Northern Ireland news

Long life of 94-year-old poet Pádraic Fiacc focus of powerful new exhibition at Linen Hall Library

Michael McKernon hangs some of the photographs and other works charting the life of Poet Padraic Fiacc at the Linen Hall Library Picture Mal McCann.

THE significant body of work and long life of 94-year-old poet Pádraic Fiacc are the focus of a powerful new exhibition at Linen Hall Library.

The Irish American writer, who endured years in the literary wilderness when his reflections on the Northern Ireland Troubles saw his work fall out of favour, is now too frail to attend the event.

However, dozens of images of him are displayed alongside his works and papers in the major retrospective.

The exhibition is curated by visual artist and sometime collaborator Michael McKernon, who has assembled an impressive collection that will appeal to Fiacc's existing admirers and to those discovering him for the first time.

It comprises portraits, and photographic studies by artists such as Neil Shawcross, Adrian McAllister, photographers Bill Kirk, Frankie Quinn and Stevie Raelynn Johnson (Chicago).

Also in the exhibition are photographs charting the poet's life including visits to various local schools over many years.

The highlight of the month-long exhibition will be an evening of poetry and song on Thursday June 21 from 6.30pm.

It will feature interpretations of the the poet's work by readers, and choral interpretations by the Féile Women's Singing Group, arranged by Clare Galway.

The youngest reader will be seven years old and Professor Margaret Wright will give a short lecture on Fiacc's famous Stolen Child poem.

Fiacc gifted all his work to Mr McKernon last year after a long and successful collaboration between the pair.

"When I met him in 2001 he was in quite dire straits, ignored by the arts community here, by the formal arts community," Mr McKernon said.

"Fiacc's reputation up until the late sixties was very much that of an important figure here and he was published in New York in 1948 and the George Russell (Memorial) Award in the late 1950s.

"When he lived in Glengormley at that time all the poets here went to his house, (former hostage and writer) Brian Keenan wrote his thesis at Coleraine university on Fiacc. He was held in high standing.

"What happened then, the Troubles broke upon the place and people have said Fiacc saw an opportunity for self-aggrandisement and self-promotion when he wrote poems about the Troubles. But those cricits missed the sensitive, empathetic heart of Pádraic Fiacc with people undergoing trauma."

He had empathy for soldiers and for civilians, for policemen, "for everyone who was heard", Mr McKernon said.

"He wrote the biggest body of work about the conflict and suffered the traumatic situation of being ostracised by the official arts scene, although he had a group of close friends who supported him," he added.

Mr McKernon describes him as the `poet of the people' and points out that he has, in his twilight years, once again drawn a large following.

"He is cherished and loved in his native city, Belfast as well as being internationally acclaimed," he said.

The exhibition will run until the end of June.

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