Belfast Telegraph

Eamonn Mallie gets poetic about past for new book

Eamonn Mallie launches his book of poems at the Lyric Theatre with Colin Davidson who provided the picture for the book cover
Eamonn Mallie launches his book of poems at the Lyric Theatre with Colin Davidson who provided the picture for the book cover
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

One of the best known broadcasters in Northern Ireland struck a very different note last night as Eamonn Mallie launched himself on a new career path - as a poet.

And the 69-year-old political journalist and documentary-maker told his audience in Belfast's Lyric Theatre that he has already picked his final resting place in an historic burial ground alongside revered poets from the 18th century.

The Creggan graveyard is near Eamonn's south Armagh birthplace, and famous south-east Ulster poets such as Art Mac Cooey and Padraig Mac Aliondain are buried there.

"My mum and dad are also at Creggan," said Eamonn. "My mother always said she wanted to be buried alongside Protestant people who also lie there."

Eamonn and family members read some of the 38 poems in his collection, Under The Tilley Lamp, which is an affectionate reflection on his childhood in the townland of Legmoylin not far from Crossmaglen.

It was not, Eamonn said, an easy life but it was a happy and "beautiful" one along with three brothers and two sisters in a two-bedroomed house where there was no electricity, no telephone, no television and no running water.

"I read and I was educated under the tilley lamp," said Eamonn, who added that his mother Eileen - who he characterises in one of the poems as their 'chief of staff' - had encouraged her children to read even if the subject matter was only the Beano or the Dandy.

"I love writing and I love language," said the multilinguist who is currently learning Polish.

"I've always written but I lost many of the pieces in various house moves."

On what was Remembrance Sunday, Eamonn spoke of his hatred of war but also of his love of the war poets like Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon.

Among the topics Eamonn deals with in his poetry are his grandchildren, his love of art and what he calls "eccentric" people where he grew up, such as a woman who drank "red biddy" and a man who was a renowned storyteller and "celebrated liar". Last night singer Tommy Sands, who has known Eamonn since they worked together in Downtown Radio in the Seventies, provided the musical accompaniment on what was a poignant anniversary for the Co Down singer. His brother Eugene 'Dino' Sands was killed in a road accident in Germany on November 10, 1975.

With Brexit clearly in mind, Tommy sang another brother, Colum's comic song, If It Wasn't For The Border, as well as his own renowned composition about the Northern Ireland conflict, There Were Roses, covered by Billy Connolly for a TV show theme.

Eamonn's self-published book largely steers away from politics and the Troubles but it does carry an article he wrote several years ago about the faltering Stormont Executive after the resignation of the late Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister at the same time as his health deteriorated. Coincidentally, the book launch was in the same place where Mr McGuinness met the Queen in 2016.

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