Belfast Telegraph

Teacher 'humbled' by Snow Patrol tribute

By Dave Whelan

THE east Belfast teacher who first introduced Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody to poetry – which built the base for his songwriting – has said he is humbled and slightly embarrassed at being singled out for praise by the star frontman.

Mark McKee, an English teacher at Campbell College Grammar school, was mentioned as the man who first made the lead singer "sit up and pay attention" in school when he introduced his class to the works of "Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and one Mr Seamus Heaney".

In a tribute to the Poet laureate following his death last week, Lightbody wrote on his personal blog that his world had changed at the age of 15 when Mr Mckee brought with him "three secret weapons".

"As Mr McKee began to read from the little volume of poetry in his hand I found myself, for the first time that day, maybe that week (sorry mum, this will all be news to you), actually listening." he revealed.

The 37-year-old went on to say that his relationship with Heaney's work started him on a path "that would take me to here, sitting in California, writing Snow Patrol's seventh album after a 20-year career that has taken me around the world many times and shown me things I never dreamed of".

A modest Mr McKee, who still teaches Heaney at the college, said that Gary had been very generous over the years but that he deserved very little credit for the success of the hard-working singer.

"As a teacher your job is easier because you do not have to be inspirational when you have such inspirational material at your fingertips, your job is simply to guide pupils towards it," he said.

"When I started teaching English it consisted of all coursework and you had almost free reign over what you could teach. I discovered Heaney myself at school and his ability to relate ordinary things to ordinary people inspired me.

"That's what I wanted to share with the boys I was teaching."

The teacher said he still keeps in regular contact with Gary but remembers him as a bright, personal lad who didn't especially stand out of a group.

However, he credited his perseverance for getting him to where he is today.

"Teaching poetry to a group of teenage boys can be tricky but sometimes you can see when they really get it and Gary was one of those that really got it," he added.

"He began writing poetry and I think he is modest when he says that he wasn't very good at it.

"His stuff always read well but he put a lot of effort into writing it and re-drafting it to get it up to a standard, which lead him to be published in the school magazine a number of times.

"He once told me that he uses the same method to re-draft his song lyrics as the one he was taught to re-draft his poetry and that's a wonderful thing to know that he was able to take on that knowledge and advance it.

"If I'm honest I think Gary would have made a success of whatever project he chose to take up because he would have made it work."

Mr McKee said that a lot of comparisons can be drawn between the inspiration of Seamus Heaney and Gary Lightbody.

He added: "I see a lot of what inspired me about Heaney in the work of Gary. Both men were very grounded and never lost touch with their roots.

"That's obvious in their work, where they take ordinary and daily things and make it accessible for the masses.

"Personally I love hearing local language being used in a Heaney poem or a Snow Patrol Lyric because I can hear the Northern Ireland voice in a line that is going to impact people across the world."

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