Cheltenham `97: Hibernian Muse at work

A major theme of Cheltenham 1997 is Irish Writing. The first weekend, sponsored by the Irish Sunday Independent, features over a dozen events that highlight the contribution made by 20th-century Irish authors to what we think of as "English Literature". And a score of modern Irish practitioners will be crossing the Irish Sea to present their new work and discuss the multifarious destinations of the Hibernian Muse.

She is working overtime. Take Seamus Heaney, the Nobel prize-winner, Roddy Doyle, the Booker laureate and Bernard McLaverty, the Booker shortlistee. Irish poets, playwrights, short-story tellers and film-makers have achieved such prominence in the global literary market place, exerted such a vice-like grip on the book world's prizes, they seem determined to eclipse the lunar influence of W B Yeats on the emergent nation's soul.

Yeats' legacy will be discussed by his new biographer, Roy Foster (fellow in Irish history at Oxford University) with John Kelly, editor of The Yeats Letters, the eminent academic Edna Longley and the novelist Anne Enright. A twohander playlet, The Gulf of Love, evokes the passionate friendship between the nervy young bard and his beloved, imperious Maud Gonne.

Sheridan, Swift, Joyce and Oscar Wilde will likewise be celebrated with major events. In addition the festival are delighted to welcome: leading Irish commentators Mary Kenny, Clare Boylan, Frank Delaney and Colm Toibin who discuss the changing face of the Republic from cultural backwater to leading European partner and exporter of talent to the world.

Edna O'Brien, the prima donna assoluta of Ireland's women writers, talks about passion, the Muse and her latest novels.

Two wayward unclassifiable geniuses meet on stage. Aidan Higgins is the author of Langrishe Go Down, one of the finest postwar novels in English, narrated with documentary realism. Harold Pinter adapted it for film. Dermot Healy's novel, A Goat's Song, was greeted by critics with the kind of enthusiasm reserved for the Latin American masters. Both men have now published memoirs of home and their escape from it.

The most talented of young Irish novelists - Dermot Bolger, Hugo Hamilton, Martina Evans, Kate O'Riordan - discuss the problem of finding a voice in English to express an Irish sensibility.

Belfast Catholic novelist Robert McLiam Wilson meets Belfast Protestant novelist Maurice Leitch with Belfast poet Ciaran Carson to celebrate their hometown as something more than a war zone

Poets from all 32 counties take the Cheltenham stage. Paul Durcan, passionate and controversial, heads a steamy cast that includes Rita Ann Higgins, Ciaran Carson, Bernard O'Donoghue, Michael Longley

With Irish step dancing, fiddle, guitar and accordion music on the fringe, a "Midnight Court" of song, dance and recitals, and a half-dozen productions of modern Irish drama (including Brian Friel's Dancing At Lughnasa), this will be a burst of Celtic creativity you won't easily forget...

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