On the day before the Kells Hinterland Festival kicked off last weekend, this newspaper carried a bombshell of a front page headline; the Book of Kells was not written by the monks in Kells, but by a gang of nuns in Kildare. Or so says medieval researcher Francis O’Reilly in Ann Casey’s shocking exclusive.
Such news might have rattled the good burghers of Kells, especially considering the weekend that was in it. But nothing could steal Hinterland’s thunder and it rolled on, unshaken and unstirred and yet again the town buzzed for four days in a row. Book fiends, history buffs, music and drama fans, art appreciators, fine antique connoisseurs, the politically charged and the politically exhausted, and of course the kids were all treated to a very special weekend.
Such was the demand for tickets this year that the first three events of the festival had to be moved from the courthouse to the much larger Church of Ireland venue. Guests on Thursday included Prime Time’s David McCullagh, UCD’s Diarmaid Ferriter, author of The Maamtrasna Murders Margaret Kelleher and Patricia Byrne, author of The Preacher and the Prelate, each one speaking to a packed house.
Fintan O'Toole in Brexit
The Type Trail, a collection of art installations strewn like confetti across the town, was launched on Thursday evening. Headed by local artist Mark Smith, this annual exhibition involves local primary schools, DKIT and Athlone IT students and a plethora of community groups.
On Friday, guests included crime authors Liz Nugent, Jane Casey and Olivia Kiernan. Ryan Tubridy broadcast his radio show from the Headfort Arms and spoke to the irrepressible Nick Hewer from the TV show The Apprentice, now presenting Countdown. Mr Hewer proved himself to be a charming, brilliant and very funny raconteur, both on radio and in a further interview in the afternoon. Martina Fitzgerald spoke about women in politics to a thronged house, and Fred Cooke’s show in the Headfort Arms was completely sold out.
Alannah Gaughran with Nick Hewer
Christy Lefteri, author of The Beekeeper of Aleppo, spoke to Deirdre Hurley on Saturday morning in an intense and moving interview and later Matthew Spangler, Hinterland’s writer-in-residence, discussed adapting the Beekeeper for stage. Fintan O’Toole delivered his own inimitable take on the heroic failure of Brexit and Paul Mason also discussed Brexit, along with his perception of the dehumanizing effects of politics and commerce with Myles Dungan. John Boyne charmed everybody in his packed audience, as did Sinead Gleeson who discussed her book Constellations with Liz Nugent. While the Great Brexit Debate raged in the Church of Ireland, Tom Dunne talked peace and love, man, at ‘Woodstock, Fifty Years On’. There was not a ticket to be had for Matthew Gilsenan’s concert in the Headfort Arms, sold out long beforehand.
TypeTrail's Mark Smith with master printer Freddie Snowe
Kids’ events during the day included the likes of Jason Byrne and Oisin McGann while the afternoon featured a Roald Dahl-inspired session of making “marvellous medicines” with Kelly Gartland. A Roald Dahl Treasure Hunt on Sunday afternoon thrilled the kids, while Owen O’Doherty closed the two-day kids’ adventure with a workshop on great inventions.
Sunday afternoon saw Alan Shatter air his grievances and talk about his book Frenzy and Betrayal to a house that was full to capacity. Immediately afterwards the Guardian’s foreign correspondent Luke Harding revealed some truly astonishing facts about the collusion between Trump and Putin, and Philip Boucher Hayes challenged us to change our habits if we wish to arrest climate change.
Myles Dungan read from his satirical novel White House in one of the many Lit Crawl events on Sunday evening and he later told the Chronicle: “It was another success this year. The final figures are not yet available, but there was at least a 10% increase, and possibly higher, on last year’s ticket sales.” And did he have a favourite interview moment this year? Indeed he did. It was when Richard O’Rawe, author and former Long Kesh Republican prisoner, convicted of bank robbery, informed his audience with all the gravitas he could muster that “Robbing a bank isn’t as easy as you’d think”!
The nuns in Kildare might be laying claim to the Book of Kells but the Book Festival of Kells is staying right where it is.