Today, the 5th of May 2020 we should be looking back on another successful Féile na Bealtaine, the great literary and cultural festival which takes place in Dingle every year.
Sadly, Covid-19 put paid to that but it is more important to stay safe so we can look forward to everything back to normal in 2020.
In 1998 it was the early days of the Féile but already it had gained a reputation and was attracting some big national ans international names.
I recall the 5th of May that year when I visited the Skellig Hotel for one of the events. There were three ‘celebrities’ on the programme who I was interested in hearing:
Dr Conor Cruise O’Brien, Máire Mhac an tSaoi, ans the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
I had been familiar with Yevtushenko’s poetry (in translation) for a few years previously and I was particularly keen to see and hear him.
He had an ambiguous relationship with the Soviet authorities and although much of his poetry was critical of the persistent Stalinism in Russia he managed to avoid the more serious persecution that many of his compatriots suffered.
He lived in the USA for the latter part of his life and attracted large audiences to his readings.
He read some of his poetry in Russian (including extracts from Babiy Yar – his most famous anti-Stalin poem) which was translated by an interpreter even though Yevtushenko had good English.
“No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself….”
I was happy to meet Yevtushenko at Féile na Bealtaine 1998 when he signed copies of his new book of poetry ‘Pre-Morning’ (предутро) which had the text in Russian and English.
Conor Cruise O’Brien
Dr. Conor Cruise O’Brien was a well known literary and political figure who was brought up in a very republican family but renounced nationalism and was an outspoken critic of the IRA during the ‘Troubles’. He became more and more controversial and eventually stood for election as a Unionist in Northern Ireland in 1996.
At his talk at Féile na Bealtaine he was tackled about these issues by some Republicans in the audience and a lively debate ensued.
He was a very interesting personality who had a long and varied career ranging from UN diplomat in the Congo to Labour Party TD and Minister, to UK Unionist as well as being a historian, lecturer, script writer newspaper editor (The Observer) and writer.
One of his best known works is The Great Melody, a biography of Edmund Burke.
Máire Mhac an tSaoi
Máire Mhac an tSaoi was an Irish Language poet and scholar who was the daughter of Seán McEntee (republican founder of Fianna Fáil) and wife of Conor Cruise O’Brien. She gave an interesting talk on Irish language, literature and culture and read some of her own poetry.
A book of her poetry can be found at https://www.obrien.ie/maire-mhac-an-tsaoi