Cúirt book festival goes online

Every April the Cúirt literary festival kicks off the festival season in Galway, Ireland, where I live. This year, its 35th, events in their original format were cancelled because of the pandemic, but festival director Sasha de Buyl and team put together a terrific mini-festival entirely online.

I just caught up on the talks I didn’t see or hear live last weekend – live online, I mean – and you can do the same if you haven’t already. Nine are freely available to view on Cúirt’s YouTube channel, and two audio-only events can be listened to on Soundcloud.

It’s a feast of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Each talk is about an hour long and has one, two, or three authors speaking about literature, language, writing, and life, including short readings from their new work. If you’re not sure where to start, try Kevin Barry and Jan Carson talking with Peggy Hughes:

Sara Baume and Sinéad Gleeson with Sasha de Buyl:

Anne Enright with Rick O’Shea:

Or use the playlist below, or pop over to Soundcloud:

You can binge to your heart’s content, or you can make it last a week. Other events are to take place later in the year, so if this is your kind of gig, keep an eye out for news from the Cúirt website or social media. You can also support Cúirt in various ways.

The festival bookshop is Charlie Byrne’s in Galway – Ireland’s best indie bookshop, and my own favourite. It’s operating online-only at the moment and has a selection of books by the Cúirt festival authors. Here’s a quick video tour of the shop, outside and in:

Cúirt online can’t recreate all the magic of Cúirt in person. But the digital format produced its own delights and serendipities and worked extremely well in its way. Virus aside, it made the festival accessible to people who could not otherwise have attended, for reasons like geography, disability, finance, schedule, or circumstance.

For a sense of how Cúirt switched to online at short notice,* and how it all went, you can hear de Buyl on the Wigtown Book Festival podcast on digital festivals, 23 minutes in. She says simultaneity helped recapture the festival buzz: people could book events on an official schedule and watch them in real time – together apart, as the new cliché goes.

The online festival also attracted people who ordinarily might not have attended. For some, it was their first book festival. For many, it was a first social gathering under lockdown. The fact that all eleven events (and counting) in Cúirt 2020 are now available indefinitely also gives them a shelf life far beyond the attend-or-you’ll-miss-it experience of before.

A phonetic coda: The Irish word cúirt means ‘court’, generally used in a legal, official, or sporting sense. In the case of the festival the name was inspired by the Gaelic court of poets (cúirt na bhfilí). It’s pronounced /ˈkuːrtʃ/ or ˈkuːrtʲ/: ‘coorch’, more or less; Foclóir.ie has audio files in Connacht, Munster, and Ulster dialects.

Promotional image for Cúirt literary festival, showing three black and white photos of authors' faces. On the left is Eimear McBride, in the centre is Kevin Barry, and on the right Carolyn Forché.

* A near-miss with ‘pivoted to video’ there.

2 Responses to Cúirt book festival goes online

  1. Chips Mackinolty says:

    Thanks for this, Stan. Have circulated to regional writers’ festivals here in Australia and they have been interested!

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