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This report is taken from PN Review 122, Volume 24 Number 6, July - August 1998.

Letter from Ireland David Wheatley

In 'The Closing Album', written in August-September 1939, Louis MacNeice speaks of 'the crossbones of Galway, / The hollow grey houses, / The rubbish and sewage, / The grass-grown pier, / And the dredger grumbling / All night in the harbour', before declaring 'The war came down on us here'. Galway's housing and sewage treatment have changed a lot since MacNeice's time, but visitors to the city's Cúirt Festival of Literature in April this year enjoyed a unique opportunity to share his Connaught vantage-point on momentous historical events, or at least their still-fresh aftermath. On Good Friday, 10 April, the historic Stormont peace settlement was finally agreed by all participating parties, including the Ulster Unionists, the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP), Sinn Féin and representatives of Loyalist paramilitary groupings. As I write campaigning is underway for simultaneous referendums on the settlement north and south of the border, to be held in May.

One proposal that caused some difficulties at the negotiations was the setting up of cross-border bodies. Does literature count as such an entity, I wonder? The Irish Arts Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland have been jointly sponsoring magazines for years. Many Northern Irish writers live and publish in the South, though traffic in the opposite direction, it must be admitted, has been slow and paltry in comparison. Gone are the days when it was possible to speak with suave assurance of the watertight identities of Northern and Southern Irish poetry, if only ...


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