INSPIRED by a Scottish book festival, a campaign has been launched to establish the rural community of Granard as Ireland’s first ever book town. 

Wigtown was declared Scotland’s National Book Town in 1998 with the annual 10-day book festival set to take place in the Galloway town from September 23 to October 2. 

It is now hoped that the 800-strong community in County Longford can reap similar benefits to those experienced by Wigtown, which is set to host more than 200 events during its literary festival this year.

Granard is hoping to stage its own inaugural book festival from April 21-23 2023 with Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan already on board as a festival patron. 

READ MORE: Wigtown Book Festival 2022 unveils 200-event line-up including Graham McTavish

Writer and producer John Connell and Ronan O’Toole, who runs the successful Still Voices international short film festival, are leading the initiative and a £20,000 fundraising drive to fund the book festival. 

Connell said: “I was in Wigtown in 2018 and I was just blown away by the whole book town model and how it helped rejuvenate the town – attracting bookshops and book-related businesses, and creating a festival that has an international reputation, in a small rural town. 

“It has turned Wigtown into a centre of the arts with people coming from all over to attend the festival. 

“We don’t have a book town in Ireland and Granard would be ideal.”

In Wigtown, which has a population of under 1000, there are now more than a dozen bookshops and book-related businesses as well as a literary themed B&B. 

The Wigtown Festival Company has also helped to create jobs for the town and runs a year-round programme of events. 

The National: John Connell (left) and Ronan O'Toole are leading the Book Town initiative - Image Credit: Granard Book TownJohn Connell (left) and Ronan O'Toole are leading the Book Town initiative - Image Credit: Granard Book Town (Image: Granard Book Town)

The company’s artistic director Adrian Turpin said: “As Wigtown’s experience shows, book towns have the potential to transform the economic and cultural outlooks for small rural communities. 

“I suspect that Granard will have a huge success with this project, which can do so much both for the town and the whole of Ireland – a country with a phenomenal literary tradition.”

Connell says he has kept in touch with Turpin who has been giving him a lot of insight into how the book town model works. 

He said: “Wigtown became a bible for us as we figured out the way ahead.”

Initially, the idea in Granard is to have a pop-up bookshop and to make use of venues like the Norman Conquest Visitor Centre, the library and local church with the hope that new businesses will then begin setting up in town. 

Emma Robinson, Wigtown Book Festival event co-ordinator, added: “We very much hope to develop strong links with Granard and its book festival in the years ahead, and believe we can do a huge amount to support each other. 

“The fact that Granard is using us as a model – as have a series of other book towns around the world – absolutely underlines how even a small rural community like ours can have an international influence thanks to the energy and creativity of its people.” 

The National: Left to right: Cllr Willie Scobie, Emma Robinson and Cllr Katie Hagmann - Image Credit: Colin HattersleyLeft to right: Cllr Willie Scobie, Emma Robinson and Cllr Katie Hagmann - Image Credit: Colin Hattersley (Image: Colin Hattersley)

Councillor Willie Scobie, chair of Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Wigtownshire Area Committee, said:“Wigtown is a world-class example of rural regeneration. Our partnership with Wigtown has been a huge success.

"The fact that it is being used as a model for Granard is inspiring – showing that a small town in rural Galloway is having an international impact.” 

Vice chair of the committee Katie Hagmann said: “If Granard becomes Ireland’s book town it would be an excellent opportunity to strengthen the literary and tourism links between Ireland and Galloway, and promote a love of books, reading and culture through the book towns network.”

The festival has strong support from Dumfries and Galloway Council and received funding as part of its Major Events Strategy, which aims to recognise the economic value of cultural tourism and the benefits to the community in terms of culture, health and wellbeing.