Bard of Armagh Returns on November 21

Poets from Ireland and beyond limber up for the annual festival of humorous verse at Armagh City Hotel on November 21 

It is a 'powerful night' of poetry, music, friendship, fun and laughter, and this year the finals of the Bard of Armagh Festival of Humorous Verse take place in the familiar surroundings of the Armagh City Hotel on Friday, November 21.

The event, now in its 20th year, attracts entries from all over Ireland and offers a prize fund of £3,000. Diverse topics and themes being covered this year include a light-hearted look at writing a will, falling into a grave, smuggling diesel, marital problems, mature students and NAMA.

John Makem, a retired secondary school teacher from Derrynoose, is part of a committee of eight charged with organising Armagh's most popular celebration of literary dexterity. 'It's unique,' says Makem. 'It's the only event of its kind anywhere on these islands.'

Performers compete in several heats before making it to the final. Among the 2014 finalists is Dave Paddon, who will be flying in from Newfoundland for the festival to compete in front of an audience of 1,000 alongside performers from Down, Fermanagh, Galway and elsewhere.

'This year brings bards or humorous poets from 12 counties and Newfoundland,' adds Makem. 'Paddon is an illustrious entertainer and does a bit of singing as well. On the night of the Bard we will have 16 people performing their pieces and we will have a folk band, Puzzle Find Pat, performing too.'

Former Bard winner, Seamus Carolan, from Roslea will be sharing his take on Dear Frankie, a radio agony aunt popular in Ireland in the 1960s, while Jimmy Rafferty from Armagh and Phyllis Murphy from Monaghan will explore the global phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey.

Rafferty, from Loughgall, has won the Bard on four occasions. To mark this achievement he will be presented with a special Hall of Fame award during the competition. Makem reveals that, as ever, tickets are few and far between, so anyone interested in attending should contact the Armagh City Hotel forthwith. 'It's close to being sold out. We are all looking forward to another great night.'

Joan Rooney from Lisnagunnion, outside Carrickmacross, shares her thoughts on what makes the Bard of Armagh so special. 'It is indeed a rare sensation standing at the lectern on a Bard night. You have 1,000 ripe imaginations at your disposal. You have the power to control, infuse, enthral and uplift. A night of laughter is a healer and tonic for a whole series of disorders and afflictions.'

Makem admits that he enjoys giving his all to make the yearly event a success, and emphasises that the committee appreciate the support that the local community and council provide. 'It's a powerful night. A year of work goes into it. Throughout the year, we link up with poets and writer's groups. We are very grateful for the continued support of Armagh City and District Council.'

Last year's worthy winner, Martin Hearty, has since emigrated to Canada, so unfortunately will not be competing this year. He will, however, be back next year to hopefully 'claim the title' once more. 'Winning the Bard at the first time of asking was an utterly fantastic experience,' Hearty beams down the line. 'It is a truly unique and incredible competition and really brings something to the whole area.'

The 2014 contestants for the Bard of Armagh Festival of Humorous Verse are as follows:

Michael Cribben (Cavan): ‘Where There’s a Will’
Gerard McCormack (Roscommon): ‘Official Terminology’
Bernadette McKevitt (Armagh): ‘Mature Students’
Padraig McGinn (Leitrim): ’ Pessimists and Sourpusses’
Patrick Gormley (Tyrone): ‘A Grave Mistake’
Erinn Geraghty (Galway): ‘Customer Care’
Patsy McDermott (Cavan): ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’
Sean McCormack (Meath): ‘I Got You’
Phyllis Murphy (Monaghan): ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
Paul McArdle (Louth): ‘Minnie the Hare’
Jimmy Rafferty (Armagh ): ‘Fifty Shades’
Seamus Carolan (Fermanagh): ‘Agony Aunt Frankie’
John McDonagh (Sligo): ‘The Cake that NAMA Baked’
David McCormick (Down): ‘Murphy’s Spontaneous Combustion’
Rob Barratt (Cornwall): ‘Missing Letterland’
Dave Paddon (Newfoundland): ‘The Christmas Turr’

Bard of Armagh takes place in the Armagh City Hotel on November 21.