The summer months are busy out and about in a Diocese like Cork, Cloyne and Ross. ‘Summer only’ churches in coastal villages open up. Tourists and holiday-makers abound. There’s the usual round of summer fêtes, summer clubs, outings and children’s clubs. In the community there are festivals, shows and gatherings of many kinds: agriculture, food, sailing, rowing, regattas, maritime, music and many more, all of which bring many visitors to towns, villages and parishes and which are partnered also by the Church of Ireland locally. One such is the West Cork Literary Festival. (It, together with two other local festivals in the Bantry area, are worth more than €2 million to the locale).
On Friday, 17th July, at the invitation of the organisers of the West Cork Literary Festival which has been running since Sunday, 12th July, the Bishop of Cork, Dr Paul Colton, hosted an evening with Graham Norton: 90 minutes of interview, questions and answers in front of a crowd of more than 400 people. It had sold out before it was even advertised!
‘Graham is from this part of the world’ said Bishop Colton, ‘He has a home here. He grew up here. His mother and sister live here. He’s a past-pupil of Bandon Grammar School. This is where he comes to relax, to be, to bring friends, and to be and let be.’
The literary festival event focussed on Graham Norton’s new memoir The Life and Loves of a He Devil. The interview and the questions from the floor, covered a lot of ground: why Graham wrote the book, how he writes, dogs, falling back in love with Ireland, West Cork, the recent marriage equality referendum, his family, faith and belief, his optimism, his career hopes, having friends as a celebrity, all the celebrities he meets, his plans to write a novel, and much more, together with, needless to say, a liberal injection of hilarious stories and raucous laughter. Afterwards Graham remained to meet the audience to pose for photographs and to sign books.
So how did it come about that the Bishop ended up interviewing the actor at the West Cork Literary Festival? Bishop Colton said:
I was as surprised as anyone else to be asked. Graham’s mother couldn’t belief that her bishop had been asked!
In the late 1970s and early 1980s my path, and my wife Susan’s path, frequently crossed with Graham’s because we had a mutual friend in Bandon and often ended up at the same parties. More recently I’ve met him again on his return visits to Cork such as when he came back to his old school for prize day, Bandon Grammar School, or when he brings his mother to the parish fête in his local parish – St James’, Durrus.
But actually the whole idea for the literary festival was the brainchild of a friend who, sadly, died since – Ivor Melia. When I came back to Cork as Bishop in 1999 one of the first events I attended was the launch of the Hope Foundation. Jean Kearney and Ivor Melia were doing the PR for that and we hit it off. In early June, Ivor had the idea that the curious mismatch – Graham and me: old acquaintances, actor and bishop – would create an interesting dynamic on the public stage. And it did. I think the audience got a shock at first when I appeared. They were wondering what was going on. But it seems to have had the desired effect and people were kind enough to say that it went really well. Sadly Ivor died only a month ago on 19th June at the age of 45. I hope he would have been pleased that everything seems to have gone well last night. It was Ivor’s last ‘big idea for his work’ and I was glad to honour that, and to dedicate my participation in last night’s event to him.