Feature Articles

IMRAM 2005 by Liam Carson

(November / December 2005)

‘Déantar, dóitear tinte teo dúinn,
Líontar ar bord chugainn tuilleadh den fhíon,
Seinntear ceol dúinn, píob is óbó,
Binnchruit órga agus fidil an chroí.’
- Seán de Hóra

These were the words with which I opened IMRAM 2005’s first major event on Wednesday 12 October. By luck, I’d come across this gorgeous little snippet in Seán de Fréine’s Croí Cine, a wonderful anthology of dréachtíní agus sleachta from centuries of Irish literature. It is, like many great books in Irish, shamefully out of print.

The quote evokes what should be at the heart of a good literary festival - warmth, generosity of spirit, lots of good drink, and fidil an chroí, the fiddle music of the heart. And IMRAM 2005 had these qualities in abundance. There was the ecstatic reception in a packed Sugar Club for Hilary Bow’s hypnotic bossa nova love songs as Gaeilge; singer Deirbhile Ní Bhrolacháin accompanied by Tony MacMahon and Steve Cooney in the Ha’penny Bridge Inn, leading the audience in moving versions of Dylan’s ‘Hard Rain’ and the great Jacobite song ‘Mo Ghile Mear’ in memory of the late Michael Davitt; Dara Beag from Inis Oírr filling the Boom Boom Room with the largeness and sheer joy of his spirit.

There’s a tidal wave of memories which I’m still trying to process. Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill bopping furiously to reggae band Bréag; Seán Mac Mathúna’s off-the-cuff bi-lingual stream-of-consciousness rap about Saint Patrick; and Welsh poet Ifor ap Glyn slapping his belly and getting the audience to chant is mise fear an bhoilg. Then there was Séamas Mac Annaidh, as full of spleodar as ever, a sheaf of multi-coloured recycled paper flying from his hands as he got caught up in the vibrancy of his storytelling. The excitement of the first copies of Cathal Ó Searcaigh’s Na hAingle ó Xanadu arriving from the printers a mere hour before Cathal took the stage in Conradh na Gaeilge. Fellow-IMRAM director Colette Nic Aodha composing a poem in honour of IMRAM on the spot. Confident début readings from Dairena Ní Chinnéide, Philip Cummings, Proinsias Mac an Bhaird...

A literary festival is a shaky endeavour. You never really know what’s going to happen until the events are up and rolling. Any festival organiser will tell you about the sleepless nights, the worrying, Do we have enough money? Are all the hotel rooms booked? Will the brochure arrive on time? Will we get enough publicity? Will we get the audiences we need?

By and large, IMRAM 2005 succeeded in its aims, I think. I’m proud of our co-operation with literary agent Jonathan Williams and Iarnród Éireann in placing Irish language poetry on the DART, featuring Claire Dagger, Bríd Daibhís, Rody Gorman and Gearóid Mac Lochlainn. But what I’m most proud of is the spirit IMRAM has created, and the kindness, understanding and appreciation shown by all the writers and musicians who came. I’ll remember how Fionntán de Brún, Pól Ó Muirí, and Cathal Póirtéir battled to make their voices heard above the clatter of cutlery and the ringing of mobiles in the Filmbase Café. And how at the same reading we had to see off a very noisy samba band just outside the café. I’m grateful to Dara Beag for coming all the way from the Aran Islands just a few days after being in hospital.

Tá an focal labhartha is an focal scríofa fite fuaite lena chéile. IMRAM is about the inextricable link between the spoken word and the written word. IMRAM is about the physical presence of the word and of the author. There is a clear need for Irish language authors to be given a platform - to meet their readers, to excite and create new readers. It is about making the authors feel there’s somebody out there prepared to give their words a shelter, a sanctuary, a tearmann. At the IMRAM book fair, I came across Michael Hartnett’s beautiful Irish versions of the poems of Saint John of the Cross. This poem - An Focal Diaga/Del Verbo Divino expresses the importance of giving the Word (however you choose to hear it) a welcome:

Tiocfaidh Muire is í torrach
ag iompar an Fhocail
ar an mbealach
má gheobaidh sí uait fothain...

I simply don’t have the space here to thank everybody who made IMRAM work - but I must mention fellow directors Gabriel Rosenstock and Colette Nic Aodha; and Joe Woods and his diligent team at Poetry Ireland. To all the friends of IMRAM, I give you a true buíochas as ucht. We will be back. Bímis ag léamh! Bímis ag iomramh!

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