in Listowel in 2009

June 06, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: connections, localinfo, novels, participants, preparations, storytelling

I wasn’t looking for drink, I was looking for company.

The woman from the Vodafone shop was sorting out a dongle for me. I had to wait, pass the time somewhere, and J B’s is only across the road.

This was mid afternoon on Wednesday 27 May.

Alone I went in, wondering what would be going on. From previous experience, I suspected there would be something up. I might even interrupt Billy Keane in song or story.

Pushing open the door, I looked round the pub, hardly anyone there. First thought was where to put myself so that I could watch & overhear conversations?

The man in the corner caught my eye. He wouldn’t let go of it. Insisted I sit down with his friends, Sean Devine & Paula Tormey. I know their names because I took out my book, said I’d outsourced my memory to it, and took notes.

[I did this all through Writers' Week.]

Bert Griffin pointed me to his friend Tony Guerin, who wasn’t in the pub. On the wall was a poster advertising a play written by him. He said Tony’s novel, Tomorrow is a lovely day, would be launched on Saturday @1300.

You’ll not meet a more engaging man this week…” (Bert’s words on Tony, I scribbled).

I can’t remember what I drank, so I guess it wasn’t a pint of Guinness.

They were good to me, those three. I found out the J B Keane anniversary mass was @ 1030 on Saturday. I thought of going to pay my respects, and because I’m a bit of an anthropologist.

For the first time, I met Mary Keane, John B’s widow, from Castleisland, came to Listowel 54 years ago, 1955. Took this photograph of Mary & Bert.

dsc02903

I met a couple who’d driven from Greystones, near Dublin, to be at a performance of Sive, and said it was worth every mile.

I found out Brendan Kennelly and Matt Munroe had both been London bus conductors, like me.

And then Bert invited me to his house for steak…

Amazing, astonishing, bloodyfantastic, hypermarvellous, superphenomenal, eh.

I had a short vigorous time with them in Bert’s house. I left Grace’s [my 3.9 year old treasure] car seat there when I drove them all back into Listowel in time for the opening ceremony. Grace’s seat is still there.

If there’s anyone driving from Listowel to Cork soon, please contact me, so I can ask you a small favour…

That’s meant to be a flavour of the life to be had in Listowel during Writers’ Week.


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