May Bank Holiday’s Poetry Festival in Strokestown was a lovely weekend – but a tremor of dismay ran through everyone when it was revealed that Arts Council funding has been cut and thereby next year’s event is in jeopardy.
This was the 18th year of the Festival, held (mostly) in Strokestown Park House (County Roscommon, Ireland), set in beautiful surroundings and firmly of the traditional mould.
The building is a magnificent 18th century mansion with many of its original fixtures and furnishings, including original flock wallpaper and heavy velvet drapes, and of course, creaking floorboards and squeaking oak doors. Perfect for poetry recitals!
I was there on Sunday morning to hear Jane Clarke, fresh from her win at the Hennessy Awards (she did not disappoint!); Gerry Boland and Margaret Hickey read too (also excellent). I stayed for the launch of the new Cyphers Magazine, then great book launches by Macdara Woods and Paddy Bushe. And still I lingered – to hear Pat Boran and Grace Wells, all of these wonderful wordsmiths making me realise what a long way I have to go to call myself a proper poet!
Even so, I’d had the great fortune to read my little poem ‘Fur Coat and No Knickers’ at Strokestown House on Saturday afternoon and came away with third prize (same as last year) in the Roscommon Poets’ Prize, Laurence Henson taking a rightful first for his ‘Man and Boy’. Judge Noelle Lynskey had a hard time choosing places, since I think any of the shortlisted poems could have been placed.
If you have any sway with the Arts Council, or if you have any ideas about how the Strokestown Poetry Festival could win financial support, I’m sure they’d like to hear from you. There was a petition asking the Arts Council to reverse the withdrawal of funding, which I signed, and I hope many others will too.
Strokestown Park is an appropriately bucolic setting for a gathering of poets and as I arrived back from lunch on Sunday, I was transfixed to see a lovely a grey heron fly past, land in the brook and start fishing just a few yards away, almost making me late for the afternoon readings. I have filed the incident away for future reference – there may be a poem in it!
In the picture are (from left) judge Noelle Lynskey, winner Laurence Henson, last year’s winner Catherine Ryan, Maureen Lydon, me (Louise G. Cole) and Bernadette Tansey.