Losing My Library – Making a Life #FillingTheVoid – letters project

Here is a letter we received for our project at Armagh Robinson Library #FillingTheVoid


Often, in history, women wrote anonymously because their voices were silenced. It’s possible, our writer is a woman.  Here’s what ‘she’ says,


When the doors of our libraries open again, we want the first people who step into them to be the people we are protecting from harm, those we are keeping safe.


These are difficult times and they are temporary times. The libraries will open again and we will encourage the tactile relationship with the book to our young. We will encourage the familiarity and peace of the binding, cover, and content to our not so young. We have closed our libraries and left our books waiting for us, so that we might make those of us who are vulnerable to illness safer. At the same time we are reducing their community and social lives in the name of safety.


Picture the empty library wherever it is and walk its stacks, shelves or those metal contraptions aping shelves, in your mind. The book has survived war, fire and pestilence. It is a comfort and a repository of knowledge. It is a companionship and a portal of wonder. I grieved for a short time when I left my library, my feral cat (Rosie), and most of my possessions. This is what I have learnt: The vulnerable human being is more important than the encumbrance of possessions, even of books. We can rebuild and refurbish our personal libraries.


We have to leave our public libraries for the shortest time. They are houses for books, and our support of them should move toward encouraging more funding, they provide, shelter, community and knowledge. I chose not to dwell on what I have left because it does not one whit of good to the heart and soul. Keeping access to libraries is an act of healing for those who have lost. Letting go of possessions in an act of liberation is a story that might go into a book, or an email, or a conversation.


My library resides in the house that I left forever one May afternoon. It is, at this point, on shelves that go floor to ceiling in two huge alcoves in a huge room. Some of the books were crowded onto a desk with a red leather top, that has been repurposed for a woman whose frailty does not allow her to retain the information in the book or newspaper that she pretends to read. Forgiveness is difficult and it has to be practiced. I practice it toward her a lot. I can sometimes see her when I pass the house, she is in the top room and beneath her is a pathway of river pebbles. I used to listen to how people moved on the pebbles and try to discern the footwork, friend or foe? To the right in her line of vision is a tree that was planted by Louise Gavan-Duffy. My children used to tell me that they heard the echoes of kids running on the stone corridors of the house late at night. The house was used as a schoolhouse over its entire history, there will be echoes. There will be things tying a soul to the house, but they are not important things. The human inhabitants of the house are the important things here.


Harm and the protection of others from harms is a driving force that I wish for everyone. It is my greatest wish for people who are in situations that can and do threaten life. When you leave that place, you do not take your books, your bits of jewellery, the vast majority of your clothing, or the things that maybe you loved once. The bags have been packed for three months and you are awaiting an opportunity which is technically a moment in time. It has to be the right moment and it has to be well timed. My library resides there and the books that were lovingly collected, referenced and handled are still there. There have been letters about their custodianship, as if holding the threat of loss over a head would change a mind. Once a heart and a mind have made a difficult decision, there is no going back – the only relevant question is when?


This too, is a moment in time, when everyone has to do the very best they can to protect those who are vulnerable and in need of care – we must look at what has to be sacrificed and to do it willingly and without qualm. When the doors of our libraries open again, we want the first people who step into them to be the people we are protecting from harm, those we are keeping safe. They know the value of the book and they know why we are doing it. Call on them, leave some books or flowers for them, let them know that you are there for them too. Look on the streets and in the shops, they are always there early and they are often alone. They are endeavouring. If we can lessen the impact among ourselves and reduce closures times by observing the rules of social distancing,we are giving back.


My books reside under a custodian. I do not.


The books in this library will be found again and will again give comfort to their true custodians.




Join in – send a letter to a loved one. Keeping in touch with the people you care about most, is the number one priority. And, you can also send us letters. The blank page will always be listening, and at the letters archive of #FillingTheVoid at the Armagh Robinson Library, we will be glad to receive your letters too. Email: FillingTheVoidProject@gmail.com

This project is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, through National Lottery Funds



Letters to The Healing Place of the Soul #FillingTheVoid – Write to Us

Public Art Participation Project – WRITE TO US NOW!

We live in extraordinary times.  We will gladly receive your (emailed) letters to FillingTheVoidProject@gmail.com. We will miss the immediacy of your handwriting and your envelopes, the physicality of the letter, but we will gain the immediacy of your lived experience of these times. We are extending and re-opening our project, but as an online experience, given the implications of Covid-19 – so email us instead.

Tell us what is happening day to day. How have things changed? What is different but good about the changes? What is it that is making you anxious? What and whom do you miss? To paraphrase the French avant grade artist Georges Perec, what is happening, when nothing is happening? 

The motto over the door of the historic Robinson Library in Armagh translates from the Greek, as The Healing Place of the Soul.  We are looking beyond these times. In March 2021, when we celebrate 250 years of the existence of the library, we will mark with a new site-specific dance theatre piece, AT THE MARGINS, based on the letters project and the participation of those who sent us their words. Join in – this is a place to tell us all of human experience in these challenging and unusual circumstances. Let the words talk, and let the words travel the distance, from you, to us.


In our last iteration of this project, we had hundreds of beautiful, intimate and heartfelt letters in response to our call-out for #FillingTheVoid https://mariamcmanus.wordpress.com/2019/10/30/write-us-a-letter-filling-the-void/. Our writers wrote to the future and to the past, to people they love and about things that matter most. They made us laugh, they touched our hearts and they made us think. They also made us realise that through writing their letters, the opportunity to reflect, record the everyday, and connect with each other, is responding to a deeply held need to communicate.

The letters came from Australia, Spain, the UK and all over Ireland. During Georgian Festival we had many  visitors to the library on the day, and those that came also wrote letters – some were posted there and then, to friends and family from the beautiful Georgian letterbox on the street outside the Robinson Library, and others were left with us for the archive.

This is a time for reflection and a time when we need to connect. We are navigating  new uncertainties about the state of our world and where it is we find ourselves now, individually and with each other. 

This project is creating a contemporary epistolary archive written by citizens – especially the citizens of Armagh, but also from all over Northern Ireland, the border area, the island of Ireland, Britain, Europe and the whole world. Everything in a letter tells something –  the handwriting, post marks, the subject matter, the demographic and concerns of the writer: the letter is a  point in time pen-portrait.  We are also interested in receiving correspondence which for some reason has personal significance to the donor.

Letters are welcome from people of all ages and ethnicities, from anywhere in the world, on any topic they may wish to record. Then we will include it in our archive in the beautiful Armagh RobinsonLibrary for posterity and consider all letters received when were are devising our site specific dance theatre piece – AT THE MARGINS, in March 2021.   

  • If you wrote the letter you wanted to write, to whom would you write it?
  • What would you write about? A letter to your childhood home, the parent you’ve lost, your old lover, those pesky politicians, your heroine/ hero, the generations yet to come, the child in your arms, or in your womb, your idol, the lost, the prodigal, the fictional, the historical?
  • Who would be the object of your letter? We live in such uncertain and turbulent times. What do you have to say …what is the ‘thing’ you can write about in a letter, but just can’t say any other way?
  • Is yours letter to the masses, or to just one person?  To your older self? Your younger self? Your braver self – something for the record.

Letters from anyone, about anything are welcome. 

  Email us : FillingTheVoidProject@gmail.com

Maria McManus (Poet) is the author of Available Light (Arlen House, 2018), We are Bone (2013)The Cello Suites(2009) and Reading the Dog (2006) (Lagan Press). She has collaborated extensively with others producing performance pieces for choir (18, with composer Keith Acheson) dance (TURF and DUST with Eileen McClory) and multi-art form collaborations. She is Artistic Director and curator of Poetry Jukebox, an on-street audio installation of contemporary poetry.



Offbeat Antibes #3 Cats, Champers, Cute Cars & the Haberdashery


As gestures towards Christmas decorations go – who wouldn’t want cats walking on their hind legs and bringing a pudding? There is so much to see here in Antibes. I have been here consistently since the end of October and have still not developed the urge to go elsewhere – to really settle and take in the small details of this place is more than enough.

We went to Cannes once. It was enough. We spent about 2 hours. In Cannes I was amused that the posters of a lost cat was  a very posh cat with a lot of hair – a large white Persian type of cat, that looked like it was smelling something so awful it was on the brink of puking its smoked salmon dinner into a gold plated spittoon, but the butler was delayed and it was resisting spewing. It was no ordinary cat – it was a posh cat. Similarly, the police drove casually down a street and reminded a weary looking hippy type, that he needn’t think he could stay sitting there and needn’t think he was going to get a chance to hustle – he could move along. Smartish. Now. The discarded wine bottle, chucked at the bottom of a large potted tree in a pedestrian area, was an empty bottle of Champagne. It was not Buckfast.

In Cannes, they still have winos, and lost cats. They still have hustling hippies, like other cities in Europe – it is the same… but different. It is rarefied and tacky in a tinsel-town way.

Antibes on the other hand, is a wonderful mix of the ancient and the modern, the hip, the chic, the tasteful and the trashy. It  also is homely. Antiboise are proud to be from here, of here and take little time, to mention this. It is perhaps easier also to connect to the real local people at this time of the year, when there are fewer tourists and visitors.

Remarkably, there are some businesses here which have all but disappeared from towns and cities at home. Take for example haberdashery. It’s hard to find a haberdashery shop in many towns and cities….. but there are a number here.

Madame Marchitto a third generation haberdasher, was unwilling to be photographed, but was happy enough that I could take some photos and that I would write about her shop.  It is a pity as she was very photogenic…..Her shop is at #9 Rue Fourmilliére.


It’s a wonderful shop – full of all manner of unexpected things. from ribbons to bias binding, motif badges, pom-poms, tassels, wool, fabric and such an abundance of buttons……. I was tempted to stand and ask a host of, ‘ Would you have a……….?’ questions. I expect that after a brief rummage. M. Marchitto might well produce it….. including rabbits and hats.

I intend to return to Rue Fourmelliére – it’s off the main drag to anywhere, but has a fantastic combination of businesses: hairdressers, barbers, restaurants, domestic houses…… a novelty shop about which, more another time….. and a (posh) burger bar called The Big Moustache.

Elsewhere in Antibes – these are for sale, and because Santa is watching, and just in case it’s possible, I want to let him know… I want one……………. please.


As for the mystery missing Posh Pussy of Cannes……… I’d say it was the Butler wot did it, and I’d say he nicked the bottle of Champers and swigged it in the street, before chucking the bottle away and telling the cops it was the Hippy wot had it in for the kitty….. (still with me?)

More later, mes amis……….daughter the older  is about to arrive for Le Weekend……

PS. Letter  100 was posted today.

Belongings – what makes home?

I’m temporarily living in France for four months. It is not a hardship – in fact it is very nice. I don’t have a home of my own anymore – everything is in storage. It is a strange and, hopefully, a transitionary period of time. We are like migratory birds – over-wintering, but not naturalised to here.

I don’t consider myself to be overly acquisitive, as much as just feeling the need to have a home, a nest, a place to be surrounded by my own things. I like the cumulative narrative of the collected ‘stuff’.  The ‘stuff’ is in some state of suspension.

The ‘Stuff’- is a unique assemblage of utensils, equipment, books, music, art, with a couple of bikes thrown in for good measure. It’s not that any one thing in itself has huge value in monetary terms – but much of it, individually and collectively carries a weight of attachment. Stuff represents the story of all the stories – friendships, occasions, celebrations, bonds between people, times and places – everything that has held us to bring us to this juncture of life. It is the collected tokens of belonging – to family, to friends, to place. It is not us – but says something about who it is we are, where we have come from, where it is we belong.  But it is bunged up somewhere in a crate, or several crates, indefinitely.

Anyone following this blog may know that some weeks ago, I had ‘Bag-gate’……..a woeful whinge-fest about a freight bag I had sent ahead of myself, which went on tour (God knows where) for 35 days or so. It was delivered eventually; just the 16 days late……… I was entitled to whinge.

Not only were most of my clothes in that bag, but also small items of comfort. For example there were four very beautiful Swedish linen napkins, that are not only beautiful, but of enormous sentimental value too. There were also four small candle holders. Dining – is a ritual…. we light candles at every meal, breakfast included. I write and read, with a lit flame beside me. There were also some books and some notebooks, but that was about it. It is is modest, but significant and enough.

Nothing else in this place belongs to us – it is these small collection of things that symbolises that this is ‘home’ for the present. Apart from that – some small rituals are, perversely enough, also part of making ‘home’ home – ironing the napkins, scrubbing the kitchen sink, sweeping up, keeping a small bouquet of flowers on the table, cooking………chopping stuff – it’s domestic ‘porn’, but in a good way.

I am enjoying  a level of solitude that is often hard to come by.

In the solitude the one other ritual I have is to continue to write letters. I have written 61 letters in fewer than two weeks. Averaging around 700 words a letter – that’s more than 36000 words. Every letter has been unique and to different people. The letters are also like migratory birds – and messages home – reminders of people I belong to, and reminding them, that I too belong, in some way, with them.

“Bird Nest With Egg” by Dakota Lynch – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bird_Nest_With_Egg.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bird_Nest_With_Egg.jpg