Joseph O’Connor hails Michael Hartnett at festival opening

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Author Joseph O'Connor opens Eigse Michael Hartnett, the annual festival celebrating the life and work of the Limerick poet Michael Hartnett. Picture: Sean Curtin
ACCLAIMED Irish novelist Joseph O’Connor has opened Éigse Michael Hartnett, the annual festival celebrating the life and work of the Limerick poet, which runs this weekend.

ACCLAIMED Irish novelist Joseph O’Connor has opened Éigse Michael Hartnett, the annual festival celebrating the life and work of the Limerick poet, which runs this weekend.

Mr O’Connor, currently the Frank McCourt chair in creative writing at the University of Limerick, officially launched the festival in Newcastle West this Thursday, declaring Hartnett “a remarkable poet”.

Addressing the crowd at the festival opening in Newcastle West Library, the Star of the Sea author detailed an encounter he had with Hartnett in UCD in the 1980s.

“Michael had decided he would be the last to read and when he did so the air in the room seemed to change in some way. As though air can take on a colour. And it may have been the moment when poetry entered my life, the instant, if there was one, when I felt as though I owned it,” said Mr O’Connor.

“In Michael’s work you can see a pride and passion for place. Hartnett without Limerick is impossible to envisage. It’s Joyce without Dublin, Van Morrison without Belfast, Bob Marley without Jamaica. How he was able to mix the strict formal elegance he loved in poetry to the zest and power of everyday speech is truly an amazing thing.

“He was a remarkable poet of this remarkable part of our country, and I am honoured and privileged to launch this year’s festival,” he added.

Hundreds of literary enthusiasts from all over Ireland have descended on the town to attend the weekend event in the very streets which shaped Hartnett’s poetry.

This year’s festival, which is an initiative of Limerick Arts Office and is supported by the Arts Council, runs until Saturday night and boasts a mix of poetry and music, literature and drama, visual arts and dance.

Participants include Kevin Barry, poets Peter Fallon, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, John W Sexton, Mike MacDomhnaill, and Micheal Rowsome, musicians Martin Hayes and David Power, as well as Paul Dunworth and the Brad Pitt Light Orchestra, actor Pat Kinevane, and visual artists Niall Hartnett and Eric Tobin.

The programme also includes a schools programme, a walking tour of the town, an Open Mic competition and the Michael Hartnett Poetry Award, which was this year won by Marcus Mac Conghail for his first collection Ceol Baile and Caitríona ní Chléirchín for her second collection An Bhrídeach Sí.

See Eigse Michael Hartnett for more.