Frida Kahlo’s Flowers


You have to supply your own choice of music……. but, in other news, here is a slide show movie of many of the Frida Kahlo photos. She really doesn’t like Sweet William, but apart from that, she looks good with so many of the other flowers.


Let me know what music you suggest.

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:

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 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 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 :

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.



The case for flourishing now


Today it is still warm in Belfast. I am sitting at my desk looking out onto the street below. People come and go constantly from the Asian supermarket opposite. Here is a vivid, culturally diverse, gritty and exciting quarter of the city.

I love it that one of the up-sides of more peaceable times here is that we are more culturally diverse, that there are more immigrants. It is a richer, healthier place for that, though I know too it isn’t necessarily easy for people to be here. It’s also a racist place; one full of contradictions; welcoming and hostile, relaxed and uneasy, progressive and deeply entrenched.

In the past, during the Troubles, and I know it is a generalisation, so spare me the corrections and bear with me while I explain what I mean – when people came here, who were from other cultures, for example from some of the countries of Asia and Africa, they were, most often, professionals – academics and medics for example.

This isn’t the case now. The majority of those who come here are working class people seeking employment, economic migrants, those seeking asylum. It means we have to ‘budge over in the bed’ and make room; adjust to learning new things; shift. In the round we are getting on with it, but I can’t help thinking……. let’s just say, we have some way to go. My own belief is that here is better for the diversity new people bring and for the challenges that come with it.

I liked Manhattan for that – another place full of contradictions. A place where people live cheek by jowl with their differences, difficult and all as that can be, whether what causes people to run up against each other is gender, politics, economics, race, sexuality, faith and religion.

Some things are unexpected. When I visited some years ago, I was struck by the fact that however far away I was, here, my own context had travelled with me. The pre-occupations I had at home were with me. The things that bothered me here, showed up and bothered me there too, though somehow, distance also gave a new perspective, and a chance to notice what was the same and what was different, and how the themes of our lives thread together, simply because we are human. I like to think about such things even when I haven’t gotten as far as a thorough analysis; even when all I can do, is continue to notice, to absorb what it is I see and experience – even if fully understanding remains an elusive thing.

There are things to be curious about and a value in being unimpressed too much by grandeur. Grit is interesting – the ways in which we run up against what is difficult and what we do when we get there.

The following is a poem I wrote while in Manhattan some years ago – from the privileged position of tourist and interloper. Unexpectedly, things came full circle for me and I inadvertently stumbled upon old painful memories of home, through old film in the archives of the Museum of Radio and Television. It is a small world. Suddenly I was remembering the death of a schoolboy peer, Paul Maxwell,  in the bombing in which Lord Louis Mountbatten died when his boat was bombed off the west coast of Ireland. Today the sunny day reminds me of the weather that day. I look out my window and the diversity I see around me reminds me of Manhattan.  Our news is full of Parades Commission rulings and ‘the marching season’. Overall, the atmosphere around doesnt feel too bad, and here, a place which was once an old flashpoint of it’s own, in the Lower Ormeau Road – things feel not too bad. In the round, things are so much better more of the time. Change is hard. It’s not always easy and it’s not always good, but it happens anyway, sooner or later. For now, we are on the better side of that. Oh, and here’s that poem…………..

Stepping out of Hotel Thirty Thirty.

for publication in ‘We are Bone’ Lagan Press 2013.

In the hotel

I check the phone book for emigres

and lie there flick-flicking the television from The Simpsons to evangelists

and back again.

wed rink hot apple cider for one dollar a cup

and pass the time in the street market;

organic Vermont cheese, handmade candles,

soap, bread from Connecticut, incense, Camolile tea

and lavender pot-pourri –

anti-abortion campaigners’ placard;

a solitary woman in red shorts

roller-skates upstream

into traffic at ten below zero.

You can get anything you want in this city; any time, night or day. Anything

you want.

Boston Clam Chowder, Lobster Bisque,

Chicken Noodle Soup, boardies, a Kink’s T-shirt,

a Jet’s hoodie, whisky, Thai,

Stiff Little Fingers.

Dog owners stoop

to scoop the poop

and pop pooches

into pouches,

but I’m sure dogs

would rather walk anyway.

The Homeless

sleep on vents from the subway all night and ride any train all day.

A gallery on Madison exhibits them in a window display of phot-portraits –

the subjects hold frames, salvaged from skips, to their faces.

Snaps od someone asleep on a sofa with a Labrador scatter down 5th Avenue,

past a cement mixer painted in pastel polka dots.

I drop a note into the empty carton

below a baseball hat tilted at hand height to me;

he is a child who lifts his face.

In the Museum of Radio and Television I punch in ‘CASTRO’ –

the same episode of 60 Minutes from 1979

turns up Crossmaglen,

Narrow Water Castle


the Pope


and the British Army on red-brick streets in Belfast

with stoops in the manner of Brownstones;

all the things I had forgotten;

my father

stopping the car in disbelief

on the Queen Elizabeth Road

on a blistering hot August day.


Check point.

Dylan Thomas ghosts himself into ‘lamb-white days’

‘the streets suck the stars out of sight

                                      out of the sky……….’

‘Do not go gentle…….’ He belonged to his youth.*

A Veronese hangs in the Frick, outside the Enamel Room

‘The Choice of Hercules’,



Honour and virtue flourish after death.

Flourish after death. Flourish after death, but I am screaming, No. No. Now.

A bag lady washes in the ladies’ room of Central Park Zoo

and she cleans the bathroom every day to give something back to the city.

The street choir sings, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus,’ and the frame cuts to the man who drinks from the bottle of ketchup he found in the bin. He says,

I am Jesus. I am Jesus.

and I believe him.

*  denotes a  quote from poet Derek Mahon, speaking of Dylan Thomas.