Members of the Eigse Michael Hartnett committee
PEOPLE and places are at the heart of this year’s Eigse Michael Hartnett which kicks off in the late poet’s home town of Newcastle West next month.
This is particularly evident in the person of Philomena Lee, the real-life heroine of the Oscar-nominated film Philomena starring Judi Dench. Philomena, born in Newcastle West but living most of her adult life in England, returns to her home place on the opening night of Eigse to tell her life story and the lifelong search for her first-born, Anthony.
Launching the programme for this year’s Eigse, Cllr John Sheahan, chairman of the Newcastle West Municipal District, linked Philomena’s story and what has recently emerged about the mother-and-baby home in Tuam and asked: “What would Michael have said about Tuam? He could be acerbic. He didn’t pull back.”
Harnett, he added, was one of Ireland’s most important poets.
“He had a talent for raising the mirror and showing people what society was really like. He had amazing insights into life, both in the English and Irish language.”
This year’s programme has a very strong line-up, poet Gabriel Fitzmaurice, said. Among others it includes one of the greats of Irish literature, Jennifer Johnston, who will give a reading on the Saturday night of Eigse along with poet Paddy Bushe with music from Diarmuid O’Brien of Glin.
And this year, poet and writer Dermot Bolger, who was close to Hartnett and published some of his work will deliver the Michael Hartnett Memorial Lecture.
Poets Bernard O’Donoghue and Caitriona O’Reilly have also been lined up and a new departure takes place on Friday morning when Gabriel Fitzmaurice will lead a coffee and favourite poem session at Marguerite’s coffee shop.
In a bid to give a higher profile to the Irish language, the organisers have brought on board well-known travel writer, TV presenter and broadcaster, Manchán Magan and his Gaeilge Tamagotchi. This fascinating event is about preserving the thousands of words that are at risk of being lost to the Irish language and encourages people to take just one of them into their care as a lifetime commitment.
A key feature of the Eigse Michael Hartnett festival is the Michael Hartnett Poetry Award. This year’s substantial prize goes to a book of poetry in Irish by Wexford born poet and editor Seosamh O’Murchú for his collection Taisí Tosta,published by Coiscéim in 2015.
“‘I’m really delighted to receive this award,” Seosamh said this week.” Not only is it a great source of encouragement for me but is also a wonderful recognition and affirmation of my work. It’s made all the more special by the fact that the award remembers and honours one or our truly great poets, Michael Hartnett, who proudly has taken his place in the pantheon of the Munster poetic tradition.”
Another highlight of the weekend will be the integrated dance, involving Hazelwood College and Desmond College students and residents of Rathfredagh Cheshire Home. ‘In Time, and Silently’ is inspired by a poem Seamus Heaney wrote for his granddaughter just before his death and choreographed by Mary Hartney. The weekend will also be enlivened by “street performances of poetry” by Stanzas and Micheal Rowsome and a tour of Hartnett’s Newcastle West led by Des Healy.
"What makes Éigse special is the intimacy that you feel as you travel around the town, where you can bump into someone who knew Michael or you can see for yourself the places that Michael immortalised in his poetry,” Sheila Deegan, Arts Officer with Limerick City and County Council said at the launch.
Eigse Michael Hartnett is supported by the arts office and by the Arts Council.