Northern Ireland news

Seamus Heaney and Patrick Kavanagh feature in new poetry book sparked by lockdown

Patrick Kavanagh, one Ireland's greatest poets

A POETRY group sparked by the long Covid lockdown has published a new book to support a mental health charity in south Armagh.

Room to Rhyme includes nine contributors from the South Armagh Poetry Group.

The group came together after journalist Eamonn Mallie began reading some of his favourite poems on Twitter during lockdown.

"I'm obsessed with poetry. I read it all the time and I write a bit of it," Mr Mallie said.

"Two or three years ago I published my own collection.

"When Covid started I thought I'd read a poem a day (online). That's how it started."

The online group attracted such diverse contributors as Arts Council chairman Liam Hannaway and Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Rev Mervyn Gibson.

Each contributor to the book chose five of their favourite poems and explained their choices.

Historian Úna Walsh compiled the collection.

"Poetry became reinvented for us again through Covid because it (the Twitter group) was a means of reaching out when people were in social isolation," she said.

"It really helped with people's mental health.

"All the proceeds of the book are going to the Rural Health Partnership to support mental health programmes for young people.

"And it will be a book that people can enjoy."

The collection includes poems by Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Patrick Kavanagh and W.B. Yeats as well as work by lesser-known writers.

Ms Walsh choose poems including by Belfast-born writer Nikita Gill and Lady Gregory, known for her translations of Irish legends.

"It's a very diverse set of poems, some of them are very old, some of them are as Gaeilge, some of them are modern poems.

"One of the poets chosen, Mary Cecil from Rathlin island, is coming to the launch."

Ms Walsh said she hoped the book would go some way to making poetry more accessible.

"Sometimes you'd mention poetry to a group and they'd say oh no poetry isn't for me," she said.

"This is more than a poetry book because it asks people why they chose the poems and what they mean to them."

The book will be launched at Lislea community hall in south Armagh tomorrow at 8pm.

A further event will take place at the James Connolly Visitor Centre in west Belfast on November 20 at 2pm.

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