Tullamore, and Tullamore Rhymer’s Club in particular, were well represented at Aras an Uachtaran last week as two of the club’s members were among a group invited to attend a special audience with President Michael D. Higgins.
Having been asked to judge the final of the Offaly section of the inaugural Midlands Poetry For Pleasur competition for secondary school students last month, Tullamore’s own Ken Hume and Lusmagh native, Anthony Sullivan, joined the other judges, mentors, organisers and of course, the competition winners, from Longford, Westmeath and Offaly in making a very special trip to Phoneix Park.
The Midlands Poetry For Pleasure competition, supported by Poetry Ireland and Longford, Westmeath and Offaly County Councils, was, according to Hume, “a superbly organised adventure, from its inception to its culmination, and hopefully it will go on to secure a permanent and prominent position in the midlands’ arts calender.” The Tullamore poet said, “So many people made this competition a marvelous success and I’m simply thrilled and honoured that I was able to play some small part in that myself. Some names deserve a special mention, though, and one of those would have to be Martina Barry, who first asked Anthony and myself to become involved.” The ‘Snowstorm of Doubt and Grace’ author continued, “Mary Reynolds from Longford, whose original brainchild this was, is another who has more than earned any praise that comes her way from this. And Mary Stuart, the County Librarian here in Offaly, also played a very important role throughout the Offaly side of things.”
Hume went on, “To have the opportunity of meeting an Uachtaran na hEireann at the end of it all was not only a fitting reward for the young people whose talent and personalities shone through in this competition, but also for me, too! It just goes to show that you can never tell where writing will lead you.“
Lusmagh writer Anthony Sullivan echoed his fellow poet’s sentiments, and again, placing particular emphasis on the young people who had taken part. “It was definitely a momentous occasion to be invited to the Aras, to get a guided tour of such a wonderful and historic building, and then to meet the President into the bargain as well, there’s no doubt about that. Especially given the President’s own support of and involvement in the arts throughout his own life. But I honestly have to say, though, that one of the main highlights of my own involvement in this competition is still that moment when I first sat down to read over the entries in the Offaly section and realising how fabulously talented some of the young poets were. That, and in the final itself, getting to meet those same young people and seeing the look of excitement and surprise on their faces when they won. Fantastic moments.”
As you’d expect when a busload of poets arrive for an audience with probably the most high-profile poet in the land these days, nearly all concerned had a copy of their latest work to present to the President. And nothing wrong with that, and indeed, the Tullamore Rhymer’s Clubmen were no exception. They did, however, seem to be the only people to remember the First Lady!
Anthony, whose own most recent collection is entitled ‘Pilgrim In The Heartland’, explained, “Naturally enough, as writers ourselves, we didn’t want to allow such a possibly once-in-a-lifetime moment to pass without seizing that moment and presenting the President with a copy of our own books. But equally, we didn’t want to allow the moment to pass without remembering the First Lady, either. So the four of us in the club, Ken, Thomas (Carty), Seamus (Kirwan) and myself, decided that we’d find something that was Offaly-made to present as a small gift to the First Lady. It was important to us that we didn’t just chose something for the sake of it, but something that would also represent Offaly and some of the very talented and creative people who live here. And that quest quickly lead us to Linda O’Brien jewellery.”
Ken continues the story, “With Linda’s expert and very helpful guidance, we found the ideal gift to do the job! But unfortunately, the First Lady herself wasn’t there on the day as it turned out. President Higgins explained to us over tea that she was in Galway for the day with one of their sons, but it was lovely to see how he was genuinely delighted that we had even thought of her and he was very happy to accept our gift on her behalf.”
And indeed, it would seem that the President was truly appreciative of such a kind gesture from the Tullamore Rhymer’s Club, because just a few days later a thank-you note signed by the man himself dropped through Ken’s letter-box!