Frances Browne Literary Festival for History Buffs

· Festival News

The Frances Browne Literary Festival is unique in celebrating the three cultural and linguistic traditions of East Donegal. Each year we feature a number of programme items that are of interest to history buffs, as well as the literary minded.

Highlights include walking and bus tours of Stranorlar, the Twin Towns and surrounds; an expert discussion on the Stranorlar Workhouse, a talk on the life and works of Frances Browne, new drama based on the life of Raphoe poet Sarah Leech, and lots more.

Festival Launch Gala Event

8pm, Thursday 12th. An Grianán Theatre, Letterkenny (€15/€10)
Join us at An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny for the most culturally unique event in the North West each year, featuring performers of song, drama and poetry in English, Irish and Ulster Scots. We have lots of great performances lined up for you!

Our launch night is extra special this year as it features the premiere of ‘Strangers to Our Own’, a play a play based on real-life events of 19th century Donegal Ulster-Scots weaver poetess, Sarah Leech. This must-see premiere, by Ballybofey native Pauline Holland showcases the rich sounds of Ulster.

The action centres around Sarah and Richard Ramsey, who was Leech’s publisher, Trinity graduate, and gentleman poet from nearby Letterkenny. Leech’s poetry has reached his ears and he comes to Raphoe in search of her, determined to make her a literary star. It is the first play ever written about an Ulster-Scots weaver poet, and it features two real-life historical figures from Donegal. .

(There is a second chance to see ‘Strangers to Our Own’ on Sat evening at Lifford Old Courthouse)

Book it here.

The Stranorlar Workhouse

3pm, Friday 13th. Kee’s Hotel, Stranorlar (€5)

Poet Annemarie Ni Churreáin launches a special, limited edition poetry pamphlet titled 'Ghostgirl' inspired by Stranorlar Workhouse and County Home - a commission with the Donegal Archives Service as part of their Decade of Centenaries Programme.

To celebrate the launch, she is joined in a discussion about life in the Stranorlar Workhouse, and how poetry can help us bear witness to difficult histories, chaired by Niamh Brennan of the Donegal County Archives with Rev Raymond Blair and Clare Curran, Manager of the Dunfanaghy Workhouse.

Annemarie was appointed Decade of Centenaries Artist in Residence at Donegal County Archives, Donegal County Council, for 2022. Her poetry pamphlet follows her research in the Donegal Archives.

Book it here

A wheen o wurds an’ a drap o tae
2pm, Saturday 14th. Parish Centre, Stranorlar (€15)

Join well known television presenter, tour guide and Ulster Scots, Lolly Spence, for a relaxed and convivial chat about how we speak and spoke in Ulster. Lolly will give an informal introduction to the origins of the ‘Hamely Tongue’ and guide us in our (re)discovery of Ulster Scots. No experience needed-just a willingness to chat and share.

Historic Twin Towns & surrounds - Bus Tour

3pm, Saturday 14th. Meet at Jackson's Hotel (€20)

Join a historical bus tour of Ballybofey and Stranorlar with stops at various locations. Bord Fáilte registered regional tour guide, Cathal McHugh, takes you to the most historic buildings and sites in the Twin Towns and on to Barnesmore, another hot bed of history. The tour will stop at the iconic Biddy’s O’ Barnes pub where you can enjoy an Irish coffee with your fellow travellers. Plan on around two hours, starting at 2pm at Jackson’s Hotel on Saturday 14th October. Irish Coffee (included in your ticket price).

Strangers to Our Own / An Introduction to Frances Browne 

7pm/ 9pm, Saturday 14th. Lifford Old Courthouse.

Not able to make our launch event for the premiere of Strangers to Our Own? We’re offering a second showing in the wonderful surrounds of Lifford Old Courthouse. After the performance, you will have a unique opportunity to meet playwright Pauline Holland in an intimate post-show conversation, moderated by playwright Shirley-Anne Godfrey.

Join us just for the play (starting at 9pm) or make the most of your evening by coming along early for a talk on Frances Browne and to enjoy dinner in the Lifford Old Courthouse bistro - the very room where criminals used to be sentenced!

Shirley-Anne Godfrey, author, playwright and Frances Browne expert will bring Frances to life with a short talk on her life and works. She’ll show just how successful Frances was in her day and examine some of the possible reasons for her disappearance from cultural memory.

Frances Browne’s Stranorlar – A Walking Tour – Led by Kathleen Phelan

2pm, Sunday 15th. Meet at Kee's Hotel

This bespoke Frances Brown Walking Tour of Stranorlar will give you a chance to walk in the footsteps of “The Blind Poetess of Ulster”. We will walk along the same street where she was born and streets she traversed during her formative years, in a landscape that inspired, influenced and enhanced her later works. The tour will start at Kee's Hotel and take in sights such as The Pound Historical Park where Frances is commemorated with a substantial bronze statue and an inscription from “Songs of Our Land”. The tour will finish with a visit to the final resting place of her parents and siblings in the nearby Church of Ireland Graveyard.

Kathleen Phelan is a Bord Fáilte Qualified Regional Tour Guide. The walk will be approximately 90 minutes. Please dress appropriately for outdoor walking tour.

Paddy Bonar's Frances Browne Book Display
Viewing: 1st October to 31st October at the Twin Towns Library during normal Library
opening hours. The BASE, Railway Road, Stranorlar (free entry)

Paddy Bonar has been the instigator of a large body of research into both the life of Frances Browne and into her work that has emerged in the last 30 years. Through his own research, and by working with and encouraging others, he has brought Frances to life and restored her to a place of pride in her community. In particular, his book 'The Life and Works of Frances Browne' published in 2007 is a hugely valuable resource for anyone who wants to know more about 'The Blind Poetess of Ulster'. Throughout this time he has collected a large volume of memorabilia, pamplets and books by and about Frances Browne, many of which are rare and some unique. We are delighted that Paddy has given us permission to put on display a small and fascinating selection of his collection.

We are delighted to showcase a selection of Paddy Bonar's remarkable collection of books by and about Frances Browne in the Twin Towns Library throughout the month of October.


Our full programme is available now on our website.