August 29, 2008




If, as Bill Clinton suggested, the Hay literary festival is akin to Woodstock, then the Flat Lake literary and arts festival in Clones is like a fringe event at Glastonbury. Located on the sprawling Hilton Park estate, the festival is organised by the local novelist Patrick McCabe (author of The Butcher Boy) and the Welsh film director Kevin Allen, who is tied to the estate through marriage. The pair cooked up the festival, now in its second year, while collaborating on a potential screenplay. The whole thing is subsidised largely by the proceeds of an art auction held at last year's event, at which a Damien Hirst spin painting sold for 95,000 (76,000).

It is a relaxed, ad hoc festival mixing literary big hitters and local talent, part literature event and part village hall agriculture show. Sculpture and art installations sit alongside vintage farm vehicles; while celebrated writers discuss their work in one area, locals perform in a talent contest in another. The whole affair has the air of a surreal episode of Father Ted, with drunken poets instead of priests.

The literary focus was on the extraordinarily fecund group of poets that has emerged from Northern Ireland since the 1960s, with Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Paul Muldoon, Gerald Dawe, Medbh McGuckian and Ciaran Carson speaking. Longley reminisced about when he, Heaney, Derek Mahon and others would meet in pubs to read each other's poems. "All we wanted to do was impress each other. It was a blend of support and competition." Muldoon, poetry editor of the New Yorker, provided a masterclass in how to engage an audience while reading verse. Others present included the writers Edna O'Brien, Eoin McNamee and the Canadian poet George McWhirter, alongside performances from musicians David Holmes, Jinx Lennon and Paul Brady.

The biggest throng was reserved for Heaney. His early hits, "Death of a Naturalist" and "Mid-Term Break", were received with rapture. "I had an exaggerated sense of adult dignity in my twenties," he said of his older work. You got the sense, however, that Heaney is tiring of being wheeled out as the esteemed Irish Nobel laureate poet of our time.

Another crowd puller was the comedian Dylan Moran, who read verse, short stories and a snippet from his unfinished novel - "a work in suspension" - involving a rock star appearing on a US Christian radio talk show. It was funny, if a little baffling. Some of the crowd took exception to it, wanting stand-up comedy. "I'm not some TV show, where you can shout at the television and decide whether I become a plumber," he said. But he relented somewhat, telling an anecdote involving his wife and daughter that began: "We went to that show, you might have seen it - it's called 'Nine large glasses of wine and a fight in the taxi on the way home'." He also neatly summed up the festival: "It's 10 at night, in the rain, in a barn, in a field, and you're here because that's who you are. And that's who I am."

(c) 2008 Independent, The; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.