John O’Connor Writing School returns to Armagh

The acclaimed John O’Connor Writing School and Literary Arts Festival returns to Armagh this winter with a packed programme featuring international class poets and song writers, prose, stage and screenwriters and how-to-write experts for children and horror lovers.

An additional dimension to the Writing School, funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council, is a parallel Arts Festival of staged drama, lectures, talks, and music.

Star guest tutors include Lemn Sissay MBE, the official poet of the London Olympics and the FA Cup 2015, and current chancellor of the University of Manchester. His appearance on Desert Island Discs was BBC Radio 4’s Pick of the Year and his collaboration with sculptor Michael Visocchi featuring a poem about slavery carved into a series of granite sculptures in the heart of the City of London, Gilt of Cain, was unveiled by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Robert McCrum, associate editor of The Observer and legendary literary critic and writer returns to Armagh following a hugely successful appearance last year. He said of the John O’Connor Writing School that he had never seen such depth of intellect, humour, enthusiasm and organisational ability displayed by a festival in its first year.

Expert teaching on the subject of screen writing for film and television will be provided by Horslip Barry Devlin. His band colleague and RTE broadcaster Jim Lockhart will share his in-demand song-writing know how,and emerging star Gareth Dunlop completes the songwriting team.

Louis de Bernieres, author of international literary hits such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Dust that Falls from Dreams, Birds without Wings and A Partisan’s Daughter will be in conversation with journalist and writer Padraig Coyle.

The Literary Arts programme contains all of the above, plus Horslips and artistes such as Lisa Lambe (“The finest singer & actor of her generation on whom a whole new foundation of theatre can be built” – Fintan O’Toole, Irish Times), Fiachna O’Braonain (Hothouse flowers), Frank Ormsby and Anthony Toner.

Dr Damian Smyth, Head of Literature, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, says he is impressed by the success of the school. “Public funding has helped attract exceptional writing talent from home and abroad to form a festival parallel to the great work of the writing school. John O’Connor’s writing deserves to be celebrated. In its time, it demonstrated how vibrant and creative a place Armagh was and the festival in his name strengthens that legacy today. The Arts Council is delighted to support the programme through its National Lottery funding because it helps build and sustain another asset for culture generally and for Armagh City especially.”

Lord Mayor Alderman Gareth Wilson of Armagh Banbridge Craigavon Council: “John O’Connor was a great writer from Armagh and I am delighted that his name and talent will be celebrated and enhanced through the John O’Connor Writing School and Literary Arts Festival, now in its second year.”

School and festival director Cathy McCullough says the three-day event is innovative and exciting and promises to deliver real skills to enrolled students, with a Literary Arts Festival programme that is sure to appeal to all tastes. “The calibre of professional writers from all disciplines is unparalleled and this year will be as strong as last year, something we felt at the time would be impossible! There is a sense of practical application being taught at the School and while there are those who might consider enrolling just to enjoy the high-quality company and erudition of the tutors, there will be inevitable benefits for those who are more focused on becoming writers themselves.”

The writing school will be hosted in various historic locations around Armagh including libraries, hotels, bars and restaurants. In addition, a satellite course is to be hosted by Queen’s University Belfast Seamus Heaney Centre which will focus on commercial writing. This will be particularly aimed at small arts groups and charities as well as students from broader disciplines and will include the basics of press release writing, blogging and advertising.

A full programme and more information on the John O’Connor Writing School and Literary Arts Festival 2017 is available on

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