My first visit to Listowel for Writers' Week

Article by Lorraine Griffin ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story)

Into the Arms of Listowel

It sounds very gauche to say that this was my first solo holiday, especially in a time where everyone seems to be heading off to India or Bali to discover themselves.  But there you have it: ‘twas just I, my trusty fiesta, a 2-litre of water and a hastily scribbled set of directions. It would be great to paint a Hollywood-style picture by saying the rooftop was down, the stereo blaring and a Grace Kelly style scarf was wrapped o’er my golden tresses.   But alas the reality was different.   An immoveable roof, exasperatingly awkward roll-up windows and dodgy radio signal meant that good auld Radio nEireann provided the soundtrack to my journey.  More easy listening tunes than rebellious road-warrior rock anthems.

And all went well – to a point.  I had successfully navigated my way to the outskirts of Listowel for the 2009 Writers Week but was faltering at the last hurdle (actually it was the sight of a Lidl that threw me.  My misty-eyed image of Listowel didn’t allow for the presence of a German discount store).  So pulling up alongside one of the locals I asked if I was close.  He looked at me and laconically pointed across the road at a sign clearly stating ‘Listowel Town Centre 1 mile’.
“Well you’d be headed the right way all right”.
His mirth would have been imperceptible to the average tourist but, native-to-native, I knew he’d be telling this one over a few pints later.
It was opening night, and along with the masses, I ended up at John B Keane’s pub. Jammed with writers, poets, comedians, teachers and actors it was the essence of Writers’ Week distilled into one tavern.  At this stage, everyone had had their “Gabriel Byrne moment”, be it at the bar or walking through the Square.  If not with Mr. Byrne then it was with one of the other luminaries in town.  Eager to have my moment, I was delighted to learn that Colm Tóibín was in the bar.  I would be coming face to face with literary greatness.  If anything it would be a fantastic story to tell in later life.   Unfortunately it didn’t quite pan out that way.  The reality was a cringe-fest of the highest order; a car crash moment that took some bolstering to get over.
You’re Colm Tóibín!”  His intense brown eyes fixed upon the source of the squeal (me) and deadpan as ever he replied: “Yes, I am.”
All bravado diminished (because let’s face it where do you go from here?) I meekly retorted: “That’s great.”  
The gang’s laughter mingled with his as he disappeared into the crowd.  Not the impression I’d hoped to make.  Nor did I have a hope of redressing this impression.  My embarrassment ensured that I spent the week avoiding Mr. Tóibín, the festival’s president.

Read more about this literary journey here..