When Irish author Colm Toibin takes the stage at the Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia next month to read from one of his many novels and works of nonfiction, his audience is sure to be large and enthusiastic.
Toibin -- one of Ireland's best-known journalists and writers and a Dublin resident -- will be one of the featured performers at an "Irish Evening," sponsored by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) on Feb. 19.
Local musicians Dominick Murray, Terry Winch and Linda Hickman will perform traditional Irish songs and ballads. Eighteen-year-old Paul Cusick, the All World Champion of Irish step-dancing, will perform along with two other world-class dancers.
This year's gathering promises to be one of the most popular in the 21 years that HoCoPoLitSo has been luring Ireland's writers, poets and musicians to Columbia, according to Catherine McLoughlin-Hayes, president of the event.
"We've sold out every single year," McLoughlin-Hayes said. "It's a very social event. People who like poetry and literature and music come to have a great time.
"We used to offer Irish coffees with Irish whiskey, but, unfortunately, we've put a stop to that," she said.
David Barrett, chairman of HoCoPoLitSo, said the "Irish Evening" "probably has the most loyal core of followers of any event we sponsor.
"My sense is that if the audience doesn't know who the writer is, they will assume it's someone they should know," Barrett said. "And, if it's someone they do know, so much the better.
"People have walked for miles in a snowstorm to attend our Irish evenings."
McLoughlin-Hayes, born and raised in Ireland before coming to Washington in the early 1970s, said the "Irish Evening" attracts a large, culturally diverse crowd as well as the growing Irish community living in the Baltimore-Washington area.
"More and more, Irish people are moving to Howard County and to Columbia," she said. "And of course, there are many Irish-Americans who want to celebrate their culture. I'd say we have Irish people coming out of the woodwork."
Irish literature and music is undergoing a renaissance, thanks in part to the success of Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1996 memoir "Angela's Ashes," and the stage shows "Riverdance" and dance star Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance," both international hits featuring Irish step-dancing and traditional music.
McLoughlin-Hayes said it may be a mistake to assume that this minor Irish cultural invasion is new.
"If anything," she said, "I'd say that Ireland has long been famous for its writers and poets, from Yeats onward. Every day, it seems, a new book is coming out by an Irish author, and they are garnering an international reputation as being very talented. And traditional Irish music has been around for ages."
Amiri Baraka, the African-American writer and poet, once observed that the the best European writing was coming from Ireland and from Irish writers living in England, Barrett said.
"They have an affinity and love for literature, reading and storytelling that he hadn't seen," she said.
This year, Irish Ambassador Sean O'Huiginn will introduce Toibin.
Winner of the American Academy of Arts and Letters' E. M. Forster Award in 1995, Toibin (pronounced Toe-BEEN) has emerged at age 44 as one of Ireland's most-respected authors.
He has written three nonfiction books: "Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border," "Homage to Barcelona" and "The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe."
His first novel, "The South," won the Irish Times/Aer Lingus Literature Prize in 1991, and "The Heather Blazing" won the Encore Award for the best second novel of the year in 1992. Toibin's latest novel, "The Story of the Night," published last year, is set in Argentina during the Falkland Islands war.
Musician Dominick Murray, a singer and guitarist who lives in Towson and works in Columbia, has arranged to bring musicians, singers and dancers to top off the evening.
Terry Winch, poet and co-founder of the Irish folk band Celtic Thunder, will play with Murray, flutist Linda Hickman and fiddler Dave Abe. Cathie Ryan, who was twice voted the Best Irish Traditional Female Vocalist by the Irish American News, will sing and play the bodhran, or drum.
Tickets cost $20. Send a check and stamped, addressed return envelope to HoCoPoLitSo, 10446 Waterfowl Terrace, Columbia 21044. With credit card, call 410 730-1802 Information: 410 730-7524.
Pub Date: 1/28/99