Literary festival slated over excluded writers

By Francesca Ryan

An initiative aimed at highlighting Belfast’s rich literary heritage has been accused by a local group of “playing it safe” in the list of authors it’s set to feature.

A number of events have been planned for the Literary Belfast project, including next Tuesday’s launch at an Ulster Hall gala which will feature 14 of Belfast’s top writers. The project plans to celebrate the city’s literary links but local tourism group Fáilte Feirste Thiar (FFT) has accused Belfast City Council of failing certain sections of the community.

“On the one hand it is wonderful news that Belfast is finally recognising our literary giants, however once again Belfast City Council has developed a Belfast product and failed to recognise our community’s contribution to Belfast’s cultural greatness,” said FFT’s Harry Connolly.

“While there will be some West Belfast writers at the launch, this new product has failed to include any writers from a republican background, nor are there any Irish language authors going to the launch, which is the real event that profiles people in this entire project.”

Mr Connolly went on to highlight West Belfast’s own rich literary fabric and named just a few of the district’s leading scribes who come from a republican background.

“West Belfast boasts many famous and award-winning playwrights, poets, writers, unique characters and personalities who contribute to and actually underpin Belfast’s rich literary heritage and complement our city’s vibrant contemporary scene. Many of these writers, such as Danny Morrison and Gerry Adams, are a fair representation of the political mindset of West Belfast, yet there is absolutely nobody from a republican persuasion included at this launch.  Even the prestigious novelist and screenwriter Ronan Bennett, from North Belfast, isn’t on the list.

“It is some feat to gather so many writers in one place and not have one republican included in the line-up, considering the amount of prolific writers from a republican background we are proud to have produced.  The same can be said for the local Irish language community, we have arguably one of the most famous Irish language writers in Gearóid Mac Lochlainn, yet he is not centrally involved in this project.

“This failure to recognise their contribution to Belfast’s rich republican and Irish language literary heritage is an opportunity missed and it seems those behind the project have played it safe with their choices for the gala.”

Irish language advocate Fergus Ó hÍr said it’s a shame that that a section of the community will not be represented at the event.

“It beggars belief that in 2011 the rich Irish language literary scene in Belfast will be absent from the stage of the Ulster Hall,” he said.

Belfast City Council defended its line up for the launch but did not address the query around republican and Irish language writers.

“The launch of Literary Belfast on September 6 brings together the 14 writers who were involved in the Literary Belfast iPhone tour,” said a Belfast City Council spokesman.  “There was a desire amongst the partners to include many more writers, but this was restricted and limited due to the fact that the product is a city centre one-and-a-half hour walking tour and also the number amount of audio and visual content that could be uploaded on the app.

“Three of the 14 writers included are from West Belfast and their writing is steeped in that area. Hence, visitors are directed to www.literary belfast.org where a greater representation of Belfast and its writing is found.

“This is also regularly updating with new articles, so there will be welcome opportunities to feature more writers from all over Belfast.”

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