Anne Hailes: The lost art of letter writing, Zoom rehearsals and the White Ribbon anthem

Ruth McGinley, who has been working with Northern Ireland Opera, Duke Special, Jolene O’Hara and the Ulster Orchestra to produce the White Ribbon anthem

I THINK the Post Office people have missed a trick. Why didn't they bring out a cheap stamp for families to use during the lockdown?

It would have encouraged letter writing, keeping in touch with grandchildren every week, telling them all the things about your past life and the funny things they said and did when they were little.

Thoughts occur every day and I bet that, like me, you think 'I must pass that one on' or 'I must ask about that' or 'I just want to say I love you'. But with stamps costing 85p first class and 66p second, large envelopes £1.29, it makes you think twice. And as for posting to the Republic, it's a whopping £1.70.

I remember years ago there was a special low price for Christmas cards and that encouraged posted greetings; not so today. Many people resort to sending an email and give the equivalent to a charity rather than subsidising the postal service. And so we lose much of the documentation of life.

Letter writing has always been a most valuable source of recorded history – emails simply won't fit the bill.

I like to ring the people and in that way my singing Christmas, Easter or birthday card allows a good catch-up and leaves with a smile but even this is no substitute for a handwritten, even typed, letter through the post and a sit down with a cup of tea and a good read.

:: Ever onwards

SOMETIMES it's hard to look into the future. Every time you feel a little security with the vaccination and a downward trend in numbers, hope is dented with doubt – so many ‘buts' you feel you can't win. Or can you?

The Belfast Operatic Company has no hesitation in planning ahead and are already into rehearsals for A Christmas Carol, to be performed in November in a newly renovated Grand Opera House. Despite last year's disappointment when they were on the brink of presenting Titanic The Musical, the plug was pulled when Covid 19 hit plans to celebrate their 60th anniversary and sank the Titanic once again.

Their enthusiasm, however, knows no bounds. Despite a difficult year in the world of the arts this company has kept the dream alive, with Zoom events throughout the months. But how do you corral 100 actors and singers into one place to rehearse such a big colourful production?

The answer is Zoom. Learn your lines at home, join the rest of the cast at virtual rehearsals, learn the stage moves on screen and when the time comes put it all together for actual rehearsals in the theatre. That will be a chaotic day full of laughter and fun.

A Christmas Carol will take to the stage from November 16-20 2021; tickets are on sale from or by phoning the Box Office on 028 9024 1919.

For further information, contact Belfast Operatic Company at

:: White ribbon anthem

WHO would have thought that the arts would be forced into exploring technology in such detail? For Northern Ireland Opera it's been a case of not only social distancing but high-tech recording equipment when they were working with Ruth McGinley, Duke Special, Jolene O'Hara and the Ulster Orchestra to produce the special White Ribbon anthem.

It's designed to celebrate the work of Women's Aid ABCLN (Antrim, Ballymena, Carrickfergus, Larne and Newtownabbey) and to encourage groups and individuals across Northern Ireland to take action by signing the White Ribbon Charter, part of a campaign to educate young men about violence and gender equality and to end male violence against woman and girls.

White Ribbon is active in over 60 countries across the world and is a movement set up by men in Canada following the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal 32 years ago when a young man shot 14 women students because of his hatred of females.

Today there are worrying reports of sexual violence and disrespect for girls, and boys, in our schools which emphasises even further that this heartbreaking situation must be confronted immediately.

As part of the campaign here in Northern Ireland, the anthem, which will be released next Friday, has been commissioned by NI Opera in order to highlight abuse.

Following workshops with Foyle Women's Aid, Ruth McGinley used the words and experiences of the women she met to form the basis of the song. This, combined with her own personal experience of domestic abuse, has given the anthem's message power and meaning.

She then collaborated with songwriter and performer Duke Special in the writing of the finished piece which singer Jolene O'Hara, together with the Ulster Orchestra and Northern Ireland Opera's associated artists, has recorded for release not only to raise awareness of domestic violence and the work of Women's Aid but also to encourage organisations and individual men to wear the White Ribbon pin and pledge never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women.

Ruth explains the urgency of this message: “With over 8,000 incidents of domestic abuse reported to the PSNI during lockdown from April to June 2020, and five domestic homicides in the last year, we believe staying silent on this issue is not an option”.

The White Ribbon anthem will be released on Friday April 9 together with a short film detailing the story behind the recording and will be available to watch on Youtube from Friday. The single can be 'presaved' or preordered at

More details at

Nexus 24-hour domestic and sexual abuse freephone 0808 802 1414. If you want to keep your number private just dial 141 before the main number and your details will not be visible to those answering your call.

Information about Women's Aid groups:

The NSPCC Abuse in Education free helpline is 0800 136 663

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access