Former Listowel festival chair ‘disappointed’ over controversy surrounding this year’s event

Ongoing turmoil surrounding Writers’ Week could have been avoided if heads were ‘knocked together’ says well-known poet Fitzmaurice

The former chair of a literary festival in Co Kerry has said the recent turmoil and controversy facing the Listowel Writers’ Week event could have been avoided if heads were “knocked together”.

Recent months have seen a clash between the board of Listowel Writers’ Week festival and a long-standing voluntary committee. In a recent statement, the committee said it had decided to “disengage” with the festival this year under its current board of directors.

“While this is a heartbreaking decision for us, we wish the very best in 2023 for the festival we have nurtured over the decades,” the group said.

Gabriel Fitzmaurice, a poet from Moyvane, Co Kerry, who chaired the festival for six years in the 1980s, said he was “disappointed” at the impact the controversy was having on the long-established festival.


Mr Fitzmaurice said it had been a “major fatal mistake” to disband the voluntary committee that had been running the festival.

Disputes between organisers was “nothing that couldn’t have been ironed out” and should have “been headed off,” he told The Irish Times.

While the Writers’ Week event was a “magnificent” festival, the current board was “not fit for purpose”, he said.

As a former chair of the festival, Mr Fitzmaurice said there was “bound to be personality clashes” between organisers, but they should have been able to be resolved.

“I wish Writers’ Week the very, very best. Please God heads will be knocked together and it will go forward after this festival,” he said.

The voluntary committee had in recent weeks been “invited back to sell tickets and put chairs on floors”, which he said was a “downright insult” to its members.

The festival, which runs from May 31st to June 4th this year, has been running for more than 50 years.

Among those who put their name to the joint statement from the voluntary committee was Joanna O’Flynn, the daughter of founding member of the festival John B Keane.

The bitter row with the board had already seen the resignation in November of long-standing president Colm Tóibín.

Meanwhile, former arts minister Jimmy Deenihan has rejoined the board of Writers’ Week, after previously resigning.

Mr Deenihan said he had received dozens of calls from people concerned about the future of the event and so this week agreed to stay on until after the upcoming festival this summer.

“I have agreed to stay on the board until then but I will remain as a volunteer of WW for as long as I am in a position to make a contribution,” he said.

A previous statement from the board said a curator had been appointed to “strengthen the quality of our artistic programming” and broaden the reach of the festival.

Catherine Moylan, chair of the board, said governance, artistic policy and programming had become “a matter of concern” requiring attention.

“Dealing with these has created discomfort for some people, and that is not unusual,” she previously stated.

“Our position is that we are fully committed to good governance to protect the festival’s interests, to safeguard the public, private, and other funding that we receive annually, and to ensure that staff and volunteers work in a safe environment,” she had said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times