Dublin Book Festival 2021: live and online, the best of both worlds

Director Julianne Siron introduces the highlights of this year’s festival

“It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature. Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way, even by death, and we fly back to the first principles of hope and enjoyment.” Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Resilience. Hope. Enjoyment. These are three powerful words and when I read the quotation I immediately thought of the arts world I have worked in for almost 12 years. The pandemic arrived and shook the world to its core. Yet, during this time of upheaval, chaos and fear, artists and arts organisations throughout the world adapted, coming up with creative ways to bring art to their audiences. Writers, musicians, publishers, festivals, illustrators worked tirelessly to overcome an incredibly challenging time. The motivation? An unyielding passion for the arts.

The Dublin Book Festival adapted in 2020 and went online. We reached out to other struggling arts organisations and worked with writers, publishers, illustrators and musicians to deliver one of our largest programmes ever. Our audiences came from Ireland and abroad and reached numbers we had never seen before.

This year, we are thrilled to be back to live audiences as we step back into many of our favourite venues around Dublin; Smock Alley Theatre, National Botanic Gardens, Dublin City Libraries, The Chester Beatty, Dublin Port, Irish Writers’ Centre, Easons, Irish Pen and more! Tickets for live events are limited as we will be maintaining 60 per cent capacity in all venues for the comfort and safety of our audiences, participants and staff.


Every email or phone call I have with publishers, artists, venues and partners has the same sense of excitement and hope. We are going to see each other in real life again. Yes, we loved looking at each other’s bedrooms and kitchens, meeting the pets, partners and children, but to actually talk face-to-face, to listen in a room together to the artists we work so hard to bring together. It’s almost like waiting for Christmas!

Equally, we do not want to leave out people who enjoy the flexibility of watching an event from the comfort of their home or our new patrons from other counties and countries! For the first time ever, therefore, the festival will be live-streaming events from Smock Alley Theatre over the course of the weekend. The online element of the festival makes it more accessible and it is wonderful to see all the different nationalities tuning into the events – something that would not be possible without this new online platform.

Collaboration has always been at the heart of the festival. Dublin Book Festival 2021 once again sees the coming together of Ireland’s finest literary festivals, venues and arts organisations: West Cork Literary Festival, Belfast Book Festival, Murder One, IMRAM Féile Litríochta Gaeilge; international organisations including Solas Nua, USA and the Embassy of Chile in Ireland; and long standing partners Dublin Unesco City of Literature, Irish Writers’ Centre, Children’s Books Ireland, Poetry Ireland, Fighting Words, An Post Irish Book Awards. While some of our venues won’t be able to open the doors physically, we will be hosting events with them virtually – RDS Library and Archive, National Library of Ireland, The Museum of Literature Ireland and Science Gallery at Trinity College

History has always been a big hit with our audiences and this year we have conversations, walking tours and children’s events to keep all ages happy. We have partnered with the RDS Library and Archives for our opening event on Monday, November 8th. Turtle Bunbury will be talking with author and polar historian Michael Smith about his new book Icebound in the Arctic, a captivating exploration into the endeavours of Captain Francis Crozier, a major figure in 19th-century Arctic and Antarctic exploration. With the approaching centenary of the Irish Civil War, Diarmaid Ferriter, Hilary Dully and Caoimhe Nic Dháibhéid will be discussing the role of women during the War of Independence and Civil War. Step back in time with the wonderful Pat Liddy for an entertaining walking tour around Dublin city, learning about and seeing the many places associated with famous writers from the 18th century to the latest releases.

We will also have two fantastic virtual online events from the beautiful National Library; Éilis Ní Dhuibhne will be in conversation with author Liz McManus and poet Mary O’Donnell as they discuss the collection of honest testimonies about life as a woman writer in Ireland in Look! It’s a Woman Writer! Prof Bryan Fanning will be discussing his new book Diverse Republic with author and scholar Melatu Uche Okorie.

We are delighted to be partnering with the Chilean embassy to bring author Benjamin Labatut to our audiences for an online event talking to broadcaster Rick O’Shea about his novel When We Cease to Understand the World. Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize this year, the book is an intoxicating mix of fact and fiction looking at how the world’s greatest minds can wreak the greatest havoc.

Our live events kick off on November 12th with RTÉ Radio 1’s Arena host Seán Rocks in conversation with Roddy Doyle, Lisa Harding, Caitriona Lally and Hugo Hamilton with music by Lisa O’Neill, which will also be broadcast live on radio from Smock Alley Theatre. Our annual book lovers Dublin City Libraries Readers’ Morning returns to Smock Alley with Niall MacMonagle in conversation with bestselling author Sarah Winman, followed by debut authors Ann Ingle and Luke Cassidy. Emilie Pine will then be talking with playwright, performer and columnist Rosaleen McDonagh about her fearless collection of essays, Unsettled.

We have a new DBF venue this year, at The Pumphouse, Dublin Port , here you can listen to Jo Kerrigan discuss her new book Stories from the Sea, or soak up the atmosphere and enjoy music and conversation with Tadhg MacDhonnagháin discussing his life and work with writer and broadcaster Cathal Póirtéir.

Attendees will also have an opportunity to immerse themselves in the natural world by joining us for an afternoon at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin where authors Declan Murphy and Manchán Magan will be discussing Declan’s journey of discovery of the kingfisher at a river in Wicklow.

Of course, we have some great events for children too, who can join us in person or through online events and workshops . Get them ready to dance and sing along with author Muireann Ni Chiobhain at a fun, interactive, bi-lingual event based on her book Eoinín. Budding authors can get writing at the creative writing workshop with Fighting Words.

There is something really special about 2021. I feel everyone is more appreciative of being able to step across the threshold of so many venues, to come together to listen to the authors that helped us through the past year. There is a sense of hope and excitement that we, at DBF, intend to really make the most of… and we hope you will all too!

Julianne Siron is the director of Dublin Book Festival, which runs from November 8th-15th. dublinbookfestival.com