IT was a veritable who’s who of the literary world in Bantry Library last Friday night, at the opening event of the West Cork Literary Festival.
Writer Sara Baume officially opened the festival, in the presence of county librarian Emer O’Brien and festival director Eimear O’Herlihy, but award-winning writers Kevin Healy and John Boyne were in the vicinity and just an hour later, the crowds were thronging into the Maritime Hotel to hear author and former president Mary Robinson speak.
Cllr Holly McKeever Cairns, who spoke at the opening, recalled her family’s links with the festival and her own love of reading.
Deputising for the county mayor, the newly-elected Social Democrat said she had often been to the library as a child, and was delighted to be back in an official capacity.
She said her Dad saw something special in Bantry and he instilled that love of the town in her. She said such festivals boost tourism and she thanked former councillor Mary Hegarty – described as one of her heroes – for all the work she had done to raise Bantry’s profile.
She said that the Literary Festival, combined with the Chamber Music and Masters of Tradition festivals, provided a €3m boost for the town, and that Cork County Council was proud to be a sponsor.
Cllr McKeever Cairns said festivals were a good platform for local campaigns like the opposition to mechanical kelp harvesting in the bay and a plastics factory planned for Skibbereen. ‘Enjoy this wonderful festival and tell the world about it,’ she urged.
Later that evening, in the first major event of the festival, former president Mary Robinson urged the locals to fight for their planet and for the future of their children and grandchildren.
She said that Earth has until 2030 to reduce carbon emissions by 45% or we will not achieve our target of limiting the increase in world temperatures to just 1.5 degrees Celsius. If the temperature rises by more than that, then we are going to start losing entire islands, and countries, to flooding and other climate events.
Sadly, she noted, the world’s carbon emissions rose last year, and are set to rise by even more this year. But it is not too late to turn back the tide, she said.
‘I could frighten the lives out of you but I am charged, by Nelson Mandela, who brought the elders together, to bring hope where there is despair,’ said Mrs Robinson, who is now the chair of the elders, a group of former world leaders instigated by Nelson Mandela. She is also the UN special envoy on climate change.
Pointing out that there is plenty we can all do on a small scale, she congratulated the towns that have created biodiversity areas, but she proposed a three-pronged approach for everyone.
‘Firstly, we can take climate change seriously – do something yourself to reduce your own carbon footprint. Secondly, get angry and get active – and support people, politicians, who are on the right side of this.’
She said that, thirdly, we should all ‘imagine a world we want to live in and try to get there in a hurry’. This kind of world should be a healthier, fairer place for all.
Mrs Robinson, who was interviewed by broadcaster Deirdre O’Shaughnessy, was promoting her book Climate Justice. ‘Climate,’ she said, ‘is a man-made problem that requires a feminist solution’.
She said that ‘man-made’ meant that it was created by men and women, but a ‘feminist solution’ should ‘include men – and the more men the better.’
She said she was happy the Irish people had recently voted for a president who was ‘great on climate’ and she urged everyone to Google the ‘2030 Agenda’ and the ’17 sustainable development goals’.
Referring to the move from fossil fuels to policies of carbon reduction, she said we must have a “just transition” for those employed in industries which need to be shut down.
‘We must move quickly out of coal, peat, oil and gas,’ she said, adding: ‘The peat workers in the midlands have to have a “just transition” – and they are a litmus test for all of us. If we let them down, then others will not want to move on.’
She said we will also have to take hard economic decisions, like retro-fitting our homes.
During a Q&A session at the end of the interview, climate change protestor Saoi O’Connor (16) from Skibbereen got a round of applause when she told the audience she was continuing her Friday protests outside City Hall in Cork, similar to Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, in Sweden.
Earlier, Mrs Robinson stopped to talk to the Extinction Rebellion group who had welcome banners for her outside the hotel.
Mrs Robinson also spoke of her friend Dr Tara Shine, a co-founder of Plastic Free Kinsale, and the great work that organisation is doing for the environment.
Bandon Co-Op is delighted to be involved with and supporting many local community groups all over West Cork. This video encapsulates some of the wonderful people that we have the pleasure of dealing with #TogetherStrongerWestCork