Feile Goes Marching In


It was the first time I had ever danced or reggaed on an altar, but I think God forgives me. After all, we were singing, ‘When The Saints Go Marching In!’
What an opening to Feile an Phobail! And in Clonard Monastery!

And that’s just the start of what promises to be a brilliant week in West Belfast.

I have been in a bit of a panic because of a deadline. I have been working on a book for about sixteen months. At the beginning I wasn’t sure if it was viable. It isn’t a novel but was based on some features I had written for this paper and the ‘Irish Examiner’ and ‘The Observer’, which were then elaborated on and turned into essays and contemplations, melded with other original pieces. Half way through I realised that the book was about dead people, or that death featured large, though it was not necessarily dark or depressing.

It was planned to have the book finished by March 1, 2002. Then, last October, my sister Susan died, followed, seven weeks later, by my father, Big Dan, and that - as well as being eerie and disconcerting - devastated me and set me back. The deadline was then extended to July 15, with my publisher announcing the publication for September (weren’t they optimistic) and sending round a provisional cover with a summary to book shops and outlets.

Then came that lost weekend - well, five days - at the Glastonbury Festival, on the way to which our jeep ran out of water and someone claiming to know something about engines had the bright idea of pouring into the radiator ten tins of my Carlsberg, after which the jeep could hardly stand. It was snowing at Glastonbury but I didn’t care because on stage I saw The Beatles, including John Lennon and George Harrison, very much alive and thus disproving all those exaggerated rumours, and Elvis Presley, who wasn’t bad-looking for a sixty-seven-year-old, despite the bald head and pot.

They certainly don’t sell cider like Glastonbury’s in the Feile marquee.

Anyway, before I knew it the Feile was upon us. As well as being the Feile Vice-Chair I am involved in the literary and political events. So, the deadline for the completion of my book, finally agreed between my editor and myself, was last Friday, with the manuscript to be on her desk this Monday morning. I pulled out all stops. Worked from dawn to dusk, got up in the middle of the night, was impossible to live with, was emotional, ill-mannered with callers, frenzied, and yet when I typed in the last full stop there was no sense of euphoria, just a quiet satisfaction, a feeling of accomplishment, an hour’s break, before diving into Feile work.

And now for the plugs.

Today, at 2.30 pm, we have in St Mary’s, Falls Road, a talk being given by John MacKenna (who is an excellent writer) and Jonathan Shackleton (who you might have seen on the History Channel) on the legend of Sir Ernest Shackleton. The two speakers are collaborating on a book - ‘Shackleton: An Irishman in Antarctica’ - which is to be published by Lilliput Press in November. Shackelton took part in the race to discover the South Pole, but, unlike Scott, put the lives of his men first. The legendary explorer’s 1914-1916 Endurance expedition is one of the greatest survival stories of all time. This promises to be a fascinating lecture and entrance is free.

When this is over there is an hour break, and a clearing of the hall, before the no-less-famous, Bob Fisk, the Independent’s Middle East correspondent, gives a lecture titled, ‘September 11th: Ask who did it but for heaven’s sake don’t ask why’.

Bob Fisk is perhaps the foremost and most prestigious journalist to challenge the American-Israeli orthodoxy about the cause of the conflict in the Middle East. Getting him was something of a coup for Feile’s Discussion Group, given the demands on him, and from inquiries to the Feile an Phobail office it is clear that this event is going to be oversubscribed. The hall holds around 300 people and we are running a video link to another lecture theatre which has a capacity for 120. This event is free. Doors open at 4.45pm. Don’t be attacking me if you don’t get in.

Again, limited numbers will be admitted on Tuesday afternoon to Annie McCartney’s interview with Gerry Adams upstairs in the Glenowen (with a video link to the downstairs lounge). Gerry will be talking not about decommissioning but his work as a creative writer and columnist (and perhaps how fine a Muse he finds David Trimble).

Wednesday is ‘West Belfast Talks Back’ in St Louisa’s, an event always packed. Chaired by Susan McKay, author of ‘Northern Protestants - An Unsettled People’, the panel facing the nosey people of the Falls consists of Austin Currie (SDLP/Fine Gael), Caoimhghin O Caolain TD (Sinn Fein), James Leslie MLA (UUP) and Nell McCafferty. Nell’s performance actually clashes with that of her sister, Carmel, who stars in the play ‘Maire’ being staged in St Mary’s College!

Thursday is ‘Scribes At The Rock’ which we inaugurated last year and was the talk of feile. (It’s the only thing they trust me to chair.) We start an hour earlier, at 4, but I advise you to be there around 3, because it will be packed for a programme of local writers and the stars, Lynton Kwesi Johnson, Gearoid Mac Lochlainn, Jude Collins and Evelyn Conlon. Again, there will be a video link to the bar downstairs.

On Friday, retired author, Mary Beckett, who once taught in Holy Cross school in the 1950s, and who wrote ‘Give Them Stones’ and ‘A Literary Woman’ will be interviewed about her early days in Belfast and her writing career by the popular BBC broadcaster Liz Kennedy. This event takes place in the Hunting Lodge pub and begins at 12.30 pm.

On Saturday is the P.J. McGrory Memorial Lecture in St Agnes’ Hall. Last Friday it was revealed that Paddy McGrory, who died in 1994, was, with the knowledge of British Intelligence Services, being targeted for assassination by the same loyalists who killed Pat Finucane. To talk about this and the legal battle to establish human rights is Bruce Morrison from the USA, a prominent and important opinion maker and supporter of the peace process. That begins at 1.30pm.

Finally, having begun in Clonard monastery, may I finish by warning two particular grannies from the Clonard area about my book? They are mentioned in a chapter and it concerns a night over thirty years ago when as teenagers they arrived to stay in my Granny Morrison’s house with two teabags and no nightdresses. I and a close friend, who was shot dead a year later, were minding the house which was up for sale. The following morning one of the girls stole a picture of the Sacred Heart off the wall and then denied it. I would like to thank the IRA’s C Company for raiding this girl’s house and getting the picture back before my mother killed me.

Who are these grannies and will they be embarrassed by these revelations?

Well, that’s for me to know and you to find out.

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison