Loose Leaves


Let’s take care of the hen that lays the golden eggs

The Irish Writers’ Centre, in Dublin, which has managed to stay open against the odds over the past two years, this week received a paean of praise in an editorial in the Guardiannewspaper that suggested that, on her visit to the Garden of Remembrance, Queen Elizabeth might consider “a quick nip over to 19 Parnell Square to see a real live literary hothouse in action”.

Readers of Loose Leaves – indeed anyone interested in literary matters in Dublin – will already be familiar with the changing fortunes of the centre. Two years ago all of its Arts Council funding was withdrawn and it faced closure.

Then the writer Jack Harte, who had founded the centre in 1991, returned to take charge of an effort to keep the doors open. This he did, but only with the assistance of a group of volunteers who have been maintaining the building as a living space for authors and their readers.

Last year the Arts Council restored some of the lost funding, which allowed the centre to organise a series of readings that travelled beyond Dublin; a similar series is running this year, thanks to a repeat of that funding.

Referring to it as a “powerhouse of literary creativity”, the Guardian said the centre “should now become a must-stop part of any culture tour around Dublin”. Citing Dublin’s designation as Unesco City of Literature as one reason why the centre is a vital part of the city’s literary fabric, the paper said it also “embodies that sense of voluntary public service which long preceded David Cameron’s ‘big society’ ”.

With Dublin’s role as city of literature in mind, Harte is inaugurating a series of discussions at the centre on devising a national strategy on literature. The first takes place on Monday, at 7.30pm, under the title Exploiting Writers, Exploiting Tourism,with the speakers Michael O’Brien, Conor Kostick and Micheál de Mórdha.

In a document intended to spark debate on these issues, Harte says that the “enduring positive image of Ireland in the eyes of the world is largely due to the respect people have for our enormous achievement in literature” and suggests that, through cultural tourism, literature “will continue to be a major contributor to the Irish economy”. Calling literature “the hen that lays the golden eggs”, he warns that we must not take the eggs for granted, nor forget to feed the hen. Income generated through literary tourism should be reinvested in “the cultivation of readers and reading as well as providing the conditions in which writers and writing can thrive”.

In view of some recent damming reports about literacy standards here, Harte hits one of his important points when he says “universal literacy must be an absolute aim and, therefore, dedicated resources made available to schools to achieve this. Investment in school libraries and public libraries will not only inculcate a love of books and assist the drive towards superior literacy, it will also assist publishers and writers through the sale of books and the creation of a wider readership.” That’s an issue our new Ministers for the Arts and Education might find common ground on and set the tone for a national strategy on literature.

Leanne O’Sullivan awarded O’Shaughnessy prize

The Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry was recently presented to the Cork poet Leanne O’Sullivan, making her the latest in a distinguished roll-call of Irish poets to have received this award from the University of St Thomas, in St Paul, Minnesota, which has a very active Irish-studies centre and programme.

The $5,000 award, established in 1997, is named after its benefactor, who taught English in the university and later became president of the philanthropic foundation set up by his oil-tycoon father, Ignatius O’Shaughnessy. Previous winners include Eavan Boland, John F Deane, Peter Sirr, Moya Cannon, Pat Boran, Thomas McCarthy and Theo Dorgan.

O’Sullivan took part in readings, classroom visits and public interviews while in St Paul. Once referred to as a “teenaged Virgil” by the former US poet laureate Billy Collins, she is the author of two collections, Waiting for My Clothes, published when she was 21, and Cailleach: The Hag of Beara.