The Limerick Literary Festival is this year celebrating its 40th anniversary. It originally started as The Kate O’Brien Weekend in 1984 to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Kate O’Brien. We continue to celebrate the legacy of Kate O’Brien each year and her impact as a writer.
At the first Kate O’Brien Weekend in 1984, the poet Eavan Boland spoke of Kate’s legacy and of the enduring quality of her work saying that ‘by accepting that if a work of art is good it is good not because it is feminine, but because it is human.’ She went on to end her talk with the following words of wisdom that by remembering writers who were banned during their lifetimes ‘we will have discharged our debt to writers like Kate O’Brien, who made their way in a harder time, unaware of the gratitude we now feel and unable to benefit from it. Who told their own truth and therefore made the way safe for ours. And now we, in turn, have to make a truth which justifies that safe passage’.
Building on this significant history, the Limerick Literary Festival seeks to promote Limerick nationally as a place of literary excellence and to provide a platform where readers can meet their favourite authors and other readers.
The 2024 Festival will be opened with an intimate evening of words and music by spoken word artist and musician Denise Chaila and the full weekend programme feature authors Vona Groarke, Mary Morrissy, Antoine Laurain, Francis Spufford, Dorothy Cross, Dr Jana Fischerova, Elaine Feeney and Jane Clarke, it will also feature perennial favourite Desert Island Books and a session with Poetry Pharmacist William Sieghart and the presentation of the 2024 Kate O’Brien Award for a debut novel from a female Irish author, the winner of the Award will be chosen from the following shortlist:
Slant by Katherine O’Donnell published by New Island Books.
The Red Bird Sings by Aoife Fitzpatrick published by Virago.
The Last Days of Joy by Anne Tiernan published by Hachette.
The Festival will close on Sunday the 25th with internationally renowned author Claire Keegan.
The festival is generously supported by the Arts Council, Limerick City and County Council and French Embassy in Ireland.
Kate O’Brien was born in Limerick in 1897 to Thomas and Catherine Thornhill O’Brien. She was one of a large family, seven girls and five boys. Her father was a successful horse breeder and was well able to provide for his family. They lived in Boru House, a large red bricked house which is still standing on Mulgrave Street in Limerick. Kate’s mother died when she was only five and she was sent as a border to Laurel Hill where her sisters attended. She was the youngest border but seemed to have been very happy in school. In 1916 she entered University College Dublin to read English and French. Unfortunately her father died the same year leaving the family with very little money. Despite this, Kate was resourceful, winning a County Council Scholarship and finishing her degree. Kate lived in London and in Manchester where she worked on The Guardian, making her living as a journalist. During this time she began to write stories and plays and she was originally known as a playwright, her first play, Distinguished Villa, was written in 1926 and this was followed by The Bridge in 1927. In 1931 her first novel Without My Cloak was published to great acclaim, winning the Hawthornden and the James Tait Black prizes. She went on to write eight more novels The Ante Room in 1934, Mary Lavelle in 1936, Pray for the Wanderer in 1938, The Land of Spices in 1941, The Las of Summer in 1943, That Lady in 1946, The Flower of May in 1953 and As Music and Splendour in 1958. Two of her novels Mary Lavelle and The Land of Spices were banned by The Irish Censorship Board. Kate also dramatized three of her novels. That Lady was made into a film starring Olivia de Havilland. In 1943 she wrote English Diaries and Journals and in 1951 a life of Teresa of Avila. She also wrote two travel books: Farewell Spain in 1937 and My Ireland in 1962. In 1963 she wrote an autobiography Presentation Parlour. She also wrote a regular column for the Irish Times.
In 1922 Kate spent ten months in a town outside Bilbao in Spain where she worked as a governess, teaching English to the Areilza family. She loved Spain. Mary Lavelle and Farewell Spain were written inspired by and because of the time she spent there. In September 2014 a street in the city of Avila in Spain was named after Kate.
She was briefly married in 1923 to Gustaff Reiner who was a Dutch journalist but the marriage lasted less than a year. She remained single for the rest of her life.
In 1947, she was elected a member of the Irish Academy of Letters and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
She lived in Roundstone in Co. Galway until 1961 when she moved to Boughton, near Faversham in Kent, England. She lived there until she died in 1974 aged seventy-six.
There is a an abundance of archival materials catalogued in the Kate O’Brien collections, managed by Ken Bergin, at University of Limerick. In this collection there is also the handwritten manuscript of Constancy, the unfinished novel she was working on before she died.