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.

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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.

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Inishlacken

ImageStone. There is just stone everywhere on Inishlacken. I felt compelled to walk the periphery of the island as soon as I arrived. It’s a small place, but encircling it can’t be done quickly. The ground is uneven and changes underfoot often. It takes time to pick steps over the boulders and flagstones and to find a path around the boggy places. If it’s green and plushy, beware.

Greenery often gives way to a soft, squelchy and sodden underbelly and while it is tempting to dander among the flag irises, it’s not smart unless of course your intention is to sink into it. It’s better to step out, surefooted onto stone.

On the Atlantic side of the island, even as late as the summer solstice, I watched a sheep drop her newborn lamb onto a sloping slab of solid stone, exposed to the weather coming off the sea – the wind brought mizzly air and, while it wasn’t colder than about 12 degrees that day, it looked an inhospitable cradle. The ewe was practiced and focused. She licked the lamb clean and nuzzled it in a businesslike and systematic way. Eventually, it staggered to its feet.

The lamb stood, fell, propped itself up on its front legs, fell, and did that all over again and again until it managed a few steps………. backwards………. and fell again.

I only stayed a while to watch them. It felt a bit intrusive to do otherwise, though they didn’t seem at all bothered. At one time this tiny island had a population of 200 people or so. They farmed and lived off the sea.

There are plenty of rabbits – another reason to walk slowly and to take care where your feet go. They burrow deep into the shell midden and the dunes on the east side of the island. Catherine Gaston, a gifted visual artist from Belfast who was also on this residency could hear them underground when she pressed her ear to the earth.

On our residency, we were blessed with beautiful though changeable weather. Catherine, myself and another artist Helen “skuldugery tatu’ McDonnell, stayed out in the schoolhouse overnight around the summer solstice.

The school house, with a view to the small harbour of Inishlacken, late at night - the summer solstice

The schoolhouse, with a view to the small harbour of Inishlacken, late at night – the summer solstice

There is no electricity on the island.  We lit the fire and sat and later, we slept, near it, telling stories, watching the light change, drinking wine. It was still and quiet otherwise. We did have a ‘voice’ join the conversation at one point during dinner. It became a bit of a pre-occupation amongst some of the others next day when we talked about it again. It was a man’s voice.

We were there at the invitation of Belfast artist Rosie McGurran. Rosie has organised this residency every year since about 2000. She followed the footsteps of Belfast artist Gerard Dillon who created some of his most famous works on Inishlacken.

The place itself is charged; there is a life-force about it and the gathering of the artists, apart from being a privilege, has, it seems, some reciprocal impact for the better, on the place  – it’s special. The light, the panorama, the raucous, hiving life of it – everything is alive, whether you experience the place up close, or take a long view. You are in the painting – it might be a Gerard Dilllon painting where you are among the stones, the donkeys, or sitting at the fireside. You might, equally, be within a Paul Henry as the colours of the Twelve Bens shift and stretch the definition of the spectrum of blue/grey/lavender.  On the beach, you step into the well-lit searing clarity of a world created by Mick O’Dea, and in the evening, the playful, imaginative,feminine, fantastic feral otherness, of a Rosie McGurran.

The experience will stay with me for some time to come. I had time and space to reflect on all that has changed for me in the past two years in particular. I am grateful to the people and the place. More later.