05 Dec 2021

Literary Festival set to fight fake news in Ballymahon's Goldsmith country


Ursula McGoey, Joe Farrell, Seamus McCormack, Donal Mac An Bheatha, Niall Nally, Sean Ryan, Tom Seery, Arthur Conlon, Claire McCormack, Willie Flanagan, Willie Dowler and Anne Tully

In an era of fake news, social media and mobile technology, quality journalism and great storytelling matter more than ever.

But how can an industry and a profession that faces mounting change, still fulfil its role as a watchdog of the state and a beacon for democracy?

The 35th Annual Oliver Goldsmith International Literary Festival – which was officially launched last Thursday, May 16 - is set to tackle this local, national and global conundrum.

Drawing on the literary prose and journalistic flair of the Co Longford born and Co Westmeath reared 18th-century writer, some of the country’s leading wordsmiths will outline their views on the future of journalism during the three-day festival taking place this June bank holiday weekend.

Willie Kealy, the former associate editor of the Sunday Independent - who recently retired after a remarkable 34 years at the flagship title and almost 50 years in the newspaper business – will deliver the festival’s keynote speech at the official opening on Friday night, May 31, at The Rustic Inn, Abbeyshrule.

Under the detailed theme of: ‘Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no Fibs’ (a line from Tony Lumpkin in Goldsmith's play ‘She Stoops to Conquer’) Journalism, News and Democracy. Grub Street in the 21st Century’ – Kealy will voice his concerns on how today’s journalists “must adapt and change while never deviating from first principles”.

Speaking ahead of the event – which will also celebrate the iconic writer’s cultural roots through tours, drama performances, poetry recitals, music and conversations – chairman Seamus McCormack equated the success of the event to the “relevance of Goldsmith’s writing”.

Over the years speakers from across the world have contributed to the festival including literary academics from universities in Canada, Japan, Paris, Austria, Washington and Oklahoma.

“Goldsmith’s words are as relevant today as in the 18th century when he was writing. We take issues of today and relate them to comments or extracts from his works,” said Mr McCormack.

“The theme for this year’s festival is relevant in terms of the threat of fake news and its impact on politics.

“If people are not being informed in a truthful manner that then affects democracy and our decision making across society.”

He highlighted that Goldsmith was “ahead of his time” journalistically.

“Unfortunately, Goldsmith was described as a ‘hack journalist’, as someone who would write for anyone. He wasn’t paid very well for it during his lifetime.

“But some of his writing, The Deserted Village for example, is recognised and regarded as the first major anti-imperial poem in the English language,” he said.

Thanking all those that have supported and helped to organise the festival over the last four decades, McCormack said its main objectives are to develop “a deeper insight” into his writings and to also promote Goldsmith country in south Westmeath and south Longford.

The country’s third-longest running festival (founded in 1984) will be officially opened by Longford native and head of RTÉ Radio 1, Tom McGuire.

Following Willie Kealy’s Keynote Address, the opening night in Abbeyshrule will conclude with a traditional music and ballad session.

Saturday's programme on day two begins at 11am in the lovely Goldsmith Room of Ballymahon Library with a session titled, Press Freedom or a Free for All.

Chaired by Cian McCormack of RTE this will feature Professor Brian O’Neill director and Dean of the Graduate Research School at DIT and the Press Ombudsman, Peter Feeney.

Saturday’s second session at 1pm is titled, The Digital Onslaught – What future for Print Journalism and will feature Gráinne Ní Aodha, reporter at and Dave O’Connell group editor at the Connacht Tribune. This session will be chaired by Shannonside FM’s Denise Canavan.

Continue reading on pages 32 & 33.

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