Leaves Festival

The recent Leaves Festival of Writing and Music ran from the 9-11 November, delivering a a rich and diverse programme that included the very best in writing, music, theatre and film that reached a wide ranging audience.

Emo Court, the magnificent Gandon designed neo-classical house, on the outskirts of Portlaoise was the setting for the festival and the breathtaking location added hugely to the enjoyment of the festival for all.


The events got off to a great start on Friday evening at 8pm in the drawing room of the magnificent Gandon designed Emo Court as poets Jean Ó Brien, Martin Figura, and Helen Ivory enthralled the audience with readings from their selected publications.  These were inter-mixed with performances by musician, Úna Keane, and the event was chaired by poet Arthur Broomfield. On Saturday morning The Tea Rooms in Emo Court hosted a very successful writing workshop led by well known writer Helen Ivory.


Audiences returned to the Drawing Room at Emo Court at 3 o’clock on Saturday to enjoy readings by poets Denise Curtin, Paddy Moran, Karen J Mc Donnell, and a fabulous set by Portlaoise born musician, Gary Dunne  and the event was chaired by Séamus Hosey of RTE fame.


At 5.30pm in the Drawing Room at Emo Court a full house came to celebrate National Harp Day with Scottish Harpist, Catriona McKay and Swedish nyckelharpa player Olov Johansson, as they performed a really special concert, accompanied by the Music Generation Laois Harpists. Saturday evening,  audiences were privileged to hear accomplished performances by well-know writers Lisa Harding and Kevin Barry as well as hearing wonderful insights into their work as they discussed their novels with Sean Rocks, presenter of Arena, on Radio 1.


At Dunamaise, from 7th to 9th November patrons including local book club members thoroughly enjoyed a new film adaption of My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier.  The following night, a five-star production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe by Edward Albee was brought to the big screen. This was an ‘Encore’ screening of a live broadcast from the National Theatre, London, which allows cinema viewers around the world to enjoy live stage shows from the West End, bringing multi award winning performances to audiences around the world. Leaves at Dunamaise was topped off by a theatre production of Dubliners Women, adapted from James Joyce’s Dubliners by Katie O’Kelly. Three actors brought three short stories by Joyce to life, from the page to the stage, focusing on the female narratives in these iconic stories. This production visited Portlaoise as part of a national tour, following a critically acclaimed run in The New Theatre, Dublin.


Schools and Libraries around the county benefited from the richness and quality of the visiting writers. Alan Nolan visited Muntmellick, Portlaosie and portarlington Libraries.  Norwich based writers Martin Figura and Helen Ivory visited the CBS Secondary School in Portlaoise and Mountrath Community School, for readings of their works followed by questions and answers session.  Stephen James Smith the newly appointed Spoken Word Artist visited Clonaslee Community School and Portlaoise Youthreach project.

A number of events took place on the Sunday afternoon, including the introduction of Stephen James Smith, theSpoken Word artist, who will work in the county for the next 5 months. He performed an extract from My Ireland, his epic poem. Spanning Zig & Zag and Savita, Reeling In The Years and the Magdalene laundries, this new poem by Dublin poet and playwright Stephen James Smith was commissioned as a “celebratory narrative” of Ireland for the 2017 St Patrick’s Festival. Stephen will conduct workshops in secondary schools, Youthreach, Youth Theatre groups and with community groups countywide. Stephen expressed his delight on starting the residency and invited groups and individuals to contact him. The residency is funded by the Arts Council and Creative Ireland and coordinated by the Arts Office and the Dunamaise Arts Centre.

Premiere of new musical work celebrating Laois’ bees and the people who work to look after them “Thresholds”, a new music piece by composer Ian Wilson in celebration of pollinators, was premiered to a packed house in Emo Court on Sunday 12th November. The piece features recordings of Laois communities, a selection of natural sounds and a saxophone score, performed live by Cathal Roche.

Composer Ian Wilson introduced the work and thanked all those who had generously given their time to participate in the piece, including Chris Uys and Fiona MacGowan of Abbeyleix Bog Group, Ricky Whelan and Brian Gaynor of the Irish Wildlife Trust Laois-Offaly Branch, Maeve Flynn of Laois County Council, Eugene O’Brien and Tom Hussey of Dunamaise Beekeepers, Ger McEvoy of Portlaoise Golf Club, Una Fitzpatrick of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, Eimear Fox, Vincent O’Malley and Michelle Mearne of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, Clair Keating and the Children of 3rd Class in Killeshin National School, Valerie Cloonan and Pat Comerford of the OPW, Sandro Cafollo of Irish Wildflowers and Catriona Cashin of Clonaslee Tidy Towns.

The event was a perfect end to the Leaves Literary Festival, and also featured the winners of the Pollinator Poetry Prize, with prizes awarded to young poets Abdullah Butt of Oaklands Community College Edenderry (15 – 18 years category), Eimear Rigney of Coláiste Naomh Cormaic, Kilcormac (12 – 14 years category) and Caoimhe Fitzpatrick of Clonaslee (7-11 years category).

The adult prizes were awarded to Arthur Broomfield of Ballyfin (second place) and Mairead Donellan of Bailieborough, Co Cavan (first place). Introducing the prize-winners, poet Anne Marie Ní Churráin, spoke highly of very high quality of submissions received, and the depth of knowledge and emotion for Ireland’s natural world that was to be found in all the work.

The new music commission was funded by the Creative Ireland programme in Laois, which aims to bring together new and innovative projects that draw together all aspects of heritage and the arts.

Creative Ireland Co-ordinator for Laois and Laois Arts Officer Muireann Ní Chonaill thanked the large audience for their attendance, and paid tribute to the Office of Public Works for their assistance with the Leaves Festival which took place at Emo Court and the  Dunamaise Arts Centre.