Finbar Furey playing tin whistle

Finbar Furey playing tin whistle

A great concert tonight by Finbar Furey at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. But as he told Patrick Freyne of The Irish Times in January, he’s on his last big tour and is “winding down the clock” at the age of 68. The outstanding song was probably his rendition of Willie McBride, in which the packed audience joined. He started off with The Lonesome Boatman, playing the large tin whistle. At other stages in the show he played banjo, guitar and the uilleann pipes. He was accompanied by on double bass.

Finbar Furey at the Lyric Theatre Belfast Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Finbar Furey at the Lyric Theatre Belfast Photo: © Michael Fisher


“Finbar Furey loves the idea of his music bringing people together. This happened at theWorld Cup in 1994, he says, when Holland were playing Ireland. “At half time, the Dutch fans started singing ‘Het Kleine Café’,” he says. “And the Irish fans were all saying, ‘Hang on a minute that’s [Fureys’ song] The Red Rose Café, so they started singing it. And Paddy says, ‘Aren’t them Hollish people brilliant, singing one of our songs for us. Fair play.’ They didn’t know it was a Dutch song. And the Dutch are saying, ‘Ah, the Irish have learned one of our songs.’ It was the only time two sets of football fans were seen kissing and cuddling each other.”

He laughs. The 68-year-old is sitting forward in his chair in a Dublin hotel. He’s wearing a white fedora hat and a leather jacket and he’s looking sprightly and tanned. “It’s a bottle tan,” he says. Actually, he’s recently come back from Spain. He’s also just had “a big feed of bacon and eggs”, which may explain the sprightliness. “I’m not supposed to. Not after the bang: the heart attack I had two years ago. I haven’t had a fry-up for 2½ years.”

He’s doing publicity for a spate of gigs across Germany, Ireland and South Africa. He also just completed an album of uilleann pipe music, which he promises will be “an eye-opener”, and he’s hoping to begin another record in South Africa with local musicians. It’s probably his last big tour. “I’m winding down the clock,” he says.

He has been playing music for a long time. “[My father] would take me to different parts of Ireland with him. We’d go into a pub and start a session in the pub, [then] he’d move on to another pub someplace else. He would have taken music from county to county long before there was radio or telephones. Can you imagine two Irishmen sitting down at a crossroads in 1932 writing out sheet music to each other, swapping pieces of music? That’s an amazing scene when you think of it: a fiddler and a piper just swapping tunes.”

Finbar Furey at the Lyric Theatre Belfast Photo:  © Michael Fisher

Finbar Furey at the Lyric Theatre Belfast Photo: © Michael Fisher

Musical family

His whole family was musical. “My mother played the five-string banjo, a thing called ‘breakdown’, which is done with two fingers.” He mimes the picking and sings softly: “I come fromAlabama with a banjo on my knee, and I’m going to Louisiana, oh my true love for to see.”

As we talk he frequently sings a few lines of music for illustrative purposes. He says that singing a song should be like “when an actor goes on stage in theatre. You’re living the character. You can’t just look around and think, that’s a nice wave I got there from Seamus. You have to live the part until you finish the song.”

He and his brothers and parents would play in O’Donoghue’s pub in Dublin alongside the likes of Ronnie Drew. He and his brother Eddie began playing as a duo in the UK and they were asked to join the Clancy Brothers when Tommy Makem left the band. “It was fantastic,” he says. “The first gig we did with them was in 1968 in Carnegie Hall.”

Touring with the Clancys, he met famous people such as Liza Minnelli and Edward Kennedy, and he appeared on Johnny Carson’s show.

He and Eddie partied, but not too hard. “What saved our lives was that we never went near the top shelf. We never touched spirits. We’d have a couple of beers . . . We were kids. We enjoyed Coca-Cola and pizzas and things kids love.”

But ultimately, playing with the Clancys left him unfulfilled. “There’s only so many times I wanted to sing I’ll Tell Me Ma When I Get Home,” he says. And he missed playing the pipes. “After the concerts would finish, I’d run off to a club somewhere in Chicago and find somebody who was playing a bit of Irish music and start a few tunes.”

Intermission in Edinburgh

After leaving the band he went to Edinburgh where his wife, Sheila (“The most perfect woman I’ve ever met”), was about to have a baby. They rented a railway cottage. “I didn’t do anything for a year,” he says. “I tarred a roof in Scotland. Walked seven miles to work every morning and back.”

He and Eddie were friends with folkies such as Eric Bogle and the Incredible String Band. And they were particularly close to Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty, then a duo. Rafferty gave them his song, Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway. Their version became John Peel’s song of the year and their careers took off. “We were very experienced with an audience and we knew exactly what we wanted to play. We’d already been to the top and back.”

His brothers George and Paul were following in their footsteps with their friend Davey Arthur in a band called The Buskers. Finbar decided they should all join together – partly, he says, so he could “keep an eye on them”.

They never chased success, he says, but the Furey Brothers and Davey Arthur were nonetheless hugely successful. They appeared on Top of the Pops playing The Green Fields of France, on the bill with Kool and the Gang. They thought it was all hilarious. They had to re-record the backing track because of some obscure union rules.

“We had to join the British Musicians’ Union and then we had to get an orchestra and re-record the song. But I switched the tape and they played the Irish one anyway. They didn’t know. I threw the English one in the Thames.”

He loved working with his brothers. “There was no bosses in the band. We all had a say and we always made room . . . My brother Paul was asked one time what he liked about being an entertainer or musician on the road. He said ‘room service’.”

But he felt the band were repeating themselves, that they weren’t going anywhere. For the second time in his career he got itchy feet and walked away from a successful band. “The boys were happy but I had other things I wanted to do. I had all these songs and ideas of music I wanted to play. I just knew there was something different out there I wanted to play.”

Leaving broke his heart, he says. He couldn’t let go. “I’d watch them from a distance and make sure they were all right.” He would ring venues to make sure they were doing okay. It got worse, he says, after his brother Paul died of cancer in 2002. “I kept blaming myself, thinking that if I’d been there he mightn’t have died. But I know now I couldn’t have helped him anyway.”

The grief coincided with an injury to his shoulder that looked like it might end his career playing the pipes. “I went through a bad time,” he says. “I knew I’d never be able to play the pipes as well again, I’d always be struggling with them. I can only play them for about 20 minutes and then my shoulder starts really aching me again.”

He was also creatively blocked. “My brain was in a knot. Just the guilt of leaving the band and all sorts of things and not spending enough time with Paul before he died. And everybody was disappearing: all our uncles and aunts and people we used to look up to.”

In 2008 he had an operation on his shoulder. Then in 2009 he went on a holiday before going on a short tour in America. “And I went apeshit playing great music again,” he says. “I went around places I’d wandered years ago with the Clancy Brothers. When I came home I decided to get busy and I started writing. I started to think about the future instead of thinking about the past.”

Finbar Furey playing banjo

Finbar Furey playing banjo

Back in action

The creativity is back, he says, a serious heart attack notwithstanding. He is writing, recording and touring. He and Sheila live in a house that is littered with banjos and guitars and that he makes sound like a drop-in centre for his musically gifted children and their friends (his son Martin is a member of The High Kings). In 2013 he appeared in the TV show The Hit, for which he recorded an actual hit, a number one, with Gerry Fleming’s song The Last Great Love Song. Aren’t reality television talent shows very different from the musical tradition he comes from?

“How would I describe it?” he says. “Take all the great musicians like Joe Heaney andJohnny Doran and the Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers. Now imagine there’s a well and all the heritage goes into the well and every day this well gets bigger and bigger and bigger and all you have to do is take a cup and dip in anywhere you like. The Hit is no different. It’s part of that Irish heritage now and it was a wonderful song.”

After years when the music wasn’t coming, he’s on a roll. “I never want to get into a rut again,” he says. “I have to write about what’s happening now, tomorrow. I have a young man’s life. I never ever stop searching. If I had no hands and still had a brain and I could talk I would still speak about music or hum into a microphone.”

Then it’s time to go and he shakes my hand firmly and warmly. “There’s too much doom and gloom,” he says. “We need more singing.”

Finbar Furey CD cover

Finbar Furey CD cover

Finbar Furey tours Ireland in February and plays Dublin’s Vicar Street on June 12th. Details here.”  

Irish Times January 19th 2015.


Brendan Behan's typewriter & NUJ Card: Photo: Dublin Writers Museum

Brendan Behan’s typewriter & NUJ Card: Photo: Dublin Writers Museum

Brendan Behan’s NUJ card and Remington portable no.2 typewriter along with a first edition of ‘The Quare Fellow’ (1954) are on display at the Dublin Writers Museum in Parnell Square. His membership of the union was discussed during a tour by an NUJ group of the graves of writers and other famous people at Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin on Sunday.

Tour Guide Paddy Gleeson points out Brendan Behan's Grave  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Tour Guide Paddy Gleeson points out Brendan Behan’s Grave Photo: © Michael Fisher

I am told that Joe Jennings (later CIÉ Press Officer) was his proposer when Behan started writing a weekly column and joined The Irish Press chapel in 1954. I also know that when my father was London Editor of The Irish Press (1954-1962), the playwright had called into the Fleet Street office, probably looking for an advance of some sort.

Plaque on Behan's Grave  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Plaque on Behan’s Grave Photo: © Michael Fisher

In May 1956, The Quare Fellow’ opened at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, in a production by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop. The play later transferred to the West End. Behan died on March 20th 1964, aged 41.

Adrian Dunbar in 'Brendan at the Chelsea'  Photo: Lyric Theatre

Adrian Dunbar in ‘Brendan at the Chelsea’ Photo: Lyric Theatre

In May 2011, a play called ‘Brendan at the Chelsea’, written by Behan’s niece, Janet Behan, was the first work to be performed in the Naughton Studio at the new Lyric Theatre in Belfast. The production tells the story of Behan’s residence at New York’s Hotel Chelsea in 1963. It was a critical success and was revived for a tour to the Acorn Theatre in New York in September, before returning to the Lyric in October. Again, it received favourable reviews.

“In Adrian Dunbar’s riveting central performance, Behan plays the stage Irishman to perfection, a song permanently on his lips, his slurring, alcohol-soaked wit delighting a succession of hangers-on with its scathing, self-deprecating observations.” (‘The Stage’)

Brendan Behan's Grave  Photo: © Michael Fisher

Brendan Behan’s Grave Photo: © Michael Fisher

Starting tonight, the play has moved to the Project Arts Centre in Behan’s native Dublin and will run for five nights until Saturday. More information can be found here.

Adrian Dunbar plays Brendan Behan in this warm and funny drama of an Irish national treasure. It is 1960s New York in the legendary bohemian bolt hole, The Chelsea Hotel. Arthur Miller is just across the hall and the symphony of 24th Street is rising up and in through the open window of Brendan Behan’s room. He is broke, hung over and way past the delivery date of his latest book, the first line of which he is yet to write. He was told to stop drinking or he’d be dead in six months – that was two years ago. Today is not going well. His mistress keeps ringing, the bills aren’t paid and a wire arrives from Dublin with the kind of news that’s guaranteed to put his blood pressure through the roof…

Adrian Dunbar (who sings a song in Irish) and Janice Behan were interviewed on the John Murray Show this morning on RTÉ Radio 1.

Brendan Behan    Source: John Murray Show website

Brendan Behan Source: John Murray Show website


Seamus Heaney Portrait: © Colin Davidson 'Between the Words'

Seamus Heaney Portrait: © Colin Davidson ‘Between the Words’

It was very appropriate that this new portrait of Seamus Heaney by Belfast artist Colin Davidson should go on display at Queen’s University Belfast while the Nobel Laureate was being laid to rest in his native parish of Bellaghy in South Derry. Earlier in Dublin hundreds of people led by President Higgins gathered for his funeral Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart at Donnybrook. The chief celebrant was a priest from the diocese of Derry “with a Northern accent” (which he said the poet might have liked), Monsignor Brendan Devlin from Rouskey near Gortin in County Tyrone.

Seamus Heaney sitting for Colin Davidson portrait © Mark Carruthers

Seamus Heaney sitting for Colin Davidson portrait © Mark Carruthers

Heaney had a long association with the university. In 1957 he enrolled at Queen’s, graduating with a first class honours degree in English Language and Literature in 1961. He became a lecturer in the English department at Queen’s in 1966 and was there for six years, one of which was spent as a visiting Professor at Berkeley. He was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the QUB Institute of Irish Studies and when in February 2004 the School of English opened a new Poetry Centre, it was named after him. It houses the Heaney Media Archive. A book of condolences has been opened at the Welcome Centre, Lanyon building at Queen’s and there is also one at Belfast City Hall, at the Guildhall in Derry and at the Mansion House in Dublin.

Cellist Neil Martin talks to Bob Collins; Stella McCusker chats to Ian McIlhenny

Cellist Neil Martin talks to Bob Collins; Stella McCusker chats to Ian McIlhinney

The portrait was on display at the Lyric theatre in Belfast on Saturday night. A full house attended a special commemoration put together at short notice by theatre trustee Stuart Douds. It included a rendition of Port na bPúcaí, a tune that inspired Heaney to write The Given Note, by cellist Neil Martin, who also played at the poet’s funeral. There were  readings by some of his fellow poets and friends. Robert McMillen who I met before the commemoration gave this summary of the participants:-

Michael Longley Photo: © Michael Fisher

Michael Longley Photo: © Michael Fisher

Stella McCusker read from Heaney’s speech at the Lyric in April 2012; Michael Longley… (who read with Heaney at the Merriman summer school a fortnight ago) shared some anecdotes and read a poem called Boat (about his and Seamus’s mortality) as well as two poems by Heaney himself. Belfast poet laureate Sinead Morrissey fought successfully to hold back the tears as she read Tollund Man, a poem she taught students in Schleswig-Holstein (a province in Germany near the border with Denmark). She was less successful later as the stage lights caught the tears in her eyes and her trembling hands. Damian Gorman read the poem Postscript and one of his own, After the Poet about Victor Jara but which was apt too for the night that was in it.”

I notice that Damian has published the poem on his facebook page:

A bird can sing
With broken wings, or none at all.
All that it needs
Is a full throat, and a hearing.

All it needs
Is not to be too afraid
Of singing.
All that it needs
Is to be – or have been –
A bird.

Copyright: © Damian Gorman  (For HP, Zenica, August 2013)

Frank Ormsby & Michael Longley Photo: © Michael Fisher

Frank Ormsby & Michael Longley Photo: © Michael Fisher

Robert goes on to described how “Eamon Hughes gave an academic but very personal account of Heaney, man and work, while Frank Ormsby read the heart-rending poem about Sean Armstrong who was murdered during the troubles, A Postcard from North Antrim. Glenn Patterson read from his new book before Neil Martin returned to play a tune…..called The Parting of Friends. It was left to Mark Carruthers to thank the people who had given so generously of their time to partake in this tribute to Seamus Heaney before Ian McIlhinney read probably the Bellaghy man’s most quoted poem, The Cure at Troy”. 

Stella McCusker chats to Ian McIlhinney with writer Glenn Patterson Photo: © Michael Fisher

Stella McCusker chats to Ian McIlhinney with writer Glenn Patterson Photo: © Michael Fisher

Belfast Lord Mayor, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, dropped in to read a song/poem in Irish, An Chéad Mháirt de Fhómhar which beautifully captures the sorrow and anger at the loss of a loved one. Arts Council of Northern Ireland Chair Bob Collins who was Director General of RTÉ when I worked there), gave a wonderful eulogy in which he spoke of how Heaney had a great understanding of broadcasting as a public service. He has allowed me to reprint this tribute:


“When in 1995, I first read Seamus Heaney’s Nobel acceptance speech, Crediting Poetry, I was transported back more than forty years to the aerial wire coming through a hole bored in the frame of our kitchen window by his recollection of listening to the wireless as a child in the 1940s. But I was also dramatically struck by the relevance of his words to the work I was doing at that time in broadcasting in RTÉ where I spent thirty years of my life. When he said:

I had to get close to the actual radio set in order to concentrate my hearing and in that intent proximity to the dial I grew familiar with the names of foreign stations … I also got used to hearing the short bursts of foreign languages as the dial hand swept round from BBC to Radio Éireann, from the intonations of London to those of Dublin and even though I did not understand what was being said in those first encounters with the gutturals and sibilants of European speech, I had already begun a journey into the wideness of the world.”

With those words, he encapsulated much of the possibility and the responsibility of broadcasting as a public good, as public service. I thanked him for it and quoted him often. Perhaps it was that intuitive understanding that prompted him to give so much of himself to BBC and to RTÉ. His contributions have enriched the schedules and the archives of both, for this and, now, for all future generations. But they were a powerful way for him to play a role as a public person, as a thinker who posed challenges for all who had ears to hear.

Recalling his own childhood – and by extension all our childhoods – he spoke of being “schooled for the complexities of his adult predicament, a future where he would have to adjudicate among promptings variously ethical, aesthetical, moral, political, metrical, sceptical, cultural, topical, typical, post-colonial and, taken all together, simply impossible.”

Part of his calling, his choice, was to be a source of assistance to all of us in those adjudications. He knew the risks of that public role and expressed them. Writing in 1974, he said that “the idea of poetry as an art is in danger of being overshadowed by a quest for poetry as a diagram of political attitudes.” And in his Nobel speech, he spoke of “having to conduct oneself as a poet in a situation of political violence and public expectation. A public expectation, it has to be said, not of poetry as such but of political positions variously approvable by mutually disapproving groups.”

For him, it was simple. “The poet“, he said, “is on the side of undeceiving the world. It means being vigilant in the public realm.”

And he never ceased from lifting deception from the world. He spoke with clarity and rigour. He became a measure, a yardstick, an index of what was good. A moral force. And in the process, he became a spokesman for the entire society, his poetry the voice of the entire community. John Henry Newman said that writers were the “spokesmen and prophets of the human family.” Seamus Heaney discharged that duty to the full. In From the Republic of Conscience, he challenged “public leaders to weep to atone for their presumption to hold office.” Public leaders mind you, not just political leaders but all who wished to hold public positions. After the ceasefire and before the Belfast Agreement he wrote that “violence was destructive of the trust upon which new possibilities would have to be built.” How right and how farsighted he was.

He also said something in ‘Government of the Tongue’ that we might well reflect on in these times in both jurisdictions on the island when he wrote of poetry that “it does not propose to be instrumental or effective. Instead, in the rift between what’s going to happen and what we would wish to happen, poetry holds attention for a space, functions not as a distraction, but as pure concentration, a focus where our power of concentration is concentrated back on ourselves.” It has resonance for our consideration of all the arts.

Last night there was a clip of an interview with Seamus in an RTÉ bulletin. In it he said “If poetry and the arts do anything they can fortify your inner life – your inwardness. Listening together and knowing things together – which is what a culture is. If you know things together that you value, that is a kind of immunity system against things.” This wisdom in an interview conducted quickly on the fringes of a public event.

It is difficult to put into words and to convey fully how intimately his person and his poetry had become bound up with the life of the people, especially, I think and in my experience, in the Republic. How deeply he had become embedded in the affection of the people and in the life of the society – as no artist I can think of has ever quite achieved before. He had an extraordinary place in the public realm. But that place in the public realm, his presence at state and solemn occasions was not as a symbol of state or as part of state but as a reminder to state of the importance of values, of the challenge of office, of the meaning of society, of the responsibility of leadership to the people, of the place of conscience. Through his life and through his poetry he spoke to the people. And the people listened.

He was intuitively trusted; his integrity appreciated; his directness reciprocated; his dignity sublime.

Two weeks ago, last night, I was in Lisdoonvarna, at the Merriman summer school at which he and Michael Longley gave a public reading. It was an unbelievable experience, powerfully moving and indelibly impressive. The intimacy of the relationship with the capacity audience and their appreciation of the work of both poets will remain forever in the memory. These were two poets who had done much to give poetry back to the people. This was Seamus Heaney being the voice of the community within the community. I had the particular pleasure of being next to them both at dinner before the reading and, with our spouses – Marie, Edna and Mary, in the small bar of Sheedy’s hotel afterwards for nightcap, story, reflection, friendship and fun. It was a delight. More than that, it was a blessing.

Like his life, a blessing whose cup of bounty will flow all the days of our lives”.

Bob Collins 31/08/13

Curtain call at the Seamus Heaney commemoration at the Lyric Theatre Photo: © Michael Fisher

Curtain call at the Seamus Heaney commemoration at the Lyric Theatre Photo: © Michael Fisher


Swans at Lough Murree beside Flaggy Shore, Co.Clare Photo: © Michael Fisher

Swans at Lough Murree beside Flaggy Shore, Co.Clare Photo: © Michael Fisher

I began my daily blog on New Year’s Day with a report that included this picture of swans at Lough Murree, beside the Flaggy Shore at New Quay in the Burren area of County Clare. I had just completed the loop walk along the limestone rock of the shoreline, looking out at Galway Bay. It was a lovely day in the company of friends, having welcomed in the New Year in Kinvara.

'Curtain call' at the Lyric Theatre Belfast for the late Seamus Heaney Photo: ©  Michael Fisher

‘Curtain call’ at the Lyric Theatre Belfast for the late Seamus Heaney Photo: © Michael Fisher

Memories of that afternoon came flooding back as in front of a packed house at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, the poet Damian Gorman read ‘Postscript’ from Seamus Heaney’s collection ‘The Spirit Level’ (published 1996, the year after he won the Nobel Prize in Literature). Jean Tubridy has reproduced it on her Social Bridge blog:-


And some time make the time to drive out west

Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,

In September or October, when the wind

And the light are working off each other

So that the ocean on one side is wild

With foam and glitter, and inland among stones

The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit

By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,

Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,

Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads

Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.

Useless to think you’ll park and capture it

More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,

A hurry through which known and strange things pass

As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

(from The Spirit Level

Seamus Heaney: Lyric Theatre

Seamus Heaney: Lyric Theatre

Heaney had been associated with the Lyric theatre since the days of Mary O’Malley and the literary periodical ‘Threshold‘ fifty years ago. He was present at the foundation stone laying ceremony in 1965 when the Lyric Players built their own theatre at Ridgeway Street, and recited a poem written especially for the occasion, Peter Street at Bankside. 44 years on in September 2009 a stanza from the poem was engraved on the threshold stone as the foundations were laid for the new Lyric Theatre. He said he was honoured and commented that “The  renovation of the Lyric Theatre is a reminder of the vital artistic  achievement in the past and the promise of ongoing creative vigour in  the future. The renewal of the fabric of the building stands for the  kind of social and psychic renewal that the entire community aspires to.  The Lyric has engaged with the life of its society and performed the  classic Shakespearean task to provide ‘the abstract and brief chronicles  of the time’.”

 It was therefore highly fitting that a special  commemoration of the life of Seamus Heaney was organised at short notice by the Lyric Theatre and the free tickets were snapped up quickly. Ten people including his friend and fellow poet Michael Longley took part in an hour-long celebration that included poems, stories and music.

With Ard-Mhéara Bhéal Feirste Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and  Mairead 7 Michéal Martin at Lyric Theatre

Michael Fisher with Ard-Mhéara Bhéal Feirste Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and Mairead and Michéal Martin at Lyric Theatre

The Nobel Laureate made his last public appearance in Belfast at the Lyric on 23rd April 2012 where he addressed a sold-out audience to mark the new building’s first anniversary. The theatre’s close association with Heaney is reflected throughout the new building which contains a bust of the poet by sculptor, Philip Flanagan and a Louis le Brocquy painting at the entrance steps.

Seamus Heaney: Louis le Brocquy at Lyric Theatre Belfast

Seamus Heaney: Louis le Brocquy at Lyric Theatre Belfast

Lyric Chairman Mark Carruthers paid tribute to the distinguished poet:-

“Seamus Heaney was a long-time friend and supporter of the Lyric Theatre and we are all therefore deeply saddened at his passing. He was a man of enormous talents – easily the greatest Irish poet since Yeats. His loss will be deeply felt beyond the arts world. As Lyric Chairman we would like to offer our sincere condolences to his wife Marie and family. He will be greatly missed.”

The funeral of Seamus Heaney takes place on Monday: 11:30am Requiem Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook in Dublin, followed by burial after 5pm in his native parish of Bellaghy, County Derry. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.

Seamus Heaney Portrait: Colin Davidson Photo: Michael Fisher

Seamus Heaney Portrait: Colin Davidson Photo: Michael Fisher


P1050918 (2)When the Lyric Theatre decided last year to put on “Mixed Marriage” as the first of four in the Tales of the City series, little did they think that a drama set in Belfast over 100 years ago would have a modern resonance. The play was written by St John Ervine, a distant relative of playwright Brian Ervine and his late brother David of the PUP. The backdrop was the 1907 lockout strike led by James Larkin. For a time, Catholics and Protestants joined together in a common cause but later on sectarian tensions were stoked up and rioting broke out, which the police (RIC) and military had to deal with.P1050919

The play is directed by Jimmy Fay, associate artist with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, where Mixed Marriage had its first performance in March 1911, before moving to London and then New York. Ervine who was born in Belfast in 1883 went on to become General Manager of the theatre in 1915 but did not last long in the post,  becoming disillusioned and resigning in 1916 soon after the Easter Rising.

Royal Dublin Fusiliers Memorial Window

Royal Dublin Fusiliers Memorial Window

He then joined the Dublin Fusiliers regiment in the British Army and fought during world war I in Flanders, losing a leg. As well as writing Mixed Marriage (1911), Ervine also authored two other plays, Anthony and Anna (1926) and The First Mrs Fraser (1929). He also wrote a biography of George Bernard Shaw, which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial prize in 1956.

Post-performance discussion

Post-performance discussion

Following the performance, the cast returned to the stage along with Jimmy Fay and held a very interesting discussion with the audience, of which more later. By chance this morning I received a newsletter “What’s on at Queen’s” from the QUB Alumni office. The first item on the agenda is a seminar being held on Monday 4th February at 6pm by the School of Creative Arts: “In Conversation with Jimmy Fay”. He didn’t mention it to me as we chatted while leaving the theatre last night, when he was returning briefly to Dublin. But I am glad to get the opportunity to mention the event here as the interaction with him at the Lyric was very useful. Admission is free.

Jimmy Fay

Jimmy Fay