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First Seamus Heaney, now Mickey MacConnell: Only Our Rivers Run Free writer takes folk's top award

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Mickey receiving the Creative Arts Award at the Fiddlers’ Green Folk Festival in Rostrevor, Co Down last week

Mickey receiving the Creative Arts Award at the Fiddlers’ Green Folk Festival in Rostrevor, Co Down last week

Mickey receiving the Creative Arts Award at the Fiddlers’ Green Folk Festival in Rostrevor, Co Down last week

kerryman

One of the highest honours the world of folk music in these islands bestows annually was given to our very own Mickey MacConnell last week - the Creative Arts Award at the Fiddlers' Green Folk Festival in Rostrevor, Co Down.

In accepting the significant gong, Mickey found himself inducted into a fairly rarefied hall of fame, including the award's first winner ever, then Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, the legendary Pete Seeger, Ralph McTell and a host of other famous names.

Finding himself in Fiddlers' Green this side of the clay makes all the difference, the former Kerryman columnist said: "It's nice to get it while still alive!"

It was the song written by a 17-year-old MacConnell and which went on to help galvanise the Civil Rights movement, Only Our Rivers Run Free, that was chiefly cited by the Fiddlers' Green festival.

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Though long seen as a republican anthem Only Our Rivers is, in fact, a cry for all the oppressed - regardless of creed; a point emphasised by the Festival in presenting the award to Mickey.

50 years after Mickey wrote it, it is still as popular as ever - recorded more than 400 times and translated into 16 different languages.

"It was a classic example of the right song, in the right place at the right time, recorded by the right artist, Christy Moore," Mickey said. "I was 17 when I wrote it and had just come back from covering a council meeting for the local paper in my native South Fermanagh full of frustration over the bigotry I witnessed in the meeting; with the allocation of houses to single Protestants over Catholic families."

Just a few years later, Only Our Rivers had been adopted as an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, before the North erupted in violence.

"It was redundant as soon as the first stone was thrown in Derry...it was never a republican song per se but a song about the love of one's country."


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