DEFENCE NOT DEFIANCE

New ICTU Mural Belfast complementing statue of Jim Larkin Photo: © Michael Fisher

New ICTU Mural Belfast complementing statue of Jim Larkin Photo: © Michael Fisher

This was an important occasion for trade unionists in Belfast. The unveiling by the ICTU President John Douglas of a new mural complementing the statue of Jim Larkin at the ICTU (NI) office at Donegall Street Place. The Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir attended the ceremony. The work was commissioned from well-known Belfast muralists Danny Devanny and Mark Ervine. It depicts banners, signs and logos of the constituent unions, including the National Union of Journalists.

Michael Fisher (NUJ), Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, ICTU President John Douglas, John O'Farrell ICTU Photo: © Kevin Cooper Photoline

Michael Fisher (NUJ), Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, ICTU President John Douglas, John O’Farrell ICTU Photo: © Kevin Cooper Photoline

I represented the NUJ at the unveiling in my capacity as Chair of the Northern Ireland sub-committee of the Irish Executive Council. The artwork tells the story of organised labour from the Dockers’ and Carters’ Strike of 1907 and the struggle of women in the factories and mills, up to the current campaigns against austerity and for social justice.

Mural detail with NUJ logo beside BECTU and RMT Photo: ©  Michael Fisher

Mural detail with NUJ logo beside BECTU and RMT Photo: © Michael Fisher

Afterwards the proceedings moved to the nearby John Hewitt Bar. The Lord Mayor unveiled an item of particular significance for the Belfast Trades Council. It is a bell and commemorative plaque which were presented to Samuel Munro in 1893 when he was President of the Council.

TUC 1893 Congress Belfast

TUC 1893 Congress Belfast

The same year the former Northern Whig employee who came from Lurgan in County Armagh and represented the Typographical Association was elected as President of the Trades Union Congress then encompassing Ireland and Britain. On September 4th to 9th 1893 the TUC held their 26th annual Congress over six days at the Ulster Hall in Belfast. At the time there were 380 delegates from 226 unions, representing 900,000 members.

The Chair of NIC-ICTU Pamela Dooley gave a short speech followed by remarks from Paddy Mackel, Secretary of the present Belfast Trades Council which Munro had led. The story of this committed trade unionist who rose through the ranks and held the top post in the TUC was related splendidly by Francis Devine of the Irish Labour History Society, who finished with a poem he wrote himself in honour of Munro. He explained how Munro came from the old craft section of the trade union movement and was conservative and cautious by character. “Defence not defiance” was his way of operating.

Munro’s address to the TUC on the second day of Congress (September 5th 1893) was illuminating, according to Devine, and demonstrated radical foresight, with demands that were very advanced for their time for the organisation of women, factory reform and protective legislation, labour representation and temperance.

Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir & Brian Bingham at unveiling of bell at John Hewitt Bar Photo: © Kevin Cooper Photoline

Belfast Lord Mayor Cllr Máirtín Ó Muilleoir & Brian Bingham at unveiling of bell at John Hewitt Bar Photo: © Kevin Cooper Photoline

It was a shade ironic therefore that the memento of Munro should now be displayed in a pub! Brian Bingham from Belfast was present, a friend of Munro’s last known relative, his granddaughter, who lives in London and who presented the bell to the ICTU.

HEANEY LAID TO REST

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:

AFTER THE POET
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:

HEANEY CELEBRATION Lyric Theatre

“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

WPFG: CLOSING CEREMONY

Red Arrows over Titanic Quarter Photo: © Michael Fisher

Red Arrows over Titanic Quarter Photo: © Michael Fisher

The Red Arrows having just taken part in an air show in Newcastle, County Down, flew low over the Titanic Quarter in Belfast leaving behind a trail of red, white and blue smoke in a spectacular start to the closing ceremony of the 2013 World Police and Fire Games. In the background the cruise ship Silver Cloud was berthed on a one-day stopover.

Lord Mayor of Belfast  Máirtín Ó Muilleoir with WPFG President Mike Graham and NI Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín Photo: © Michael Fisher

Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir with WPFG President Mike Graham and NI Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín Photo: © Michael Fisher

This year’s event in Northern Ireland has been hailed as the friendliest and best games ever, taking place in 41 venues with nearly 7000 competitors from 67 countries. WPFG Federation President Mike Graham said “the organisation and professionalism of the WPFG delivery team has been exemplary, the warmth and welcome of the many thousand volunteers has been outstanding, the support of the local people has been second to none and even the weather has been fabulous. The WPFG Federation is absolutely delighted with what has been the pinnacle of our games to date and we are indebted to Belfast and Northern Ireland for making it happen.” Mind you, there was a heavy shower of rain just before the ceremony got underway!

NIFRS aerial ladder platform at Titanic slipway

NIFRS aerial ladder platform at Titanic slipway Photo: © Michael Fisher

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said the games had brought a significant boost to business and tourism. The Minister said the closing ceremony had officially lowered the curtain on a remarkable ten days in the North. “It is appropriate to look back on an event, the likes of which we have never seen before,” she said. “That we could host the World Police and Fire Games might have been unimaginable a few years ago. Yet we have confidently welcomed thousands of competitors from across the globe to join in a sporting spectacular. The games have further opened the eyes of the world to the north, they have come and experienced the best of what we have to offer”, she added.

The closing ceremony featured music from the Open Arts Choir, the PSNI Pipe Band and the Northern Virginia Firefighters Emerald Society Pipe Band.

PSNI Pipe Band & Northern Virginia Firefighters Emerald Society Pipe Band

PSNI Pipe Band & Northern Virginia Firefighters Emerald Society Pipe Band Photo: © Michael Fisher

A special tribute was paid to the 3,500 volunteers known as the ‘spirit of the games’ for their friendly and enthusiastic contribution.

The spirit of the volunteers is evident as a double rainbow appears

The spirit of the volunteers is evident as a double rainbow appears Photo: © Michael Fisher

The formalities included a parade of flags from the participating countries, the handing over of the WPFG flag to next host city, Fairfax, and the final journey of the Flame of Hope.

Sandy Row Falcons cheerleaders: a touch of US razzmatazz Photo: © Michael Fisher

Sandy Row Falcons cheerleaders: a touch of US razzmatazz Photo: © Michael Fisher

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable and Chair of the 2013 WPFG Board, Judith Gillespie, said the games were a prime example of why Northern Ireland was “renowned for its warm and friendly welcome”. “I feel very proud, of all of our serving and retired colleagues as they stood shoulder to shoulder with fire service and prison service colleagues in Team Northern Ireland. But I am also extremely proud to have been part of this wonderful event that has brought such colour, vibrancy and enjoyment to so many and which I hope will leave a lasting legacy for Northern Ireland for many years to come”, she added.

Confetti cannons explode and the games flame is shrouded in colour Photo: © Michael Fisher

Confetti cannons explode and the games flame is shrouded in colour Photo: © Michael Fisher

NATIONAL DAY OF COMMEMORATION

Commemoration at Kilmainham Photo: RTE News

Commemoration at Kilmainham Photo: RTE News

Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins led the national Day of Commemoration ceremony this morning at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin. Similar ceremonies took place at seven other locations across the state. The multi-faith and military ceremonies honoured all Irishmen and Irishwomen who died in wars or on service with the United Nations. The Dublin event was attended by the President, the Taoiseach, the Government and Council of State, as well as members of the diplomatic corps, Defence Forces, veterans’ organisations, the judiciary and Northern Ireland representatives. In this latter category it was interesting to note the presence of the Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt along with the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir of Sinn Féin.

I watched the service which was broadcast live on RTE1 television. The military part of the ceremony was carried out with great precision and the music played by the Army No.1 Band under the baton of Lt Col. Mark Armstrong added to the solemnity of the occasion.