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Top ten reads ahead of West Cork Literary Festival

April 21st, 2024 9:45 AM

By Cammy Harley

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CAMMY HARLEY pores over the full list of guests at this year’s West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry in July and chooses her top 10 must-reads in preparation

THE West Cork Literary Festival has been going for just over a quarter of a century and during that time has consistently produced a jam-packed week of events that has brought readers, writers, poets, publishers, agents and booklovers together for an inspiring collection of events and workshops.

This year, festival director Eimear O’Herlihy has pulled out all the stops to produce a star-studded line-up that will include appearances from Booker prizewinner Paul Lynch and enigmatic actress and memoirist Miriam Margolyes.

Here are ten recommendations to get into over the next few months ahead of July!

Breakdown – Cathy Sweeney



Breakdown is one of the best debut novels that has hit the shelves this year as although the narrator is unlikable in many ways, the book is so unflinching and so well written that it pulls you in from the start. It follows the story of a middle-class woman who lives in suburban Dublin with her husband and two children and who, without any purpose, just walks out of her life one morning and begins a life of transfiguration.

Wild Houses– Colin Barrett


Wild Houses takes the reader along on a wild weekend that changes everyone’s lives. It involves a small-town feud and a madcap kidnapping set against a detailed picture of the ordinariness of rural life in the small-town community of Ballina. As the town prepares for its biggest festival weekend of the year, the feud spills over into violence and an ugly ultimatum is issued.

You are Here  – David Nicholls


For those who ‘don’t usually read romance’ David Nicholls is a highly recommended read.  Well known for his book One Day, which has been adapted for Netflix, his new novel You Are Here is a story of first encounters, second chances and finding the way home. Marnie and Michael are each stuck in their own lives when they are introduced to each other by a mutual friend who orchestrates a weekend ramble across the Cumbrian countryside where things start to happen.

All Through the Night –Dani Robertson

Dani Robertson is a dark sky officer at Snowdonia National Park and her book All Through the Night – Why Our Lives Depend on Dark Skies, is an engaging non-fiction book which is warmly written and intersperses scientific information with personal stories which highlight the importance of protecting dark spaces at all costs.

Quickly, While they Still Have Horses – Jan Carson

This collection of sixteen brilliant short stories is a perfect introduction to anyone new to Jan Carson’s writing where her characters often feel real enough to reach out and have a coffee with.  In this collection Jan’s stories offer a look at life in post-conflict Northern Ireland. Jan will also be teaching a short story writing workshop during the festival.

A Thread of Violence – Mark O’Connell

Mark O’Connell is an award winning writer who, in A Thread of Violence, has given a gripping account of one of the most scandalous murders in modern Irish history. The account follows Malcolm Macarthur, a well-known Dublin socialite and heir who found that after his inheritance had dwindled, his current lifestyle would have to end. Macarthur decided to commit a bank robbery but his plan spun out of control and two innocent people were killed. The ensuing manhunt, arrest, and conviction was one of the most infamous political scandals in modern Irish history, contributing to the eventual collapse of a government.

Twelve Sheep– John Connell

Twelve Sheep is a delightful read from John Connell who is a writer and farmer from Longford. In the hard work of livestock rearing and in the long nights in the shed helping the sheep to lamb, John reflects on what life truly means. The book is simple yet profound, a meditation on the rituals of farming life and a primer on the lessons nature can teach. John’s number-one bestselling memoir
The Cow Book was awarded popular non-fiction book of the year at the Irish Book Awards.

An Drúchtín agus an Seilide Oein DeBhairduin

This is a most delightful children’s story of The Slug and the Snail which is available in both Irish and English. Oein DeBhairduin is a writer, activist, educator and the Traveller culture collections development officer with the National Museum of Ireland. The Slug and the Snail is his latest book and his other titles Why the Moon Travels and Twiggy Woman are engaging collections of tales and folklore rooted in the oral tradition of the Irish Traveller community.

Seaborne – Nuala O’Connor

Nuala’s novel Seaborne tells a story of Anne Bonny, the 18th century pirate who was born in Kinsale, so it has a lovely West Cork connection. Seaborne is a sensuous portrait of a young woman out of step with her time and place, but never her heart. Anne Bonny’s life was dramatic and full with adventure and dangerous exploits. Domesticity was never going to be her chosen path and Seaborne takes the reader along on the story of a wild and rebellious woman.

Adrift: The Curious Tale of Lego Lost at SeaTracey Williams

In 1997, 62 containers fell off a cargo ship hit by a rogue wave off Cornwall, including one filled with nearly five million pieces of Lego, much of it sea-themed. In the months that followed, beachcombers started to find Lego washed up on beaches: octopuses, sea grass, spear guns, life rafts, and scuba tanks. The pieces are still washing up today.  Adrift is a wonderful book poetically written and accompanied by beautiful photography. It gives readers an insight into just what is in the oceans and scarily, how long it has been there or might still be, for years to come.

• Some books have yet to be published, I am looking forward to reading Sinead Gleeson’s Hagstone, Colm Tóibín’s Long Island and Kevin Barry’s The Heart In Winter, which will be published in June.

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