Strokestown International Poetry Festival

I was delighted to be asked to come here this evening to launch this festival. The building in which we find ourselves strikes me as the perfect forum for the festival.

The Strokestown International Poetry Festival is a truly unique event and, in its fifteenth year, it has recognised and awarded incredible poets.

The festival was launched on Culture Night, I think this certainly is a Weekend of Culture for Strokestown. I would like to commend the efforts of the Committee who do huge work in bringing it all together. The new director, poet Martin Dyar who launched his book Maiden Names last year, has continued the work of his predecessors and I think you’ll all agree has done Trojan work to put together an exciting program which no doubt will be thoroughly enjoyed by everyone for the weekend.

The Duais Cholm Cille shortlist, the Strokestown International Poetry Award shortlist and the Percy French Prize for Poetry all have very distinguished nominees, and we will all be looking forward to hearing the award winners over the weekend.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht takes this Festival and poetry in general very seriously – and the funding from the Department to the Arts Council for 2013 – from both current, capital and European Presidency sources – will exceed €60 million and this funding is allowing the Council to support both specific presses and the work of Poetry Ireland.

The Arts Council also supports three presses that publish poetry exclusively, each has a distinctive editorial vision and voice. Tonight we have a reading by Vona Grorke – one of Ireland’s foremost poets who is published by Gallery Press. I look forward to hearing from Vona and Nerys Williams later this evening and indeed am delighted to see that, of those shortlisted this year, 8 are women.

As we contemplate three days of poetry ahead, I think it is worth contemplating the landscape of the past.

Given the links between Strokestown and the famine, it is perhaps appropriate to mention the National Famine Commemoration, which is taking place in Kilrush, Co. Clare on 12th May 2013. President Michael D. Higgins will lead the official representation. A programme of local events is taking place in Kilrush between 3rd May and 12th May to commemorate the Great Irish Famine in the lead up to the National Famine Commemoration.

The location for the National Famine Commemoration rotates between provinces on an annual basis and Kilrush was selected for 2013. Kilrush and its environs were among the areas worst hit by the Great Irish Famine between 1845 and the early 1850s. Only the areas around Skibbereen in Co. Cork and around Westport in Co. Mayo suffered comparable devastation and the National Famine Commemoration has been hosted in both these areas in previous years.

I understand that a week-long Gathering event will take place here in July whereby the Tighe family from Canada who are descendants of the original owners of this house will come and partake in the event. It is great that Strokestown is embracing The Gathering and I’m happy to say that early tourism figures show that tourist numbers were up by more than 86,000 or 7.4% from last year for the first three months of this year which shows The Gathering targets for boosting tourism figures are well on track ahead of the busier summer months.

I look forward to celebrating poetry, whether it’s in Irish, English or Scots Gaelic. I believe this festival is a wonderful celebration of culture, heritage, history and the Arts and I am proud to welcome you all and launch this, the fifteenth Strokestown International Poetry Festival.

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