Saturday, 13 February 2010

Exhibition of Letters from Famous People at the National Library

                             Exhibition of Letters from Famous People Now Open at the National Library of Ireland

Broadcaster and comedian Graham Norton presided over the official opening of the exhibition Discover Lifelines at the National Library of Ireland marking the 25th anniversary of the Lifelines project at Wesley College, Dublin which has raised over €100,000 for Concern and the developing world.

Discover Lifelines: letters from famous people about their favourite poems reveals the thoughts and poetic choices of a wide variety of people from government ministers to priests, poets, activists and actors including Margaret Atwood, John Banville, Sebastian Barry, Maeve Binchy,  George Hook, Dermot Bolger, Richard Dawkins, Judi Dench, Dermot Desmond, Roddy Doyle, Margaret Drabble, Garret FitzGerald, Roy Foster, Sir John Gielgud, Seamus Heaney, Jeremy Irons, John B Keane, Brendan Kennelly, Marian Keyes, Nuala NĂ­ Dhomhnaill, Graham Norton, Joseph O’Connor, Tom Stoppard, Mother Teresa, William Trevor and many others.  The exhibition shows people’s belief in poetry and how in its unique and quiet way, poetry endures and enriches lives.

Lifelines began in a classroom in Wesley College in 1985 and first saw the light of day as a little Gestetnered stapled booklet. Three other booklets followed and their sell-out success resulted in the book Lifelines, published in 1992, Lifelines 2 appeared in 1994 and Lifelines 3 in 1997. The Lifelines anthologies include contributions from five Nobel Laureates and the project was much praised: Iris Murdoch described it as ‘such an excellent project and such good reading’, and Graham Norton noted: ‘Finally, a book that puts poetry in the “loved-it” pile, rather than the “must-get-around-to-reading” pile.’  A selection from Lifelines was published by Penguin in 1993, and a further volume, a New and Collected edition, published by Townhouse in 2006. Unusually for a poetry book, Lifelines featured prominently in the Best-Seller lists.

All correspondence, photographs and other related archive material relating to Lifelines was donated to the National Library of Ireland by Wesley College and today, replies from over 650 people who responded to the pupils’ appeals are preserved in the Library.  Discover Lifelines is available as a travelling exhibition for schools, libraries and other venues nationwide. 

Discover Lifelines, National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2. Admission Free.  Lifelines New and Collected available from the National Library shop (€12) .  See for further information.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

No Grant for the Irish Writers' Centre

We are very disappointed to hear that the Irish Writers' Centre did not receive any Arts Council funding for 2010.   I started volunteering in the IWC six months ago and have been overwhelmed by the passion and commitment the board and staff have for the both the Centre and Irish Literature.   Do check out the website,

No Grant from the Arts Council

The Board’s Response 

The Irish Writers’ Centre is extremely disappointed that the Arts Council has rejected its application for a grant for 2010. Until 2009 the IWC received an annual grant to enable it function as an organisation providing a venue and a service to writers and the public, but the grant was withheld last year on the basis of a value-for-money assessment. Over the past year the Centre has addressed all the criticism and misgivings that led to the withholding of the grant. It has renewed itself and reformed entirely. Through the efforts of the Board and a team of voluntary staff we have now established a vibrant and exciting centre, open from morning to night, open Saturdays, with readings, events, workshops, meetings, all progressing non-stop. We have opened up a home-from-home where writers and readers can converge for literary business and literary pleasure. We have ensured that there is one place in Dublin where writers from abroad can come to interact with their Irish colleagues. This supreme effort has been made to demonstrate how effectively the Centre can cater for the needs of writers and readers, but it cannot be maintained indefinitely without funding. 

Writing is the national art form of Ireland; more than with anything else, our national identity is associated with writing. But the allocation of resources does not reflect the primacy of literature, quite the contrary, despite the enormous economic contribution that literature makes to the country through cultural tourism. The Writers’ Centre has been given the most enthusiastic support by the whole literary community over the past months. Everyone has shown anxiety for its survival as a venue for showcasing contemporary Irish writing, encouraging new writing, providing writers with one physical location which belongs to them: a writers’ house. Within the literature community there has been a consensus endorsing its case for funding. It is therefore all the more baffling and disappointing that the Arts Council has not responded to that clear wish of the literature community. 

Dublin has lodged an application to UNESCO for a special designation as a ‘City of Literature’. If this is granted, Dublin, and Ireland, will be able to exploit this status to enhance its cultural profile and its attraction to cultural tourists. But the designation will be granted and maintained, not in recognition of our glorious tradition, but on the vibrancy of the contemporary writing environment and on the infrastructure that exists to sustain and develop that vibrancy. In view of this, the decision of the Arts Council to jeopardise the Irish Writers’ Centre is myopic in the extreme.  

Last autumn when the Arts Council faced the spectre of a catastrophic cut in funding for the arts, they issued a call-to-arms and asked the writers to join the vanguard on the basis that literature was demonstrably our extraordinary performer in the arts arena. Reasonable damage limitation was achieved, but the recent grant allocations to literature do not reflect the enormous esteem for writers and writing the Council espoused just a few months ago.