The State Reception room of Áras an Uachtaráin rang with the sound of poetry recently when the Midlands Poetry for Pleasure Project was invited to visit the home of President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, himself an accomplished poet.
For the group, which included librarians, poets, students and teachers from the counties of Longford, Westmeath and Offaly, it was a day of celebration which brought to a conclusion this exciting new poetry competition that has gripped the midlands over the past few months.
A brainchild of Longford, Westmeath and Offaly County Libraries and Poetry Ireland, the project wanted to give students an opportunity to explore some of the great poets from the Midlands and also to provide them with a platform for writing and performing their own poetry. It offered second-level students a unique opportunity to recite either a poem they had written themselves or one by an acclaimed midlands poet. The project was ably coordinated by Martina Barry, an English teacher from Longford now working in Athlone Community College.
To help inspire the students, a poet from each county visited participating schools to deliver workshops and talk about the craft of creative writing. The three poets who worked with the students were Granard poet, Noel Monahan, Westmeath writer Nuala ní Chonchúir; and from Offaly, Jean O’Brien.
As excitement built up over the months leading up to the Regional Final in Ballymahon, Co. Longford on 8th March, it was clear that the title, Poetry for Pleasure, was truly apt for a project that really engaged the students and brought to life a subject which is all too often perceived as a classroom chore.
Having welcomed us to his home, the President went on to commend the Poetry for Pleasure Project for its role in raising the profile of both writing and reciting poetry for young people. He also emphasised the wonderful work done by libraries in instigating a love of poetry through liaising with the schools.
As the President moved around the circle, Mary Carleton Reynolds, our group leader, introduced each of us in turn. He made time to chat with everyone and made us all feel special. He was particularly complimentary towards Jane O’Hanlon of Poetry Ireland for the tireless efforts of her organisation in promoting poetry, and for bringing it within reach of the community at large.
Once President Higgins had met everyone, the two students who had won their respective sections in writing and recitation were called on to recite their poems. Ciarán O’Hanlon, from Ballymahon Convent secondary school , whose poem ‘The Sea of the Sky’ was inspired by the recent fishing tragedy off the coast of Cork, delivered his poem faultlessly. He was followed by Avril Holton from St. Mary’s Secondary in Edenderry, who gave a dramatic rendition of Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog’. During these recitations, it was quite obvious that our President had a genuine interest in poetry as he responded with heartfelt admiration.
Eventually, we drifted back to our bus, still glowing with delight and filled with pride that our poetry project had made it this far. I think we were all conscious of the privilege of sharing our love of literature with our Poet-President, the man we fondly think of as Michael D.