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.



Sleeping well? You could be………

It’s not terribly long ago that I began to sleep what the medical profession call ‘normally’. Their definition of normal and my own, were poles apart.  Their normal was a recommended seven to eight hours a night.

Medical recommendations sometimes pass me by and that was one of them – my norm was four and a half, to five and a half hours a night. I couldn’t make it to the recommended  golden hours of zzzzz’s….. no way, no how. Besides – I’d been like that a life-time.

My ‘normal’ was so hard-wired, so entrenched and so deep-rooted, I thought I had to be one of those people who were at the short-sleeping end of the scale – however extreme.

Now I am convinced that it was unresolved anxiety was the under-lying cause. As a result of my lifestyle, I was running harder and faster to stand still, to meet what I experienced as increasingly inhuman demands – demands that are common in many corporate environments and organisations and in modern living. Work-life balance – was possible………. in theory.

It wasn’t just me though – I saw a lot of over-wrought people out there.  There was a macho culture about not ‘needing’ a lot of sleep. In some subtle way, we began to reward ourselves for our bravado, comparing notes about sleeping and not sleeping – the long hours culture gathering speed.  Arriving early and leaving late was a perverse signal of loyalty and dedication, of commitment. It was a form of grotesque inverted heroism in some and absolute control freakery in others. Sleep deprivation was a sort of sado-masochistic bloodsport.

Some people would claim, to ‘have slept like a baby’, which begged the question.” So did you waken up, bawling and incontinent?”

To paraphrase an old joke about voting patterns in Northern Ireland, I tended to waken early and often –   So what’s changed?

It’s been a long slow process in many respects – better sleep was an unexpected but welcome side-effect of other major changes in my life. A few years ago, I accepted redundancy. That came at the end of  another major upheaval – the end of a marriage.

The thing is, major life events are often predisposing factors for stress and depression – the consequence of which, might result in further disruption to sleep. What I noticed instead, was that better rest and better sleep just happened.  At first, I’d sleep a few extra hours in the afternoon – I’d feel ‘floored’ and that I had no choice but to do so. I feared that sleeping in the afternoon would compromise sleep at night, but in the round, it didn’t. The more sleep I got, the more I needed. When I could give in to sleep, at whatever hours of the day, it usually resulted in better energy levels for getting things done, AND, I slept better at night. The end of the marriage and the end of the job, far from exacerbating the problem, was the starting point of recovery on a grand scale – even though that process has been both, slow and profound.

The job itself was not a bad job, and indeed the marriage was not a ‘bad’ situation either, but they fed each other and fed off each other- and the impact on me was increasingly corrosive – they augmented each other in some grotesque pincer movement.  I wasn’t fit for it any more. Over time, the gap between what I wanted and needed for myself, and the demands of working life and the marriage, just polarised.  It was ultimately crushing.

I could have continued – bad circumstances can often feel more safe – ‘better the divil you know, than the divil you don’t……‘  but to do so, was taking more and more effort and evoked greater and greater anxiety levels.  Besides, when I looked into what the future might be were I to continue, the picture was a mediocre existence at best.

I know now, I would have had to shut down too much of my own life-force, too much of my humanity, just to continue. It might have looked like I was alive, but I wouldn’t have been. Dying inside is a slow, horrible death – it is a waste of life.

There are attractive hooks, which help to keep us in places we don’t want to be – salary, pension rights, sickness pay, holiday pay, employment rights, sometimes even status – ‘security.’ It’s slavery of a sort – the subtle sort, we opt into, strive for, desire and then get trapped by. (Just a thought)

It would be easy, in a way to conflate, marriage, job and me, and take on all the blame – that I was the common denominator – and just not coping.   Equally, burnout is too throwaway a term for what happened – it makes it sound like a personal failure – a weakness.  It isn’t.  Taking those types of judgement out of it and looking at it differently, what I know now, is not sleeping was symptomatic of a deep malaise. I was accommodating so much that didn’t sit well with me any longer. I rationalised  lack of sleep as ,’that’s just me……’., when I should have dug deeper to understand the underlying causes.

What I know now, is that it was a barometer of my own well being. It rectified as soon as the things which needed addressed, changed. For me, that has been an added bonus. It wasn’t something I anticipated.

Organisations would do well to pay heed to organisational cultures that predispose, precipitate and perpetuate machismo about low levels of sleep and give attention to the explicit and implicit ways this is fostered.

For individuals, I would say, pay attention – it’s not ‘just you’ and on this one, I’m inclined to say, the doc’s have got it right – you do need sleep. If you’re not getting enough – something has got to change. You’re worth it.