S’Truth! It All Happened in the Ballroom

The family began the Carlow Festival of Writing and Ideas in Dublin, at a noodle house (where my delicious sounding shredded beef turned out to be a mountain of mince) and continued in the Rag Trader pub expounding the delights of the British Election, Brexit, and block chain technology (after five pints I thought I had grasped the concept of block chain technology, but later discovered I hadn’t). It was only early Sunday morning before we got on the M9 to Borris House, the ancestral home of the McMorrows Kavanaghs (High Kings of Leinster, I’ll have you know). So, we arrived a day late in an Irish squall, a little the worse for wear, and found ourselves, rather under dressed,  in the grand grounds of a castle, complete with a chapel, granary,  ball room  standing among Anglo Saxon looking middle aged ladies and gentleman, wandering around clasping books and umbrellas.

We acclimatised ourselves in the bar (with a coffee) and retired to the ballroom to listen to Dominic West (McNulty in The Wire) talk to The Wire’s director and producer, David Simon. Dominic West’s open face and smile was an immediate winner (my daughter was extremely embarrassed at my gasp and drool) but their discussion and banter was amusing and endearing. It was fascinating to listen to how David Simon had planned the arc of The Wire over five years. Each series exposes how the life of an individual human being is shown to have less and less value and is considered more and more in terms of a unit of cost – whatever field you operate in; drugs, local government, education, politics. Both he and Dom (yes, Dom now, air kiss, cheeks, smile) were adorable and I wanted to marry both (for different reasons).

After a little more standing about in windswept rain, with paper coffee, feeling like drenched imposters, we went to listen to Fintan O’Toole talk to Margaret McMillan (historian) about the first world war. Sometimes I find Fintan O’Toole too erudite and other times too smug and arrogant, and I didn’t know Margaret McMillan’s work, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I emerged from The Granary fuming. After rather inane discussions as to when WW1 ended, internationalism, The Depression, betrayal, they moved on to discuss Brexit and the UK election. Ms McMillan declared she didn’t know how an allotment keeper (referring to Jeremy Corbyn) would handle Brexit negotiations! They discussed the lack of an ‘English’ identity which is odd since, in my experience of living here, I have found the Irish to have very strong views about the ‘English’ identity, and finally pronounced on their dislike of and limitations of popular protest groups. I thought she and Fintan were well suited. They could marry each other, I decided, and flounced off to the ballroom.

In the aforementioned ballroom,  Sebastian Barry was being interviewed by Max Porter. SB was wonderful. He wowed us all with a magnificent performance, reading one of the civil war battles as described by Thomas, his narrator in Days Without End. It was magnificent: hoarse, throaty, desperate, frantic. He captured the ‘lurching wild gallop of human creatures.’ SB described the book as a father’s book because it was written with the love of a father for his son; a son who is gay and who showed him how love for a person of the same gender was magic, delicate and encapsulating. The book is one of the best books I have ever read of Sebastian Barry’s and I have read them all. Indeed, it is one of the best books I have ever read. The language and breath belongs to the land and words belong to his characters. For me, the author was invisible. I could only hear Thomas. How brilliant is that? So, it was very embarrassing when I asked him about Birdsong, the only other book that has done that for me!! He laughed, and said he loved me…(why was he telling me that, I wondered), that it was a question he got asked a lot, and reminded me that Birdsong was written by Sebastian Faulkes! OMG! I knew that. I did! I have read all his books too. I blame the fifth pint! I got out of there quickly as I could, though I have to say, suddenly everyone wanted to talk with me, and people were patting my shoulder and smiling but, then I realised I had to turn around and push my way back in because ‘the giants’, as described in the brochure, Jeffrey Eugenides, Colm Tóibín and Richard Ford were back in the ballroom. But, SB said he loved me! I would marry him.

Gentle giants, they were, or maybe I felt that because I was still in recovery and couldn’t absorb their words. My notes show they talked about writing about the home place, how the words would come easier because they knew the hinterland and the weather (CT seemed a little hung up on the weather). There was a discussion about the difference between memoir and fiction.  My notes show that Richard Ford was saying that truth was told through the agency of fact. In fiction, the word becomes true. In memoir, the word needs to be true. JE talked about fictionalising fact, and CT talked, and talked about all sorts of things. I got a little confused but didn’t feel the need to pop any question.

Anyway, I it was a great festival, despite the rain, the hang over, the embarrassment and well worth the entry fee. Next year, I’ll try not to get sidelined by Dublin on the Saturday.


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