A MAJOR new Glasgow festival aimed at fostering and expanding the “rather weak” literary links between Scotland and Ireland, North and South, begins today.

Crossways (The Irish Scottish Cultural & Literary Festival) will be opened this afternoon at 4pm at City Halls, Candleriggs, by MSP Michael Russell on behalf of the Scottish Government, along with Mairtin O Muilleoir MLA, former minister of finance at Stormont

The joint ministerial presence has been hailed as an important recognition of the evolving shared culture of the two nations.

The opening reception will be followed by a concert at City Halls by the Friel Sisters from East Kilbride and a reading by the leading Irish novelists David Park and Bernard MacLaverty – the first from Northern Ireland, and the second now living in Glasgow.

The festival, which runs until Sunday in the Merchant City area, has been organised by Belfast-based literary journal Irish Pages.

It is part-funded by the emigrant support fund of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin, along with Foras na Gaeilge, Bord na Gaidhlig and the University of Strathclyde, as well as Irish Pages itself.

The six-day festival will bring together notable Irish writers, musicians, filmmakers and cultural figures together with their Scottish peers, in a well-planned and well-balanced festival focusing on the long-standing contribution of Irish people, history, language, culture and writing to both Glasgow and the Scottish nation.

The overall balance will be about one-third Irish, one-third Diaspora Irish-Scottish, and one-third Scottish.

Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, and two major festival events will reflect this Irish milestone: A Belfast Reading in the late afternoon, and a panel discussion entitled On Brexit and The Belfast Agreement with journalist Lesley Riddoch, writer Peter Geoghegan and poet Robert Crawford in conversation with poet and essayist Chris Agee.

In between, the Scottish Universities Reading will feature two of Scotland’s foremost poets, David Kinloch and Kathleen Jamie.

The six-day festival – featuring 24 events in Scots, Irish and Scottish Gaelic as well as English – will focus not only on Irish and Scottish literature, but also on the writing of the Irish diaspora in Scotland.

Festival-goers will have the opportunity to enjoy a reading each afternoon, followed by another in Irish and Scottish Gaelic in the early evening, before a daily mid-evening event and a concluding late Saturday night festival party and cabaret, featuring readings and music, including the celebrated Irish-language band Imlé.

There will also be screenings of four major Irish films in the early afternoon. The main festival venues will be the City Halls, the Tron Theatre and the famed public house Babbity Bowster.

Crossways will also see the launch of the current issue of Irish Pages, Criticism (on Friday) which contains two major sections of Scots and Scottish Gaelic.

The first is a selection of the finest poets in Scots, with major essays on the state of Scots in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, and on Hugh MacDiarmid.

The second is a cross-section of fine writing in one of Scotland’s “other tongues”. Hence this issue also reflects the editorial debut of two new permanent Scottish editors, highly distinguished poets Jamie (Scottish editor) and Meg Bateman (Scottish Gaelic editor) — a novel bi-national editorial approach that will see a permanent Scottish dimension in every future issue of Irish Pages.

“The particular aim of Crossways is to foster and expand the rather weak literary links between Ireland and Scotland across the North Channel,” remarked Irish Pages editor Chris Agee. “A forum for Irish, Irish-Scottish and Scottish cultural and literary interaction, dialogue and debate of real distinction and diversity is long overdue.

“The North of Ireland and Scotland are highly separated and self-contained on many levels – and, especially in cultural and literary terms, are divided, ironically, by the United Kingdom itself and a consequent devolved focus on London instead of a more natural interchange across the narrow North Channel.

“The two cultures and literatures have their backs to each other to a surprising degree. The festival will aim at lessening this contemporary cultural distance, and at a new historical moment – where relations between the two islands, no less than between the several parts of the United Kingdom, may change dramatically with Brexit. In the context of the emerging unpredictable constitutional situation, it is very important that the two cultures start becoming more familiar with each other.

“The peripheries will be less vulnerable to manipulation by London if they start to communicate.”

Appearing twice a year, Irish Pages is a Belfast journal combining Irish, European and international perspectives. Since its full-scale launch in 2003, it has established itself as the island’s premier literary journal, with a print run now standing at 3000.

Each issue includes a mix of English, Irish and Scots, prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction aimed at a wide range of reading tastes.

“We like to think of ourselves as a friendly rival to Granta,” Agee said. “Publishing in the UK is heavily London-dominated and this is somewhat unhealthy in the current cultural and political climate. We need perspectives of equal quality from the ‘dissident provinces,’ so to speak.”

All events are free across the four venues in the Merchant City. Advance booking is not available for today or tomorrow at City Halls, but it is recommended that advance bookings be made for those taking place from Wednesday through until Saturday at the Tron Theatre (Box office: 0141 353 8000 or via www.irishpages.org).

Admission will otherwise be on a first come, first served basis for all events. The Recital Room at the City Halls holds no more than 120. Babbity Bowster, the Vic Bar at the Tron,and Blackfriars Basement have a seating capacity of around 50. Early arrival is therefore advised.

For the full programme of Crossways, visit www.irishpages.org