Mount Stewart Keeps the Conversation Going

The award-winning property aims to pick up from where last year's festival left off with another vibrant weekend of talks, panels, music and much more

Described as ‘a carnival of sparkling conversations, arts and culture’, the Mount Stewart Conversations Festival takes place on October 14 and 15 and is packed full of activities, talks, debate and more.

Now in its second year, the National Trust event takes place at Mount Stewart, County Down and features an impressive line-up of guest speakers, as well as creative workshops and trails. Throughout the weekend, there will be everything from conversations centred on women’s suffrage and Brexit, to writer talks, philosophy trails and even bee-keeping workshops.

Supported by Ards and North Down Borough Council, the Mount Stewart Conversations Festival will also launch the National Trust’s UK-wide centenary year programming for women and suffrage in 2018. Festival project manager, Helen McGorman, says it promises to be an exciting weekend, with a mixture of free and paid events available.

'We’ve upgraded it a bit from last year - particularly with the arts and animation programme, which we’ve really focused on,' she says. 'There’s quite a few highlights – Private Eye satirist, Ian Hislop, will be in conversation with fellow Private Eye writer, Craig Brown, which should be very interesting.

'We’ve also just announced that Kate Adie will be speaking on Sunday afternoon. She has a really strong connection with Northern Ireland and we’re really excited about having her here. Other key talks are focusing on the centenary of women’s suffrage – there’s a couple of talks about where women are now in that respect.

Kate Adie

'We also have a brilliant talk about the rise of women leaders in Northern Ireland, with Sarah Havlin as chair. Bronagh Hinds will be taking part in that, and I think it’ll be really interesting and exciting.'

Other speakers at the weekend event include Mail on Sunday columnist Rachel Johnson and distinguished lecturer, Professor Senia Paseta. Meanwhile, Ahmad Sarmast, founder of the Afghanistan Women’s Orchestra, will join Shalini Wickramasuriya of The Music Project in Sri Lanka, to discuss the use of music and arts to overcome conflict. The festival will also include a tongue-and-cheek look at how homes can become battlegrounds for couples – particularly when they both work from them - in  ‘Boys Jobs, Girls Jobs’ with TV’s Gogglebox favourites Giles and Mary Wood.

BBC Northern Ireland will further hold a series of conversations exploring the theme of Journeys, Journalism and Books, with hosts William Crawley and Tara Mills. Taking part in this are guests including historian and television presenter Dan Cruickshank, children’s author Geraldine McCaughrean, and Alister McGrath, who will discuss CS Lewis and the BBC.

Drawing Room at Mount Stewart

The Mount Stewart Conversations Festival promises much fun and excitement for the kids too, with the chance to explore The Garden of Thought Experiments and interact with some very creative characters. There will also be the opportunity to enjoy street art, circus and ukulele workshops, while intercultural arts organisation Beyond Skin, responsible for a significant portion of the programme including many of the international musicians, will run an interactive art wall and deliver a music and arts workshop with Youth4Peace.

'In terms of arts and animation, the garden will be really exciting,' says McGorman. 'There’ll be a children’s philosophy trail across the formal gardens – we want families to get together and think about big ideas, but in a fun way. We also have urban bee-keeping workshops, rap production and street art workshops, drumming workshops and the Lakeside Clip Show – a pop-up cinema by the lake.

'We just want people to come down and really enjoy it all. Mount Stewart is a very special place and to be able to have all this stuff going on in such a beautiful location is really special, especially with the history of the house. Politicians, artists and writers used to come here, as the family was really well connected and would have brought all these people together.

Mount Stewart Lake

'It’s about bringing that spark back to life and opening up the house, which used to private, to the public.'

Meanwhile, for anyone who wants to experience the festival in a slightly different way, there are still volunteer places available for the weekend. The National Trust will run a volunteer training session the week before the event, with a range of opportunities available, so anyone who would like to help out is encouraged to get in touch. Click here to find out more.

'Mount Stewart was the family’s country retreat and the place to come to to have conversations and debates – and to party and have fun,' says McGorman. 'That’s what we’re trying to bring back to life. I think it will be a really vibrant weekend.'

Mount Stewart Conversations Festival takes place on October 14 and 15 at Mount Stewart house and gardens. For full programme listings and ticket availability, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mount-stewart/mount-stewart-conversations-festival.

Please note - individual talk ticket prices are for entry into the talks only and Normal Admission Prices will apply to gain entry to the property on the day (Members Free).

Tickets for the BBC events are available at www.bbc.co.uk/tickets