Friday 20 April 2018

First met Dermot in 1986

Dermot Healy in Ellen's Pub, Maugherow
Dermot Healy in Ellen's Pub, Maugherow

Dear Madam,

I first met Dermot Healy, pictured, at the Youth Contact Centre (O'Connell Street, Sligo) in 1986.

Susan McKay was director of the Centre. Established as a drop-in centre for the unemployed, Dermot was providing a Writer's Workshop for them. I was working but I wanted to write and Dermot said 'Come on in.'

Declan Bree and Leo Regan set up a proper centre for the Unemployed in 'The Village' behind Conway's shop on High Street Sligo.

Dermot secured Unit 4 for the Writers Group. The Centre was called the Markievicz Centre and we named ourselves the Markievicz Writers Group.

We were thriving like hot -house flowers for a few years, visiting other Writer's Groups, attending Readings, Book Launches, meeting Dermot's Literary peers, and being published in the M.U.C. (Markievicz Unemployed Centre)tabloid.

Gerry Henry was the Editor. Martin Forde's first poem The Unemployed Man was published in 1987.

Dermot wanted to produce a magazine for the North West.

Because our group attendance averaged 10, the Magazine was called Force 10, Leo Regan provided funding from the Arts Council, it was 1989 and the first issue of Force 10 was on the shelves.

The second last issue (11), was published in 1999, edited by Frank Galligan. Dermot edited six; Brian Leyden two; Molly McCloskey one; and Bob Quinn one.

And then there were none until 2008 when Dermot decided to re -launch Force 10 and that was the last issue.

The VEC had taken over running the classes and change was in the air.

The old Model School was vacant and falling into disrepair, back door gone, dirty and damp and spotted by the VEC which was inspired to bring all the Arts under one roof and stake a claim to the building. Dermot secured a room for the Writers.

We cleaned it, moved in our tubular chairs, kettle and mugs.

Shock No.1; we arrived to find a Grand Piano in our room.

Shock No 2; the lock was changed and we couldn't get into the room.

Shock No. 3; new front door and a big Chubb lock and key and if we were lucky we could get the key in Hannigan's shop.

More often than not we just sat on the broken weedy steps lamenting not so much that the chicks didn't like the bigger nest as that we were in fact pushed out.

Helen Gillard had rescued Dermot by then and they had moved to Ballyconnell as far away from the maddening crowd as possible.

Most of the Writers Group enjoyed the official opening of the quaint little cottage with its daily and nightly survival battle against the sea. I was among the guests at their wedding in September 2007.

Helen was good for Dermot and he wrote, wrote, wrote and published lots of books of prose, poetry and drama.

I attended all his Launches and he and Helen attended the Launches of his students, Brian Leyden, John Cavanagh, my own and many more.

People were his first love, budding writers in particular and there isn't a Writer's Group in the North-West and beyond which wasn't influenced by him.

I was delighted to be invited by Helen to his 'Surprise 60th Birthday Party' in Ellen's Pub and I was thrilled when they attended my 'Surprise 70th 'Birthday Party in The Sally's, Ballisodare. He attended many of our young funerals and sadly now July 3rd 2014 I'm attending his funeral aged 66 and still ten years younger than I am.

President Michael D. Higgins in the front seat no doubt remembering that Dermot was present when he launched his first book of poetry The Betrayal, in 1990, explaining the background to the poems - sad, courageous stories.

Among the congregation attending Dermot's funeral were many from the Markievicz Writer's Group, some of whom are established writers, and all of whom were tearful and sad, finding it difficult to believe that Dermot Healy was dead.

I have known Dermot for almost thirty years, and all I can say is nach mbeidh a leithéad arís ann Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé.

Mary Kelly-White,

Collooney, Co Sligo

Sligo Champion