Behind the Scenes


Maureen Kennelly & Richard Ford

Maureen Kennelly & Richard Ford

EARLIER THIS month, the first Listowel Writers’ Week (LWW) under the new regime, following something of a clear-out at the long-running literary gig late last year, was well received by many of those in attendance, although there was no little dissent in the air, with the dust yet to settle on the regime change.

Among those who featured in the impressive line-up were the likes of Paul Muldoon, Paul Brady, Louise O’Neill, Stephen Rea, Liz Nugent, Claire Kilroy, Sarah Gilmartin, Richard Ford and Joseph O’Connor (despite the latter having signed an hysterical letter by assorted scribblers to the Irish Times last year calling for the “immediate reinstatement of the voluntary committee”).

It will be recalled (see The Phoenix 16/12/22) that Maureen Kennelly’s Arts Council instigated a restructuring of the LWW organisation, including the disbanding of the long-standing volunteer committee. This upset various parties, most vocally Fianna Fáil senator Ned O’Sullivan, who appealed to the LWW board to “turn back from this disastrous course”. Certainly, he would have been knowledgeable about affairs given that his wife, Madeleine, was a stalwart of the annual gig.

O’Sullivan even raised the issue of literary festivals in the Seanad, highlighting his concerns over “issues of governance and control that have begun to limit creative freedom… leading to paralysis in creative thinking on many boards”, such as LWW.

What the senator had been kicking back against was the provision by the Arts Council of ring-fenced funding for the hiring of a consultant (Dermot McLaughlin) to review the governance and programming in Listowel. His report left little to the imagination and made clear that “decisive action” had to be taken immediately. This resulted in a shake-up of the board (including the exit of Madeleine O’Sullivan) and the disbanding of the volunteer committee that included the likes of Aidan Ó Murchú, former driver/head of security for one Bertie Ahern.

Catherine Moylan was installed as board chair, while Tom Donovan and Martin Moore were appointed directors. Most significantly, the festival appointed its first ever programme director, Belfast native Stephen Connolly, who encountered no little blowback, telling the Kerryman recently that “a small group probably wanted it to fail”. The paper had been contacted by various members of the public to complain about the quality of the festival – claims rejected by Connolly.

LWW has just filed its 2022 accounts, showing a small profit that year of €36,000. There have also been a couple of recent board resignations filed in the Companies Office on behalf of Rose Wall and Joan McCarthy, while writer Faye Boland has been appointed a director. Goldhawk is aware that former Blueshirt arts minister Jimmy Deenihan has now also called it a day at LWW. (He also recently stepped down from the board of the charity Goal).

While this opens up new board seats, there are still critics of the festival who would like to return to a model that is closer to the original one, driven by a volunteer committee. There have even been grumblings about the possibility of an EGM somehow being called, although this would be easier said than done. The Arts Council will surely be keeping a close on developments in Co Kerry.

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