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In Praise of Plum Poitin
Drumshanbo Literary Festival
If you aren’t in the habit of keeping a diary, which I never have been, it becomes almost impossible to work out how you get to where you are in life. There are too many crossroads, dead ends and roads that simply aren’t taken at all. “It’s the journey” is a phrase I have contemplated perhaps more than most.
I am as sure as I can be though, that my involvement with the Drumshanbo Literary Festival, can be traced back to a course I completed at Filmbase in Dublin in 1998.
I had signed up for the course because I had notions of becoming a writer, that didn’t happen, instead whilst gaining a lot of practical experience in filmmaking, I became the producer of two short films rather than the script writer.
On completing the course, I returned to London and set up a short film night called Shortwave, which ultimately led to building London’s smallest independent cinema which I opened in 2009.
In between starting the short film night and opening the cinema, I helped establish an arts festival, Elefest in the Elephant and Castle, which went on to become a regular fixture on the cultural map of London.
Neither Shortwave nor Elefest would have been possible without the lessons learnt at Filmbase, the experience opened doors that I didn’t even know existed, let alone knew I could walk through.
After my last Pop-Up venue in the Biscuit Factory in Bermondsey closed due to redevelopment and in the wake of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, I ended up back in Dublin with my family.
Last New Year’s Eve, whilst visiting my mother at her home in Drumshanbo in County Leitrim, I had a poitin fuelled discussion with one her neighbours, Eileen O’Toole, about how good it would be to have an arts or literary festival in the town.
Leitrim has a rich cultural history, going back thousands of years, in more recent times it has become synonymous with John McGahern, The Joe Mooney Summer School, DBC Pierre and the by now world-famous, Gunpowder Gin.
Over the course of the evening, we managed to finish the very last bottle of plum poitin from my Mum’s stash. A local farmer John, who was the supplier of this superior moonshine passed away a couple of years ago and no one else has ever been able to match him for quality. Plum poitin, contrary to expectations and when distilled properly, has a complexity and depth not unlike a fine brandy.
Filled with enthusiasm and with necessity as always being the mother of invention, we discovered that if you mixed a bottle of plain poitin with the French liqueur, Chambord, it acquired similar properties. Given the circumstances, I wouldn’t be entirely confident in our ability to draw such conclusions.
Ideas and truths revealed “In vino veritas” rarely sound as good in the cold light of day. However, eight months later, the Drumshanbo Literary Festival was (re) born. It had existed as the Written Word Weekend over a decade previously but for a variety of reasons had gone into deep hibernation.
Eileen O’Toole brought author Conor McManus, who is originally from the town onboard, and he did a great job of convincing other authors to get involved. This combined with the help and support of the local community meant that the festival was a success, it is difficult to argue that it could have been any better.
It remains to be seen if the Drumshanbo Literary Festival will have been a one off or will continue and develop to its full potential. In the first draft of history, it’s not always possible to know whether it’s a full stop or a comma that should be used. The only certainty is that this chapter wouldn’t have been written at all without the finest plum poitin I have ever tasted.
Slainte! Farmer John.