History of Poetry in Fermoy – Gene Barry and the Fermoy International Poetry Festival

Two years in the running, and following on from many years of voluntary work in the arts, editing reviews, etc, this is Gene Barry’s account of the effort he has put into the making of an arts scene in the town of Fermoy, which has been hijacked by others who to add insult to injury, have also slandered his name.

I do know there are two sides to every story, but be I wrong or right, I am on Gene’s side and believe his version, so Im not that interested in right of reply. I intend to be in Fermoy to support Gene’s festival this year.

His article is below…

History of Poetry in Fermoy

 Poetry came to Fermoy in 2009 when Gene Barry voluntarily spent two hours each Friday reading poetry to the patients at Fermoy Hospital. He continued with this for two years, in this voluntary capacity and then held 12 poetry workshops free of charge on Saturday mornings at Fermoy library over a three month period.

Fermoy poet Gene Barry founder of the Fermoy International Poetry Festival
Fermoy poet Gene Barry founder of the Fermoy International Poetry Festival

He then founded a poetry group and requested the back room of a pub in the town to hold poetry readings. This was once again done voluntarily and over the following 2 years he brought in 27 poets from England, the US, and Ireland to read there. Matthew Sweeney, Fred Johnston, Alan Jude Moore, Noel King, Knute Skinner, Bradley Strahan and Keith Armstrong were included in this list of visiting poets. HE WAS NOT ASSISTED WITH ANY OF THE ORGANISATION OF THIS AND NO FINANCE WAS GIVEN TO HIM NOR WAS ANY GRATITUDE EITHER FINANCIALLY OR VERBALLY OFFERED TO HIM FOR THIS BY THE OWNER OF THIS PUB.

He also held workshops all over North Cork with numerous active retirement groups from Fermoy to Newmarket which resulted in Rebel Poetry publishing an anthology of poems from these groups called Remembering the Present. All proceeds from the sales of these books went to the Mallow branch of the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland. Gene Barry edited and produced the entire book for Rebel Poetry free of charge.

In 2011 he worked for a three month period with asylum seekers at Drishane Castle in Millstreet and the end result was a chapbook of the attendees work called Silent Voices published by Rebel Poetry and launched by Dan Boyle of the Green Party. Once again Gene edited and produced the book free of charge.

In January 2012 he founded the Fermoy International Poetry Festival. The theme of the inaugural festival was Inclusion and Dick Barry RIP, retired TD and poet officially opened the festival and was the oldest to read at there at 92 years of age. Following on with this theme he cleverly included poets writing in a minority language in their own country and invited Jan Glass who writes in Gronen, Tsead Bruinja who writes in Friesian and Louis Mulcahy who writes in Irish to partake in a multilingual reading at the Youth Centre. He had poets from Argentina, the US, Holland, France, and England and from all over Ireland reading at the festival.

Rebel Poetry launched a second festival anthology, The Blue Max Review which was made up of poems that were chosen from the hundreds of poets from around the world who submitted for the festival poetry competition. Once again, this book was edited and produced free of charge by Gene.

Gene donated an enormous amount of his time prior to the 2012 festival by holding weekly poetry workshops at Loreto, St. Colmans and Youthreach free of charge. He worked with transition year students in both secondary schools and with leaving certificate students in Youthreach.

There were four poetry books launched at the 2013 festival including Ten Years in the Doghouse and Unfinished Business by Doghouse Books and once again Rebel Poetry launched the two festival anthologies Inclusion and The Blue Max Review. In the student anthology Gene included 22 students from JK Kennedy High School in Sacramento California. The competition anthology included poets from Canada, the US, Holland, England, Scotland, Luxemburg, South Africa, Romania, Belgium, Russia and Ireland and was won by Prof Erin Murphy from the USA. Prof Pat Crotty, editor of The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry officially opened the festival and he had retired professors Bradley Strahan and Knute Skinner read at various venues.

Prior to the 2013 festival Gene spent one full day every week between Coláiste an Chraoibhín, Loreto, St. Colmans and Youthreach teaching poetry. Again this was all done voluntarily as was the editing and collating of the poems for the student anthology.

Retaining the theme of Inclusion Gene organised poetry readings in 2 banks, a supermarket, 4 restaurants, a barber shop, a boutique, a pharmacy, 8 pubs, a hotel, a youth centre, a cinema and in the street. During the festival Fermoy linked up with a poetry group in Dallas and broadcasted live, via the festival’s website. Simultaneous readings from numerous poets at both venues were held over a four hour period. Workshops were held in the Grand Hotel and given by Dutch and English poets.

The family of the Late Dick Barry kindly donated a perpetual trophy and a watch for the winning student and Dr Tom Cavanagh generously gave €200 for the winning student, Cliodhna Condon and €100 for the other three poets.

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