It was all about books this week in Bantry as authors and bibliophiles converged on the scenic town for the West Cork Literary Festival.

One of the most anticipated events was a talk from feminist activist Gloria Steinem on Saturday. It was the 82-year-old’s first visit to Ireland and there was a significant sense of expectation as the room filled with women (and a few men) of all ages.

Steinem was given a rapturous welcome. She urged women to tell their own stories, saying that all movements are about “people telling the truth about their lives”.

While billed as a discussion about her memoir My Life on the Road, this was less a literary event and more a political meeting as, at Steinem’s urging, speakers took the floor. It wasn’t all fawning and fan-girling, however, as the temperature heightened with contrasting views aired on abortion. Steinem stated that using the law to regulate fertilised eggs was akin to the nationalisation of women’s bodies and that the “government does not get to control us from the skin in, I’m sorry”.

Steinem eloquently handled all questions with grace and humour, saying “If it doesn’t include everybody, it’s not feminism.”

There was a mix of laughter, tears, anger and hope in the room over the nearly two hours the event lasted. Steinem had asked that Irish women make their voices heard and she wasn’t disappointed. In conclusion, she expressed the wish that the world “could be a lot more like this room”. It was a fitting sentiment for a festival that is local at heart but global in mind.


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