Festival in a Van presents - VITAL SIGNS TOUR

31st July 2023

TOURS: Louth / Dublin / Waterford / Monaghan / Cavan / Longford / Roscommon: 

August 14 - 29

Festival in a Van in association with Poetry Ireland is bringing VITAL SIGNS, a new collaboration, on the road this August. Vital Signs will gather together seven of Ireland’s most lauded poets and 10 of the country’s best traditional Irish musicians for a tour to seven counties over 16 days – bringing joy to people in care and nursing homes, and community groups too:

Festival in a Van gets mobile this August with Poetry Ireland for a very special tour. VITAL SIGNS features many of Ireland’s best poets and musicians, offering a series of new gigs that focus on health, healing and wellbeing. First piloted in Mayo last December, and leaving a vapour trail of heart-warming joy and delight, it is now time to share this work far and wide as this curated collection of poets and singer-songwriters take part in pop-up gigs around the country. 

Participating poets include the award-winning Martin Dyar, whose anthology Vital Signs: Poems of Illness and Healing (2022) is the inspiration for this tour. Martin will also curate the poetry line-up for this national touring event made possible by The Arts Council, and a partnership with Poetry Ireland.

This tour programme starts in Louth with lyric poet Tom French and his work for Festival in a Van will be performed in Dundalk who will be joined with Irish folk musician Seán Mathews, from Drogheda;  Next in the touring schedule is the wonderful Dublin-based poet of Congolese origin, Nithy Kasa who has had her work listed among the top poetry books of 2022 by The Irish Times – her new work can be enjoyed at the Dublin gig, together with storytelling musician Fin Furey, composer and musician Michael Flemming with singer-songwriter Alison Quigley, all who are capable of changing your world forever – even from the tiny setting of the Van;  Waterford poet Clodagh Beresford whose poem “Seven Sugar Cubes” was voted Irish Poem of the Year at the 2017 Irish Book Awards – her work will be followed by local Waterford folk artist, songwriter and poet, Tadhg Williams;  Monaghan poet and fiction-writer Mary O’Donnell’s work is often cited as key in expanding the horizons of Ireland’s traditionally male-dominated literary world. Her work for Vital Signs will be heard in her home county on this tour with music and song from long time collaborators Stephen Doherty and David Doocey; Belfast poet, Stephen Sexton's debut collection won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and was named 'a debut fit to compare to Seamus Heaney' – his new work for the van will be premiered at the Cavan date of the tour where Alannah Thornburgh will perform her beautiful music. Thornburgh is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist and composer with a focus on traditional Irish harp; Widely published and highly regarded Longford-based poet Mary Melville Geoghegan will share her new work for Festival in a Van with classical singer Josephine Dolan, at the Longford stop of the tour; and to complete this country-wide tour will be poet and dramatist Terry McDonagh for the Roscommon stage of the tour with musical duo Emer Mayock and Donal Siggins. Emer is an Irish Traditional Flute Player & Uilleann Piper and Donal will be on stringed instruments for their gig in the van in August.

These exciting gigs will be followed up by workshops and Poetry SOS clinics, run by Poetry Ireland for Festival in a Van, where poets prescribe poems to help and support care and health workers. These will run throughout September and into October of this year.

Festival in a Van’s Director, Elizabeth Mohen says: “We’ve all felt the energy that is built by a crowd when a chorus is sung, or when a line of poetry becomes spine-tinglingly resonant. The Vital Signs tour gives people the chance to experience together moments that have previously taken place alone in a quiet room between the reader and the anthology; moments of stark recognition, of shared grief and hope. Bringing the Vital Signs tour to care and nursing homes, and to community groups, ensures that we are continuing our mission of making sure everyone in Ireland can experience the magic of music, poetry, and live performance.”

Poetry Ireland’s Director, Liz Kelly, says, “Vital Signs has become a valuable source of inspiration both in artistic terms and with respect to the human challenge of accepting and discussing illness, healing, and healthcare in more open, reflective, and ultimately healthier terms. It is good to see Vital Signs ‘on tour’, in a series of expertly curated public events, at the height of summer, fulfilling our central aim, to connect people with poetry.”

Initially an idea to keep music, poetry and theatre alive during Covid, Festival in a Van tours the country to provide a vital cultural link for all those throughout Ireland whose access to the arts may be limited, for whatever reason. Festival in a Van is supported by Creative Ireland, the Arts Council of Ireland, and Ireland’s Local Authority Network.



Martin Dyar is a graduate of NUIG and TCD, his poetry has received a number of honours, including the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award in 2009, and the Strokestown International Poetry Award in 2001. In 2010 he was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series. He has also been the recipient of an Irish Arts Council Bursary Award for Literature. From 2013 to 2014 he was the Dublin UNESCO City of Literature writing fellow at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. He has also held fellowships at the Washington Ireland Program, and the University of Limerick. In 2019-2020 he was the John Broderick writer in residence at the Aidan Heavey Library in Athlone.


Born in Sligo, Martin Dyar grew up in Swinford in County Mayo, his poems have been included in the anthologies Windharp: Poems of Ireland Since 1916 (2015); Everything to Play For: 99 Poems About Sport (2015); and Town Stitched by River: Irish Writers at the International Writing Program (2015). His poem “Death and the Post Office” has been included on the prescribed poetry syllabus on the Leaving Certificate, the Irish state exam which determines secondary school students’ entry to higher education.


Poet Bernard O’Donoghue remarked on his work as “real importance and originality”. “Dyar’s narratives about the strangeness of the everyday have a vividness and colour”…”making room for the language of poetry to move into new areas to cope with the central moments of people’s lives.”


Dyar is editor of the anthology Vital Signs: Poems about Illness and Healing (2022). He is adjunct assistant professor in Medical Ethics and Humanities in the School of Medicine at Trinity College Dublin.



Gemma Tipton set up Festival in a Van in 2020, turning a box van into a mobile stage, as a way of keeping live performance going during Covid. Travelling in a bubble, and armed with oceans of hand sanitiser, the Festival in a Van team were able to visit care homes, schools, residential centres and direct provision centres touring music, theatre and poetry. 

In 2020 Festival in a Van:

Staged more than 60 performances in 11 counties
Worked with 48 musicians, singers, poets, artists and performers 
with a team of 15 theatre professionals, designers and production artists
and reached more than 2,500 people, throughout all levels of lockdown

In 2021, they first collaborated with Poetry Ireland and brought their Words Move Tour across the Island.

In 2022, they toured Ireland with the Shared Music Sessions, introducing musicians from Ireland, Ukraine and other new communities through music and song. The Shared Music Sessions kicked off on August 23, 2022, in Co Kerry and since then, we have visited twenty counties, working with over one hundred musicians in over fifty locations.

In 2023, Festival in a Van continue with their Shared Music Sessions, as well as touring Deities with We Are Griot, and Vital Signs with Martin Dyar alongside many more poets and musicians.

When Festival in a Van comes to visit...

Vans arrive to streets, housing estates or apartment blocks. They come to care homes, rural spots, parking lots or village squares. The doors open. In one, an actor delivers a dramatic monologue. In another a musician makes their own kind of magic, a singer sings songs or arias. In another a poet recites, a writer reads. 

“Festival in a Van gets the show on the road.”