Irish literary stars gather in honour of Dermot Healy

Fierce Moon Festival in Manorhamilton is as eclectic as the spirit that inspired it

Dermot Healy, Pat McCabe, Leland Bardwell and Brian Leyden in Hargadon’s, Sligo town

Patrick McCabe, master of Border gothic, is one of the artists who will perform at the Fierce Moon Festival at the Glens Centre in Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim, September 14th-17th. The festival celebrates the legacy of the late Dermot Healy, who died in 2014. Asked about his connection with Healy for a programme note, McCabe replied, in capital letters:



Starer at lakes, author and Irish Times columnist Michael Harding will also perform at the festival. Harding met Healy as a teenager and said Healy had encouraged him in his "faltering attempts" to write, urging him to read and suggesting important Irish and international authors. He was a mentor, Harding said: "Dermot made it possible for me to be a writer, and I don't think I would have travelled the road had I not encountered his subversive, feral and passionate genius at that time." Sally Rooney, "Salinger of the Snapchat generation", will also be there.


Telling picture

The festival, curated by writers Vincent Woods and Brian Leyden, and directed by me, takes its name from a line in a poem by Healy, The Wife of the Moon, in which the full moon is imagined: "heaving at the door / like a husband barred from home". Healy lived on the wild seafront in north Co Sligo, on the far side of Ben Bulben from Manorhamilton. He was writer in residence at the Glens Centre for a time – the group he mentored styled itself The Pig Executive.

Publican Tommy Heraghty, actor and playwright Donal O’Kelly, Dermot Healy and Seamus Heaney

He brought Seamus Heaney to the venue for a memorable night. There is a photo taken that night in Heraghty’s pub across the road showing four likely looking boyos in hats with black pints set up on the bar before them: Tommy Heraghty, the pub’s owner; actor and playwright Donal O’Kelly; Healy; and Heaney. The photo now stands on a shelf behind the bar.

The festival is eclectic, in keeping with the spirit that inspired it. Healy wrote novels, plays and poetry and loved music. He was an editor, and there will be an exhibition of photographs from Force 10, the journal he founded. Many of the musicians taking part worked with him – they include Seamie O'Dowd and Mary McPartlan. It will incorporate the International Dermot Healy Poetry prize, set up by local poet and artist Crona Gallagher and her husband, Steve Farrell, with Healy's blessing, in 2015 – very shortly, as it happened, before his untimely death, aged just 66. The prize attracted over 500 entries this year, and is being judged by poet Vona Groarke who will also read from her own work. Other poets taking part include Healy's friend, Tess Gallagher and Peter Fallon, his publisher at Gallery Press.

Healy play

Damien O'Brien, who knew Healy when he was a young man about Cavan, will direct Healy's On Broken Wings at the Ballroom of Romance in Glenfarne on the final night of the festival. The show will be performed by the Hacklers drama group, cofounded by Healy. O'Brien recalled during a production of the play directed by Healy, "manually operating the [fierce] moon … as Dermot loomed over me puffing on a fag". Oxford academic Keith Hopper will give a critical perspective. In a piece he wrote for a special commemorative programme for the festival, he praises the wildness of the imagination, and the "baffling and mysterious" quality of some of the early work. He sees "a young writer probing the boundaries of what was (and wasn't) possible in fiction, sketching out dynamic still-life drawings for the masterpieces to come. Under the plural form of myths, they had found refuge."

  • Susan McKay is director of the Fierce Moon Festival and of the Glens Centre in Co Leitrim. More details on, 071-9855833