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Irish literature and literary festivals

The Irish love telling stories, and listening to them too. The country's long love of literature is reflected in the extraordinarily high number of Nobel Prize for Literature-winners it has produced.

Before the written word, travelling storytellers (known as seanchaí) in Ireland traditionally entertained beside the fire.The tradition of impromptu verbal wit lives on with Irish comedians and broadcasters. English spoken and written in Ireland differs from English elsewhere, with echoes of Irish-language words and constructions persisting.


Literary heritage

Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), satirist and author of Gulliver’s Travels, and dramatist Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) are among the Irish writers whose works continue to be enjoyed worldwide. For a small country, Ireland has an impressive roster of winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), W.B. Yeats (1865­–1939), Samuel Beckett (1906–89) and Seamus Heaney (b.1939). Literary festivals are convivial, informal events, where authors and the reading public mingle freely. The biggest one of all is Bloomsday (16 June), a four-day event that commemorates James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) in its Dublin setting.


Ireland's best literary festivals

Dublin Writers Festival is a four-day event featuring 30 of the world’s most celebrated poets and fiction writers, coinciding with Bloomsday, which commemorates James Joyce’s Ulysses.

• Galway’s Cuirt International Festival of Literature is a big event in a small, festival-friendly town, held over six days in late April. It prides itself on showcasing local, national and international talent. Past visitors include Nobel Prize winners J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney. It’s a convivial event, with morning masterclasses, book launches and theatre performances, readings and debates.

Listowel Writers Week is held in late May in a north Kerry town (pop. 3000) that prides itself on its literary connections, including the late John B. Keane (The Field). It includes writing competitions.

West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry has free lunchtime readings from writers, many of whom also offer afternoon masterclasses. The pleasant seaside location attracts some big names, and an enthusiastic audience who enjoy the informal contact. Many people stay for all six days.

Immrama, a mid-June weekend of literary events organized around a travel writing theme, is held in Lismore, an attractive village in west Waterford and the home of travel writer Dervla Murphy.


Follow in the wake of James Joyce's Ulysses in Dublin

Read more about Ireland

Read more about the cultural features of Ireland in Insight Guides: Ireland

Insight Guides: Ireland

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