Dublin Swell
Left to right: Verena Cornwall, Creative Director of St. Patrick’s Festival; Sebastian Barry, poet; Cathy Kelly, author; Maureen Kennelly, organiser; Susan Kirby, CEO of St. Patrick’s Festival.

Gemma Creagh reports from St. Patrick’s Festival Literary event, DublinSwell

An amazing night of inspirational readings, from the hilarious to the heartbreaking to the downright confusing, DublinSwell took place in the spectacular venue of the Convention centre as part of the St. Patrick’s Festival 2011. Sold out with 2000 attendees, this was the largest single literary event to take place in Ireland and I got to experience it in the lovely comfort of my bloggers booth thanks to the lovely organizer, Chris!

Off to a great start, the epic event began with a round of introductions from Mary McAleese and Margaret Hayes, as well as Mike Murphy, in his dapper white suit, getting heckled by some rowdy literature fans – yes, they do exist for every art form! The line-up was almost unbelievable, so to say that us bloggers were exited would be an understatement akin to saying Charlie Sheen is a little bit odd.

Damien Dempsey was first up, reminding us of his musical talents after Between The Canals, by belting out his unique and deadly rendition of The Auld Triangle’. Our history, past and present was alive with words coming straight from the mouths of some of the most influential artists of our time. Yowsers. The first half saw some of Ireland’s top talent including: Barry McGovern reading Samuel Beckett; an outstanding performance from the Abbey theatre; a reading by bright young writer Claire Kilroy; the always-amazing musician Lisa Hannigan and finally the man himself, Seamus Heaney.

Phew! Only half way? This was a literary marathon – we broke for intermission nearing 10pm after a roller-coaster of emotional ups, downs and sideways. I was still reeling from the bizarre excerpt from Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus – wondering how the writer of the sweet, funny Intermission could traumatise me in such a way.

On the break, I secretly tried to cover up my lack of knowledge on a few of the writers (just in case anyone asked me what I thought of their earlier work) so I spent the break googleing. However, before I even got the chance to sneak in a pint, we were already listening to some amazing poetry, and round two had begun.

Dermot Bolger with his sons  Donnacha (left), and Diarmuid.
Dermot Bolger with his sons Donnacha (left), and Diarmuid.

If it had been a war… two was definitely the victor of the halves. Paul Durcan’s poetry took me by surprise, as since my Leaving Cert I have ingested poems quite infrequently, but I found his to be interesting, funny and powerful – what a combination! Loss was a common theme among the pieces of the evening, but nothing moved the crowd to such tears, myself included, as the reading of Venice by Dermot Bolger, a poem about the recent loss of his wife, which was accompanied by a musical piece, Sad and Beautiful‘, played by their two sons Donnacha and Diarmuid Bolger. This was absolutely heartbreaking and such a beautiful piece of writing – definitely the most memorable and touching of the evening.

The mood was much lightened with Paul Howard reading one of his sidesplittingly epic Ross O’Carroll-Kelly books, Mr S. and the Secrets of Andorra’s Box.­ The story, which with fair dues to Paul, was read in character, was one about of Ross looking for some strange from an American lunatic on roller skates and ending up causing quite a public spectacle. Tee hee, it had us in tears again, this time of laughter. Also definitely worth a mention was the patron saint of Irish film himself Neil Jordan who read from his book Mistaken; Joseph O’Connor and Ghost Light, and Roddy ‘the Snapper’ Doyle with his special Saint Patrick’s Festival story, Brilliant! ­Which it was, of course…

By the time this event was over, it was past twelve and I was worded out! After the feast of highs, lows and literary legends ­spanning one looong evening – I doubt anyone could claim they didn’t get their money’s worth. I’m still in amazement at the line up, which is what I’ll leave you with as you mark it in your calendar for next year…

Mike Murphy – Master of Ceremonies

Margaret Hayes – Chair, Dublin UNESCO City of Literature

President of Ireland Mary McAleese

Damien Dempsey – Dominic Behan’s The Auld Triangle

Barry McGovern – Samuel Beckett’s Watt

Christine Dwyer-HickeyThe Cold Eye of Heaven

Biddy JenkinsonAb Dhroimeanaigh (music by Seán McErlaine, imagery by Margaret Lonergan)

Sebastian BarryA Long Long Way

Abbey Theatre – Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars

Mike Scott with Iona Marshall – W.B. Yeats’ September 1913

Gerry StembridgeUnspoken

Eamon Morrissey – Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal

Claire KilroyAll Names Have Been Changed

Abbey Theatre – Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus

Lisa HanniganLille

Seamus Heaney – Poems

Interval ( – or drinks time as it’s commonly known)

Paul Durcan – Poems

Declan Hughes – City of Lost Girls

Dermot Bolger with Donnacha & Diarmuid BolgerSad and Beautiful/Venice

Mike Scott with Iona Marshall This Is The Sea

Paula Meehan – Poems

Damien Dempsey – Sing All Our Cares Away

Paul Howard – (Ross O’Carroll-Kelly) Mr S. and the Secrets of Andorra’s Box

Cathy KellyYou’ve Got Mail

Abbey Theatre – Marina Carr’s Marble

Neil JordanMistaken

Claire Kilroy – Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant

Joseph O’Connor with Robbie OversonGhost Light

Roddy DoyleBrilliant!

Sebastian Barry James Joyce’s A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man

Mike Scott with Iona Marshall – W.B. Yeats’ Let The Earth Bear Witness