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 paradox of staying still…..

Today, I feel I have everything that I want and need. It is blowing a gale outside, it is raining heavily and there is no sign of the storm abating. I have things to do – shopping for example. I have a language class to go to later and I have written a piece to bring and share and I have had a stab at translation.

I am barely competent at the most basic French – I can order food and get a drink. I can ask for directions to the post office….. but I can’t understand the answers I am given. Instead, I follow the body language and I repeat my question every fifty meters or so, and bit by bit I get to where it is I wanted to go gradually navigating the way and landing like a homing pigeon. It is a triumph to be able to ask for my stamps in French and to be able to conduct the whole transaction in French.

Other things don’t work quite so well. As I reached over to weigh a card, my bag dunted a small child on the head. I had no words to tell her how sorry I was and that I had not meant to hurt her. She was just little. I am hoping that body language, and the nuances of tone and consolation, translated to her.

This is time to reflect – to ‘travel deeply and gently with myself’ as my most loved guide and mentor John Nkum has told me.  I am reading, writing, meditating, thinking, walking. I cook. I shop for food daily. Reflection is a good place to go.

The phone has stopped ringing.  No emails come that are not mindless circulars and e-shots.  They are easily dismissible. No texts come. I feel far away from everyone – but closer to my self and welcome the solitude that I have craved for so long.

I write letters to anyone who has responded to my offer that I would write to them if they wanted me to. The letters have a function at several levels. They are a personal communication between me and another. They are tangible, they are physical – something I have held in my hands, made my marks on and let go from me – something that actually travels the distance from me to someone else – that has it’s own odyssey, a magical mystery tour and pops in through someone else’s letter box, thousands of miles from here, with my words carrying the stories and the messages I have for them – that person, that individual…… no one else – a specific person.

As I write the letters I reflect on where  I am, what it is is happening in the here and now, but I am also aware the letters are a response to the person I am writing to – bringing news or  messages I have for them. I notice that the responses differ depending on how well I know the other, the relationship we have, the context of the connection -it is a space within which to be slow, deliberate, curious and to focus on what is most everyday, ordinary, minute

In writing, I get to travel inwards to myself as I simultaneously reach out to another. Hand-writing is as personal as a thumbprint or the retina of one’s eye.  It’s personal. Today’s handwriting is tomorrow’s hieroglyphics. Hand-writing is, in itself a unique work of art – the sum of aptitude, motor processing, education, habit, patterning, mood, available time, – the ‘weather’ of the state of each individual relationship.

The physical act of hand-writing is such a different experience from typing, texting- all electronic media. There is an immediacy and an intimacy to the communication. it needs no breath under the words – something else is at work…. writing becomes a conversation – inner me, to inner you.

Last week alone, I wrote about forty personal letters. I have more requests now. I have gotten some short messages to let me know that the letters themselves are landing – a confetti, from Antibes to Belfast, Amsterdam, Coalisland, Devon, Newcastle Co. Down and Newcastle-on -Tyne, to Fermanagh, and Galway, Dublin, Austria, Skibbereen, Stockholm, Downpatrick, Portaferry, Ballycastle, Trim, Limerick, Dungannon, Belleek, Ferring, Cookstown, Claddaghduff, Newtwonards, Glasgow, Forkhill, Northumberland, Newtownbutler, Canada, San Francisco and Connemara.

The paradox of staying still, is reaching a long way; is travelling.

49 things to celebrate now I am 49

Perspective is everything............

Perspective is everything…………

It’s taken me a while to write this post. OK, OK……… It’s taken 49 years, right? Yeah, I hear ye…….  It’s taken reflection and a bit of mental and emotional sifting. There are things I have adapted and changed along the way. Stuff got dropped. Stuff was superseded by other stuff and, well, here it is, for better or worse……. and in no particular order.

1. I love my life. I love being alive. Even when things hurt, I know I am alive.

2. I got to celebrate my grandmother’s 100th birthday with her. She was dancing at her party and setting a good example by giving some guff. She is a feisty, funny, and wonderful woman.

3. I have 2 gorgeous daughters. They have guts, they are fun and they are off ‘doing their own do’ in the world. I have learned a lot by being in their lives and having them in mine.

4. I have had the courage to change my life.  While life is more uncertain and less predictable, I regret nothing.

5. For the things I have let go of, I am grateful to have been there and done it.

6. There are birds singing in the night.

7. There are still many things to be curious about.

8.  I still have a sense of wonder.

9. People still have the capacity, the need and the desire to play…… regardless of how old and maybe more so with age.

10. I love ironed napkins and bed-linen – domestic porn it may be. I love it.

11. Dogs make the world a better place. So do horses.

12.  Art.

13.  Music.

14. I appreciate solitude and quiet and  I live that way now much more of the time. It’s only in the recent couple of years that I came to understand how much I need time and space to be still and to reflect……………. and that I need them very much.

15. My friends – we have come long roads together and many of you have been in my life  a long time. Between us we have thousands of years of lived experience to draw on  – good people, doing good things, making the world a better place.

16. My family of origin – you have had me in your lives whether you like it or not. Clan McManus, I am amazed at us…… we kinda do put the funk in dysfunctional….. but in a good way…….. and don’t we love it?

17. Willie Wagtails are brill.

18. Hares still blow me away when I see them.

19. I feel like I have had the best of everything I needed – that not to say life hasn’t been  tough sometimes and that it isn’t still tough in someway; it’s not to deny  stuff will come around again to challenge, but I feel like I have had the best of everything.

20. Good health – I have good health.

21. The internet – my world has expanded and contracted simultaneously. There must be a term in quantum physics – a metaphor of the universe……… happy to be informed……enlightened, educated.

22……. which reminds me…… I am still curious about the world, about stuff I don’t know, and that there are still books to be read, music to be heard, and more film and art  and architecture to experience than I will ever get through in a life time….but yay to all that! I will give it a go to do it all.

23. I like not knowing what is going to happen.

24. That I know life has limits, encourages me to reflect on what really matters. I make different and mostly better choices, as a result.

25. Life doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t have to be extravagant. Simpler is better.

26. I have more courage than I ever imagined.

27. I regret nothing.

28. Maps are fascinating.

29. Doing Geography at A level has been such a great thing to do. After all these years, I still love to read about the weather, populations, politics, geology, soils, settlements, economics, topography, landscapes, town plans, minerals and resources, policy, populations, development, cultures……..

30. I love that I know where I have come from.

31.  I love that I know to whom I belong.

32. Small pleasures – home made soup, flowers……. fresh air

33. Sometimes the ‘dishwasher fairy’ gets there before me and its one less job to do…..

34. Emergency surgery when I was 22 saved my life.

35. The NHS –  it saved me, looked after my health and that of my family, and it gave me employment for many years.

36. Public libraries – I spent much of my childhood in the library. Libraries – the best place to be lost……….

37. Knowing that people choose me, and choose to spend time with me.

38. Sometimes, rain in my face is a good feeling and a pleasure.

39. Shit happens, but eventually it passes.

40. Walking is a perfect pace for thinking.

41.  Flaws have a value.

42. Things that count can’t always be measured.

43. Being aware that I only live once, is an incentive to live well.

44. Somethings are worth fighting for.

45. I appreciate that I grew up in a unique and truly beautiful place.

46. In the spirit of Dylan…….  I too was ‘so much older then; I’m younger than that now…………’

47. Losing can be a good thing.

48.  I still like to take away ‘the learning’ from situations.

49. Optimism……… I just cant help it, I’m optimistic.

……………………………….and apart from anything else……………. the sun has been shining………….. we haven’t had anything resembling summer in so many years………. woo !!  It’s good to see.