Inspired by Wigtown – a campaign was launched last night to establish the rural community of Granard as Ireland’s first ever Book Town.

It’s hoped that the 800-strong community in County Longford can reap similar benefits to those experienced by Wigtown, 200 miles away in Galloway, which was declared Scotland’s National Book Town in 1998.

One of the biggest comes from the annual influx of visitors, authors, celebrities, artists, scientists and contemporary thinkers for the annual 10-day Wigtown Book Festival, which this year runs from 23 September to 2 October.

Granard hopes to stage its own inaugural book festival from 21-23 April 2023. Richard Flanagan the Booker Prize winner has come on board as a festival patron and the Irish writer Donal Ryan will be one of the high profile speakers.

John Connell, writer and producer, and Ronan O’Toole, who runs the highly successful Still Voices international short film festival in Ballymahon, County Longford, are leading the Book Town initiative – and a £20,000 fundraising drive to fund the book festival.

John, who lives near Granard, said: “I was in Wigtown in 2018 and I was just blown away by the whole Book Town model and how it had helped rejuvenate the town – attracting bookshops and book-related businesses, and creating a festival that has an international reputation, in a small rural town.

“It has turned Wigtown into a centre of the arts with people coming from all over to attend the festival. 

“We don’t have a book town in Ireland and Granard would be ideal. It’s a beautiful place with lots of history and character, it’s in easy reach of places like Dublin – and it would really benefit from economic regeneration.

“I kept in touch with Wigtown Book Festival Director Adrian Turpin and he gave us lots of advice and insights – so Wigtown became a bible for us as we figured out the way ahead.”

Ronan has much of the practical expertise needed for the project having eight years of experience in using the arts to boost the profile and fortunes of Ballymahon.

He said: “I’ve been working in the in the festival scene for years and I’ve always wanted to establish a book festival. 

“The idea of another festival in the county to help rejuvenate a rural town appeals to me massively because I have seen the benefits of what the arts can bring – how it attracts visitors and how engaged rural communities are with the arts when they have access to them.

“What’s great about it is that it brings benefits that are cultural and economic.”

Richard Flanagan added: “As a child of Longford (Tasmania) to where my Irish forebears were sent as convicts during the Famine I feel an odd affinity with Longford (Ireland). 

“I know the affirmative and sometimes transformative power of small places dreaming themselves anew and so I was delighted to be asked to be patron of the Granard Booktown Festival. One word follows another and in this way sentences, novels and new worlds are made and so I hope too with this festival and the town it celebrates.”

Initially the idea is to have a pop-up bookshop and to make use of venues like the Norman Conquest Visitor centre, the library and local churches as venues – with the hope that new businesses will then begin setting up in the town.

In Wigtown, which has a population of under 1,000, there are now more than a dozen bookshops and book-related businesses, as well as a literary-themed B&B, and The Open Book – an Airbnb that’s also a bookshop. The Wigtown Festival Company has also created jobs for the town and runs a year-round programme of events.

Adrian Turpin, the company’s Artistic Director, said: “As Wigtown’s experience shows, Book Towns have the potential to transform the economic and cultural outlooks for small rural communities. 

“I suspect that Granard will have huge success with this project, which can do so much both for the town and the whole of Ireland – a country with a phenomenal literary tradition.” 

Emma Robinson, Wigtown Book Festival Event Co-Ordinator, added: “We very much hope to develop strong links with Granard and its book festival in the years ahead, and believe we can do a huge amount to support each other.

“The fact that Granard is using us as a model – as have a series of other Book Towns around the world – absolutely underlines how even a small rural community like ours can have an international influence thanks to the energy and creativity of its people.”

The festival has strong support from Dumfries and Galloway Council and received funding as part of its Major Events Strategy – recognising the economic value of cultural tourism and the benefits to the community in terms of culture, health and wellbeing.

Councillor Willie ScobieChair of Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Wigtownshire Area Committee, said:“Wigtown is a world-class example of rural regeneration. Our partnership with Wigtown has been a huge success. The fact that it is being used as a model for Granard is inspiring – showing that a small town in rural Galloway is having an international impact.”

Councillor Katie Hagmann, the committee’s Vice Chair, added: “If Granard becomes Ireland’s Book Town it would be an excellent opportunity to strengthen the literary and tourism links between Ireland and Galloway, and promote a love of books, reading and culture through the book towns network.”

This year’s festival (from 23 September to 2 October) is supported by EventScotland as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022.

– Ends –

Notes for editors

About this year’s

Wigtown Book Festival has a vibrant programme of more than 200 events for its annual 10-day annual celebration of all things literary in Scotland’s National Book Town. Among the guests will be:

  • Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross (Walking Back Home)
  • Karen Campbell (Paper Cup)
  • Robert Harris (Act of Oblivion)
  • Hannah Jackson, The Red Shepherdess (Call Me Red)
  • Chris Brookmyre (The Cliff House)
  • Gerda Stevenson (Letting Go)
  • Outlander star Graham McTavish (Clanlands)
  • Lisa Jewell & Will Brooker (The Truth About Lisa Jewell)
  • Andrew Cotter: Dog Days (A Year with Olive and Mabel)
  • Chitra Ramaswamy (Homelands)
  • Jeremy Bowen (The Making of the Modern Middle East).

About Scotland’s Year of Stories

  • Led by VisitScotland, the Year of Stories 2022 will sustain and build upon the momentum of preceding Themed Years, showcasing a nationwide programme of major events and community celebrations.
  • From icons of literature to local tales, Scotland’s Year of Stories encourages locals and visitors to experience a diversity of voices, take part in events and explore the places, people and cultures connected to all forms of our stories, past and present.
  • Scotland’s Year of Stories will encourage responsible engagement and inclusive participation from the people of Scotland and our visitors.
  • Join the conversation using #YS2022 and #TalesOfScotland.
  • Following an industry consultation, Themed Years will take place every second year to enable more time for planning and collaboration. The next Themed Year will take place in 2024.

For further information and interview requests contact Matthew Shelley on 07786 704299 or Matthew@ScottishFestivalsPR.Org

Wigtown Festival Company Ltd, 11 North Main Street, Wigtown, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland, UK, DG8 9HN © 1999 – 2018. Wigtown Festival Company Ltd is a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. Scottish Charity No. SCO37984