Way back in February the Poet Laureate, Sinead Morrissey and I, (with help from a trio of wonderful young poets: Andy Eaton, Erin Halliday and Stephen Sexton), facilitated three weeks of writing workshops for over 60s. The theme was simple. Pick one place in Belfast which evokes a strong memory and write a short, postcard-sized poem or piece of prose exploring this memory.
The workshops were, in part, hilarious as the participants recalled with absolute, unflinching candour some of the incredible things they’d experienced and witnessed, growing up in our city. At times the memories recalled were also very moving. Many of the participants had lost loved ones in the recent past and their perceptions of the city were so interwoven with the important people who populated their past it was impossible to talk about Belfast without invoking oftentimes painful rememberings. It was incredibly moving to watch participants take brave steps in sharing still raw memories and also, for many, having a go at writing creatively for the very first time. The memories shared were also inspiring. They were populated by larger than life characters, full of unbelievable plotlines and rich with evocative colloquialisms, sadly no longer in usage. Some of the stories have stuck with me, demanding, when time allows, to make their mark on future short stories and, even perhaps, novels. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the Mapping our Memories sessions, (including the fantastic Lemon Cake from Ashers which had become something of a staple by week three).
Last night we met together at the Ulster Hall to celebrate the group’s achievement in bringing the Mapping our Memories project together. There are a few snaps above from the launch event where almost ten of the participants were brave enough to share their work with the rest of the group. The exhibition of writing produced by the project, alongside a selection of Belfast images which inspired these memories, is on display at the Ulster Hall, Group Space until the end of May. Special thanks are due to my wonderful assistant Emily DeDakis who sourced images, designed lay outs and spent almost two days on the floor of our office, clip framing like it was 1995. it’s been a privilege and an honour to take part in this project and I’m hoping that some of the fledgling writers who attended will seize the opportunity to pursue creative writing in the future. As one participant concluded last night, “nostalgia is what it used to be,” and it was wonderful to be part of the remembering.