The first Maria Edgeworth Literary weekend was held on the 22nd – 24th March 1996 and it was here that the Maria Edgeworth Literary Festival History started.
The founder members were Angela Tuite, Jenny Sharkey, Grainne Doogan, June Murphy, and Breda Sullivan.
Deputy Albert Reynolds officially opened the Literary Festival in The Old School House in Edgeworthstown, which was followed by the prizegiving and readings of the National Poetry and Short Story competitions held in conjunction with the event. Dr Philip Brady read from his latest publication of poetry and launched The Edgeworth Papers Volume 1.
Throughout the weekend a large crowd enjoyed poetry and short story workshops, readings and musical performances which concluded with a highly successful lecture on the Edgeworth’s given by Dr. Paddy Murray in the Park House Hotel. The Committee welcomed a highly talented group of writers and musicians from Belfast writers Group who participated in the weekend events. The first highly successful Maria Edgeworth Literary Festival ended on Sunday in the Ardagh Heritage Centre where informal readings and wholesome food was enjoyed.
“This kind of self-confident event, and event of vision, wouldn’t have been possible in the Ireland I grew up in” Michael Cody, tutor and one of the judges in the annual Edgeworth papers poetry and short story competitions, told the audience which packed the large hall in the Park House Hotel. He made this honest revelation in praise of the Edgeworth Literary festival 2000, which confidently forged its way on to the exclusive National Calendar that is the Irish Literary weekend circuit.
In a relatively short time, the festival attracted great National and International interest by some of the great names in literature. J.P. Donleavy, John F Deane, Deirdre Purcell, Brian Leyden, Vona Groarke, Laurence Foster, Prof. Terence Dolan, Michael Harding, Pat McCabe, Ann Enright, Dr Siobhan Parkinson, Belinda McKeon, Prof Claire Connolly, Paul McVeigh to name but a few.
Each year not only workshops for adults but also children’s workshops were given by great inspirational writers like Michael Mullen, Don Conroy, Gerry Eager, Tom McCaughran, Mary Melvin Geoghegan, Pat Boran, Pucca Puppets, Tony Maud, Marita Conlon McKenna and Sarah Webb encouraging the cultural creativity of our younger generation.
The “real” Maria Edgeworth in full period dress each year regaled the crowds with her insight into her view of life, Ireland, Connemara men and many other subjects. The part was brilliantly played by Nora Connolly (costume artist) who continued to return to her “own town” since the inauguration of the Literary festival in 1996.
The festival is now a full week long event incorporating talks for 2nd Level students, primary school poetry competitions, adult poetry and short story workshops, readings, historical trails, musical performances, nature walks, theatre performances and concluding with the much anticipated 18th Century Costume Tea Party.