IRISH PEN AWARD DINNER 2019

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Sarah Webb, Marita and Martina Devlin

It was lovely to get the chance to join so many writer friends at this year’s Irish Pen Award Dinner in The Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire. Irish Pen Chairperson Vanessa O ‘Loughlin warmly welcomed everyone and we were reminded of the ‘Empty Chair ‘at the Dinner which symbolises writers who are imprisoned or unable to write freely in their own country.

This year winner of the Irish Pen Award for her contribution to Irish Literature is writer Catherine Dunne, a very worthy winner.  The award was presented by The Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Josepha Madigan who spoke of the importance of Irish writers like Catherine whose work is recognised both at home and overseas.

Catherine talked about her writing life and how vital it and words are to her.

Writer Lia Mills gave a lovely tribute to Catherine talking about her work, loyalty and friendship and her dedication to teaching writing and encouraging others to write.

There was lots of book talk, library talk and publishing talk and having just finished my own  book it was  great to relax and over a lovely meal  and to get to meet so many PEN friends.

 

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Death of Eileen Battersby

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The tragic death of writer and journalist Eileen Battersby on Saturday 23rd of December, following a car accident, as she went to feed her horses, touched all of us who had the good fortune to know her. This Christmas was tinged with sadness at the loss of such an independent mind and spirit who loved books and literature, writing and words and animals with a fierce and dedicated passion.

I always admired Eileen’s work and looked forward to her book reviews which always drove me to get the book and read it for she had a way of capturing the essence of a story that few writers have. Hearing that Eileen was to interview me on the publication of my first adult novel ‘The Magdalen’, filled me with trepidation for her interviews were legendary and she had a way of getting an insight into a  writer’s persona that few journalist have.

The house was in chaos when she arrived as it was the day of our daughter’s 21st birthday party but I soon found myself deep in conversation with one of the liveliest and brightest minds ever as she quizzed me about why and how I write and the books and writers that I cared about and influenced me.  We are both mad on dogs and the hours flew by as we talked about books we loved that deserved more attention. She was a champion of books and writers and as she finally disappeared down my driveway I realised just how very special Eileen was.

Over the years I always enjoyed meeting Eileen and she came along to Irish Pen dinners and also took part in a few Irish Pen debates and discussions. I particularly remember one night asking her to come along to talk about her favourite books. Asking Eileen to pick her favourites was a bit crazy of me for she had a voracious mind and an immense knowledge of Irish and international literature. She arrived with three massive bags of books which she encouraged us all to find and to read. I still laugh as ~I think of everyone furiously trying to write down everything she said.

There never will be anyone as free spirited and big hearted as Eileen. Listening to her beautiful daughter Nadia talk about Eileen at her funeral made all of us present realise that we have witnessed the passing of a very special and gifted human being.

Sacha Abercorn –Sadly December also brought the death of another special lady, my friend Sacha Hamilton, the Duchess of Abercorn. Sacha worked tirelessly to promote creativity and to foster the imagination and the love of writing, the arts and nature amongst children both in the North of Ireland and the South of Ireland.

Sacha set up The Pushkin Trust in 1987 which was named after the Russian writer Alexander Pushkin who was a relative of hers. At the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland she organised workshops and school visits that brought children together and sought to break down divisions.  Over the years The Pushkin Trust grew and grew and became even more successful. I always enjoyed being part of it and helping any way that I could whether it was with children or with teachers.

Sacha loved meeting children and their families. She cherished creativity in all its forms and often arranged for young prize winners to come to her home in Baronscourt in Omagh. Kind and gentle Sacha had a deep inner strength and conviction and her beloved Pushkin Trust has encouraged imagination and hope in so many young hearts and minds.

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Happy New Year to everyone. May 2019 be a year of kindness towards our fellow man…..

 

The Haunting Soldier

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He is us. He is the common man, not linked to any race, politics and certainly not to the love of War.                                                                                                                Jo Oliver

As we commemorate the Centenary of the ending of the Great War in November the arrival of the towering giant bronze sculpture of The Haunting Soldier to Dublin’s St Stephens Green Park is one of the most powerful and fitting tributes to all those who served and fought and died during the Great War.

Sculptor and blacksmith Martin Galbany’s imposing six metre tall weathered and weary soldier made from scrap metal which towers over the park has attracted huge crowds, all falling silent under his tired gaze.

Designed and constructed at Dorset’s Forge and Fabrication by Martin and metal worker Chris Hannam, he is made up mostly of scrap metal with his uniform and kit and rifle and boots made up from wrenches, car jacks, spanners, hammers, tools, bellows, nuts and bolts and chains.

As you pass through the stone Fusilier Arch entrance to St Stephen’s Green it is a truly emotional experience to encounter him and to come face to face with this exceptional art piece.  There are no words to describe the emotions, sadness and sense of remembrance that he invokes as you study his eyes and face and every aspect of this haunting figure.

Huge thanks are due to Sabina Purcell, whose own family were involved in the Great War, for her determination to bring The Haunting Soldier to Dublin for the Centenary Commemoration of the ending of a War which claimed millions of lives. Thanks are also due to writer JO Oliver who first commissioned this unique sculpture and agreed to let it come to Dublin for the month of November.

A special Stand Down ceremony which is open to the public will be held in St Stephens Green at 3.15pm on Sunday 25th November 2018. As the sun goes down people will gather with a bugler, music and readings to say farewell to The Haunting Soldier before his return to England.

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