The golden age of Irish Literature

Fintan O’Toole is an Irish investigative journalist, historian, biographer, literary critic and political commentator. His most recent novel examines the historical and cultural factors relating to Brexit and deconstructs the idea of Heroic Failure. He talks about breaking down boundaries between politics and literature, current trends in Irish writing, and the ritualistic aspect of literary festivals. This is his first time at Hay.

I think Irish literature is going through an incredible period. We might be looking back on this as a golden age. You never recognise a golden age when you’re living through it. There is an astonishing effervescence of writing in different forms. I have no doubt that there’s more good writing coming out of Ireland now than there has been in my lifetime.

I always think of these festivals as mini Utopias. They’re what you think life should be like, if we had ideal conditions; one where voluntary communities form themselves over a period of time and people are in each other’s company in a special way. Those of us who speak should be aware that we’re there to honour the fact that there’s still some type of communal way of thinking about things.

The lovely thing about a festival like Hay is that you have a continual moving backwards and forwards between the artistic space and the political or historical space. Often in our lives we compartmentalise these things. Part of your life is consumed with politics and current affairs and then you have a private space where you read novels and poetry. I think the great thing about Hay Festival is that those barriers break down very quickly as people are going to events, hopping backwards and forwards, so whatever happens in the festival happens in the minds of people who are forming their own connections. I don’t think it’s accidental that festivals like this have grown up as religious practice has declined – we need spaces to come together with some sense of purpose and some of it is ritualistic.

Fintan O’Toole attended Hay Festival on Monday 27 May to speak about his book Heroic Failure. Listen to highlights of the Festival on Hay Player