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Armagh festival explores our concept of home and country through arts, culture and political discourse

Writers, performers and festival staff gathered at the John Hewitt Pub to celebrate the launch of the 35th John Hewitt International Summer School, which runs in Armagh from July 25-30. Picture by Collette O'Neill

This is my home and country. Later on

perhaps I'll find this nation is my own...

THESE words are taken from John Hewitt's poem Conacre in 1943. Aptly the theme of this year's John Hewitt International Summer School, inspired by the renowned poet's ideas and ideals, is 'Finding the nation: redefining home and country for a shared future'.

Running from July 25-30 and based in Armagh's Market Place Theatre, the festival programme promises a full week of culture, entertainment, discussion and collective celebration of literature and the arts.

Speaking at the launch of the programme Tony Kennedy, chair of The John Hewitt Society, said he hoped the annual festival would "address issues of diversity, to explore how much 'home', 'country', 'identity' and 'nation' matter, or should matter in a shared future, and consider the experience of those who feel excluded from existing political structures".

Political discourse highlights include Professor Katy Hayward from Queen's University Belfast giving a talk on the impact of Brexit and the Protocol and how it's changing identities, understandings and narratives of Britishness and Irishness.

Martin Collins, co-director of Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre will consider traveller equality, while Andy Pollak, who has authored biographies of Rev Ian Paisley and Seamus Mallon, will address what the Republic could do to become more appealing to unionists in his talk 'The people of the South are not ready for reunification'.

The theme of 'Where is Home?' will also be debated in a Slugger O'Toole panel discussion featuring Irish News columnist Alex Kane, Alliance MLA Sorcha Eastwood and SDLP councillor and programmer manager at the North-West Migrants Forum, Lilian Seenoi-Barr.

Poetry will again be strongly represented with readings from Queering The Green Anthology, and from poets Richard Scott, Victoria Kennefick, Nandi Jola, Jessica Traynor, John McAuliffe, Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh and Molly Twomey.

And a special digital event will be streamed live from The University of the West Indies in Jamaica, featuring former Jamaican Poet Laureate Professor Mervyn Morris, Edward Baugh and Raquel McKee.

There are of course lots of literary fiction events, including Co Down writer David Park, whose new novel Spies in Canaan, is a bold and unsettling parable about guilt, atonement and redemption.

Actor Ardal O'Hanlon, best known for his portrayal of Father Dougal in Father Ted and his role as Detective Jack Mooney in the drama Death in Paradise, will be speaking about his second novel. Set in a small town on the Irish border during the uneasy transition to peace, Brouhaha is a satire on Ireland's tangled politics of memory.

Other fictional highlights include Jan Carson speaking about her latest novel, The Raptures; Bernie McGill and Wendy Erskine celebrating the short story and a crime fiction special with celebrated crime writers Val McDermid and Mark Billingham.

Evening performances include The West Ocean String Quartet, Before, a one man play by Pat Kinevane, The Mary Anne McCracken show with Jane Cassidy and Maurice Leyden, and a new Joycean musical Misses Liffey.

With seven creative writing workshops to choose from, new and existing writers can develop their skills, knowledge and confidence as writers, supported by the Open University. Some participants even get the opportunity to read their new work in the end of week writers' showcase.

::johnhewittsociety.org and visitarmagh.com/marketplacetheatre.

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