How Eimear went from festival fan to running the whole show

July 18th, 2016 12:55 PM

By Jackie Keogh

DIRECTORS ON THE DOUBLE: Eimear O'Herlihy, director of West Cork Literary Festival, with Francis Humphrys, the director of West Cork Chamber Music Festival, at Vaughan's Pass in Bantry. (Photo: Darragh Kane)

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HOLIDAYS in West Cork were the ‘jumping-off’ point for Eimear O’Herlihy, director of the West Cork Literary Festival.

Eimear’s dad, Tim, was from the town of Dunmanway and his mother, Margaret McCarthy, came from Goleen. ‘So,’ Eimear said, ‘we spent most, if not all, of our summers in one part of West Cork or another.’

Over the last seven or eight years, Eimear started coming to West Cork for another reason. She had become a major fan of the West Cork Literary Festival and attended as much of the seven-day festival as she could.

‘I’d be attracted by one of the big names on the programme, but when I came I would end up attending so many other events and discovering writers that were new to me.’

When the opportunity to apply for the role of festival director came up, Eimear, who is from Cork, said: ‘I jumped at the chance,’ and, happily, she was appointed in September 2014.

‘Last year, the festival was nerve-wrecking for me because working on an event is very different to attending as an audience member, but it was also a very exciting week and the entire team pulled it all together, and it went off more or less without a hitch.

‘The highlight last year was Graham Norton because of his West Cork connection, and the fact that he is such a great personality, and such a fantastic speaker, but it was also very exciting to have the opportunity to showcase newer writers, in particular those who had just brought out their first book, like Sara Baume, Lisa McInerney and Colin Barrett.

‘This year I am looking forward to hearing Gloria Steinem, a journalist and feminist who will be speaking at 12 noon at The Maritime Hotel on Saturday, July 23rd. I am such a huge fan of her work – of both her writing, and her work as an activist. 

‘I am also looking forward to hearing Fintan O’Toole of The Irish Times who will be speaking at 8.30pm on Wednesday, July 20th, about the need for a new relationship between culture and politics in Ireland. 

Other big names attending the festival will be Zadie Smith and her husband, the poet and novelist Nick Laird. They will be reading together in The Maritime Hotel, Eimear adds.

She has worked in arts management for the last 20 years. Most recently, she spent seven years working in the Everyman in Cork as executive director. And before that she spent five years as festival manager of the Cork Film Festival.

‘It has been a diverse career path but it is something that I always knew I wanted,’ said Eimear. 

‘I always wanted to work in an industry that I was passionate about myself.

‘I am much happier being the person working behind the scenes, rather than being up on stage. It is very rewarding to bring other people’s work to an audience.’

Eimear admits she privately likes to dabble as a writer but would not be comfortable sharing it publicly. 

‘But that is what is so amazing about the West Cork Literary Festival, it gives writers of all levels the opportunity to get involved, she pointed out. ‘There are opportunities for writers to attend workshops as well as sessions with an agent or editor. It is also an invaluable platform for writers to share their work whether it is their first collection, or novel, or if they are more well-known and established authors.

‘We showcase all sorts of writing from novels, to short stories, to playwriting, poetry, song writing, memoir, travel and journalism,’ said Eimear, who also drew attention to the fact that this year’s festival has an extensive programme for children.

That programme includes poetry and fiction reading, as well as a reading from the Irish-language edition of Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Another highlight, this year, will be a reading at 3pm in St Brendan’s School Hall by Darren Shan, author of the Zom-B series of books. In addition, there will be writing and illustrating workshops for children.

The festival starts on Sunday with a reading at 3pm at Bantry House by the former All Creatures Great and Small actress, Carol Drinkwater, who is now better known as the author of The Olive Farm series. It’s an auspicious beginning, and a good reflection of a programme that has become a highlight in the Irish literary calendar.

The West Cork Literary Festival runs from July 17th-23rd.

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