Interview with Ger Gaughran – Hay Festival Kelly


We had the chance to interview Ger Gaughran, one of the organisers of the Hay Festival Kells. We quizzed her on the festival itself and some of the highlights. You can see the results below…

Hay Festival Kells – From 23 – 26 June 2016 – Kells, in County Meath.

“It’s also very fitting to celebrate the graphic novel as an art form, in the spiritual home of probably the most famous illustrated book in the world!”

With the Festival in its 4th year, can you explain how it came about? What is the connection with the other Hay Festival?

Almost 6 years ago the Chamber of Commerce in Kells were looking for a way to revitalise the town. Like many towns, Kells was suffering during the economic downturn, but we were bypassed by the Celtic Tiger, so the massive retail parks and housing estates didn’t happen in Kells – something we have come to see as a blessing. The Chamber felt that we needed to play to our strengths – one of which was our association with the Book of Kells.

Drawing on this, the idea of hosting a literary festival and becoming a ‘Book Town’ took hold, and Hay-on-Wye was noted as being a town we should look at. When we saw that Hay had satellite festivals round the globe, we thought ‘why reinvent the wheel?’, got in touch and asked them if they’d come to Kells, and after a brief courtship – they said Yes!

Just last month we welcomed Richard Booth, MBE, who’s is a Welsh bookseller, known for his contribution to the success of Hay-on-Wye as a centre for second-hand bookselling and is founder of the Book Town movement globally. He is also the self-proclaimed “King of Hay”. So the Book Town idea is still in its infancy in Kells; The Book Market, our second hand bookshop, is joined during the Festival by a number of ‘pop-up’ book shop’.

It is great to see Hanif Kureishi visiting our shores, as he occupies a unique status among English writers. Will he be discussing his work in general or will the talk focus on his most recent novel The Last Word? 

We’re all very excited about Hanif coming to Kells! His life’s story is fascinating and his body of work from films to books is quite extraordinary. He’ll be discussing all of that and more with Sean Rocks of RTE Radio 1’s Arena – who is such an excellent interviewer – so we’re looking forward to a most interesting evening with him on Saturday June 25.



There is a strong line up of Irish writers also, with Patrick McCabe, Kevin Barry etc. Do you think it’s important to keep an emphasis on local talent?

Yes and no! Yes – as we’re blessed with such a wealth of literary stars in Ireland and are recognised for that. It’s also important to shine a light on some of the upcoming Irish talent, such as the wonderful Gavin McCrea, Lisa McInerney, and Eilís Barrett – who landed a 2 book deal at just 15! And back to the question, we also think it’s important to learn from and enjoy the talent of non-Irish writers, such as Hanif, and many of the other international names that Hay have introduced us to over the years. That’s part of the reason partnering with a festival like Hay has been important to us and brought another ingredient to the mixing pot of literary and artistic talent we have on in Kells!

There seems to be an emphasis on politics this year, with John Bruton and Eamon Gilmore. Do you think there’s enough political debate in Ireland?  

I wouldn’t say there’s particular emphasis on politics this year… We’ve 2 ‘political’ events out of almost 90, and as it happens, and for someone who’s into politics – Saturday will be a treat as John and Eamon are on one after the other – which is just the way it worked out!  As a Meath-man and bibliophile, John has been an honorary patron of the festival since its inception, and as he has his own book of essays out this year we thought it good timing to ask him to take part. Plus John is often vocal on issues of the day that are not necessarily political, so we’re sure of an interesting and lively discussion.

Likewise, Eamon Gilmore’s book “Inside the Room” is recently published, and it should be of particular interest to hear Eamon’s take on the state of play, now that Labour are ‘outside the room’, and Joan Burton, who he believes had him ‘shot at dawn’, now finds herself in a similar position to himself as a ‘former leader’.

It’s great to see the festival taking an interest in Graphic Novel writer and artists, with Rhianna Pratchett (Tomb Raider) and Michael Carroll (Judge Dredd), among others. Do you think the work of comic writers and artists is taken seriously enough in Ireland?

It’s not a genre I know a huge amount about, so we’re especially lucky to have Maura McHugh and Karllin Lillington curating this new festival strand with Myles Dungan, our programme coordinator. It would appear to me that the Graphic Novel is not given enough credence and recognition here in Ireland and to the best of my knowledge it’s not a strand that has a fixed place in literary or artistic festivals in Ireland, so we hope that it becomes an element of our festival that’s here to stay – and grow.  Living in an age where images, screens, gaming and technology are part of everyday life, this is a great way of fostering and engaging a young audience. It’s also very fitting to celebrate the graphic novel as an art form, in the spiritual home of probably the most famous illustrated book in the world!

What separates the Hay Festival from the other literary festivals?

Kells is different as it’s still a very new festival but has a programme on par with literary festivals which have been around for decades, as we’ve partnered with one of the biggest literary festivals in the world – Hay. Like all start-up festivals, it is still driven by a group of volunteers and the town is still filled with the excitement and pride that one gets with a new festival. And a literary festival is such a perfect fit for our the town. There’s something very special about the fact that almost 1200 years after the Book of Kells was written, that Kells is still celebrating learning and culture and using them to bring another generation of life and vibrancy to the town.

From 23 – 26 June 2016, the town of Kells, in County Meath, presents the fourth Hay Festival Kells. kells

Categories: Art, Books, Festivals, Header

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