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Society has not moved on, says man who penned song for Clinton


Derry City and Strabane District councillor Jim McKeever

Derry City and Strabane District councillor Jim McKeever

Bill Clinton and John Hume in 1995

Bill Clinton and John Hume in 1995

Derry City and Strabane District councillor Jim McKeever

A community worker who wrote a song about Northern Ireland's divisions over 22 years ago while recovering from an accident says he is sad that nothing has changed since it was performed for Bill Clinton during his historic presidential visit to Londonderry.

Jim McKeever (59), who is also an SDLP councillor, has worked in cross-community projects for more than two decades.

His poem and song None Are So Blind talks of sectarian divides and the fact that circumstances can be changed 'by you and me' and includes the line 'For none are so blind as those who just won't see'.

Mr McKeever, from Tamnaherin in Derry, penned the words while recovering from an unsuccessful operation to save the sight in his left eye after the freak domestic accident.

"I was a young community worker back at the end of 1995," he said.

"I remember being in the Guildhall at the launch of a peace initiative. My wife Susan and I arranged to take my aunt Christmas shopping that afternoon.

"She needed a wheelchair when out and about and I went to get it from a sort of broom cupboard in her hallway.

"The chair caught on a saddle board and as I bent over to lift it a curtain pole that was standing in the cupboard fell forward." Mr McKeever spent several days in hospital as doctors battled to save the sight in one of his eyes.

He added: "The doctors hoped that gravity would have sorted the issue but they couldn't see into the eye because of the damage and I couldn't see out.

"After a few weeks I was sent to the Royal Victoria Hospital for an operation, after which the doctor told me that the damage was too bad, that I would be permanently blind in that eye.

"At that stage I didn't understand the full extent of the impact it would have on my life.

"I thought I'd be able to manage all right. I was in my 30s and a father of a teenage girl, Karyn.

"It took a while to get used to. I wasn't able to drive. I'd been an active community worker before that so I depended on people driving me to work commitments and meetings.

"In everyday life, if I went to lift something my perception was off, or in a cafe or somewhere, I'd spill things easily. Things like that brought it home."

It was while Jim was recovering that a poem came to him.

He had been working with young people across Derry and while pondering his own partial blindness he wrote None Are So Blind, about our divisions and the possibility of change coming from each individual.

"I still was doing cross-community work when I was recovering from my operation," he explained.

"I was feeling sorry for myself about my own circumstances and the way things were at the time in Northern Ireland.

"I put pen to paper, I don't even know where it came from."

It happened to coincide with a historic visit by Mr Clinton.

It was the first time a US President had come to Northern Ireland, and would be the first of three official visits Mr Clinton would make here.

Mr McKeever added: "I showed the song to someone.

"President Clinton was coming to the city and I remember them saying that I should put the song to music and have it played for him.

"Trevor Burnside put music to it and we got Elaine Mallett to sing it.

"It was played at the Guildhall during his visit. It was a proud moment."

But Jim said that the recent political troubles Northern Ireland has faced brought the words of the poem back into sharp focus for him.

He feels society hasn't moved on as it should have done in the last 20 years.

"The words are still relevant today. We haven't moved forward. Things are as bad now as they ever were," he added.

"Change is down to every individual. That is what the poem and song is about. Doing cross-community work is a long-term project, but I honestly didn't think it would be this long-term. I thought we'd be in a better place by now."

Belfast Telegraph