Belfast Telegraph

Poetic celebration of Strabane set to become the talk of the town after BBC broadcast

By Staff Reporter

The BBC is broadcasting an elegy to Strabane this weekend.

The long poem celebrating the culture and character of the town was written by Maureen Boyle.

The piece was commissioned for a new series of Conversations On A Bench in which a producer sits on a bench in places around the UK and records chats with people who sit beside her.

Producer Anna Scott Brown took up her position on a bench in Abercorn Square near the Pagoda and opposite the statue of Flann O'Brien.

Among the people who stopped to talk to her and who feature in the programme are Frank Elliot who worked all his life in Russell's Bakery and remembers fishing on the river and his mother's smuggling exploits across the bridge at Lifford.

Gerard Bradley, a teacher and musician, speaks about fishing under the arches of the old bridge as buses were burnt above it.

The programme touches on the Troubles, the history of the town and the personal experiences of the participants.

Libby Hart speaks about her father's forge. He was the blacksmith of the town and her brother keeps on a family tradition going back hundreds of years.

And Helen Campbell, a carer, remembers her parents managing to make life as normal as possible under very abnormal circumstances - her father's jeweller's shop was bombed.

She also speaks of her grief after a miscarriage.

All these stories and others are interwoven by Maureen Boyle's reading of her poem Strabane.

It is a poem in 13 verses which writes her own family history into the history of the town, recalling images as diverse as the congested lungs of the mill workers and the smoky smell of her father's bomb damage sale jackets in the family wardrobe. Maureen grew up in Sion Mills, her family moved into Strabane, her father's home town, when she went off to Trinity and her mother, Betty Boyle, still lives on the Urney Road.

Her father, Patrick Boyle, was the headmaster of the Glebe Primary School in Sion Mills.

Maureen is an English teacher at St Dominic's in Belfast and the last year has seen a huge growth in her profile as a respected poet.

Her first collection, The Work of A Winter, was published by Arlen House Press.

She has won several awards for her work, including the Strokestown Poetry Prize, the Ireland Chair of Poetry Prize and an Ireland Chair of Poetry travel bursary.

She said: "This programme was one of those lovely opportunities that poetry brings - a chance to write something about the town and my memories of growing up there and in Sion.

"Looking at its history, you see clearly that the difficulties Strabane has now have been there all through it's history - poverty, lack of work, the flooding river - but it has always been a warm place too that compensates for its difficulties in the warmth and wit of its people."

Conversations On A Bench will be broadcast on BBC Radio Four on Saturday January 5 at 11.30pm. It is already available on the BBC iplayer, having been given its first airing on Sunday December 30.

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