Ireland's newest National Book Town

15 September 2022

Wigtown is a small town with a big influence. The latest example of this is the community of Granard in Ireland, which is using our experience in literature-based regeneration to launch a bid to become Ireland’s newest Book Town, with a festival taking place next April.

This week a group of authors, community leaders and other enthusiastic participants launched a bid for Granard to become Ireland’s newest Book Town and to hold its own annual festival.

Granard is a rural town of around 800 people in County Longford – a scenic community with a long main street, an even longer history and an urgent need for economic regeneration.

For anyone who knows the story of how Wigtown became Scotland’s National Book Town, with a festival that has become world-famous, a regeneration drive that has attracted new literary tourism-based businesses and the job-creation that has followed, it all sounds quite familiar.

A pretty and once thriving location of under 1,000 residents, closures of major employers and long-term decline in traditional industry had plunged Wigtown into the doldrums, with few jobs and increasing numbers of empty properties.

It became Scotland’s Book Town in 1998 and then set up a festival. By 2013 this was generating £2.3 million for the Scottish economy, a figure that reached £4.3 million in 2019. And while COVID has hit the entire sector very hard, we are striving to rebuild.

The idea for another Irish Book Town began to emerge when author John Connell came to the Wigtown festival in 2018 and, in his words, “was just blown away by the whole Book Town model and how it had helped rejuvenate the town”.

Since then John and his growing band of supporters have sought advice and information from the Wigtown team in order to help form their own plans – which involve an initial £20,000 appeal to get the first festival going (save the date – 21-23 April, 2023).

And the omens look good. The campaign launch event was packed with a variety of authors eager to take part. Local newspaper The Longford Leader enthused that: “Granard is poised to become the beating heart of literature in Ireland”.

And while other Book Towns around the world have also modelled themselves on Wigtown, proving our wide influence despite our size, this particular project would provide us with a near-neighbour.

Galloway and Ireland have long-standing, strong cultural links and are within relatively easy reach of one another. Some of our local councillors have already spoken enthusiastically about the possibility of building ties between our Book Towns. As we look to the future, wondering what it holds for the arts and culture sectors, it may be to the mutual benefit of both locations to work together.

Certainly we are proud to be seen as a model for Granard and elsewhere and wish John Connell and his team every success in such a worthwhile enterprise.