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Echoes

by Joe Kelly

The links between Kevin Mc Dermott and Trinity Comprehensive School have been strong for many years now and this bond was further strengthened in the past term through an innovative trilingual, international creative writing initiative.

The JCSP Library in Trinity Comprehensive School, Ballymun, Dublin

The residency saw Kevin work with a group of thirteen students in our school library over the course of a number of weeks. Students were selected based on their interest in creative writing and the group was made up of twelve second year students and a single student from Transition Year.

As a way of setting a theme, Kevin introduced the young writers to the powerful words of Greta Thunberg and together we reflected upon the climate disaster that we have brought about through our disregard for the environment.

Kevin Mc Dermott with Trinity Comprehensive School students

Free writing exercises were an important part of these workshops as the students were encouraged to write in a way that was as much physical as it was mental. They were asked to tap into their thoughts and let these words, images and ideas flow onto the page as they appeared to them in their minds. This approach meant that the writers produced work that otherwise may have not seen the light of day if they had had the time to plan and reflect as they wrote. Within these many lines of writing, Kevin taught them to recognise gems and nuggets that lay there shining and waiting to be discovered.

We have long had links with Vimmerby in Sweden and teachers and librarians from both countries have visited each other to learn about methods that may not be prevalent in their respective educational systems. It was decided that students in Astrid Lindgrens skola would shadow us and produce their own pieces of writing based on Kevin’s workshops. It turned out to be a fortunate coincidence that Greta Thunberg was helping us on this creative journey. In the days before apps like Zoom took over our lives, the workshops transmitted via webcam now seem almost prescient.

Kevin Mc Dermott with Trinity Comprehensive School students

As the residency progressed Kevin helped the students to edit and refine their writing. With many hours of his own time given up to this project at home, he selected a short poem or fragment which each young person has the right to be very proud of.

Meanwhile, our Swedish friends were experimenting with writing and translating between English and Swedish. This provided inspiration for us to look at ways to incorporate writing in Irish. The JCSP librarian sat down with each writer and used the haiku as a frame to create an echo (macalla as Gaeilge) of the original poem based on their English one. This was a fascinating experience as we looked at ways the imagery and sound had to be adapted to better fit another language. Sometimes, the poem in Irish provided inspiration for a further poem in English. Below we see examples of the process in poems written by Ellen Kennedy:

Wind 

Deep within the forest
I hear the wind.
Its howls are lonelier than ever.
It sounds so hopeless

Dear Earth,
Let us open our ears
To the cries of the wind.

Sa Choill

                                                      Go domhain sa choill
                                                      Glamann an ghaoth uaigneach.
                                                      An gcloiseann tú í?

The Lonely Wind 

Deep in the forest,
The lonely wind howls for now.
Do you hear her cries? 


Kevin enlisted the help of Jo O’Donoghue to tidy up the translations and provide useful advice on possible edits.

It was planned at this stage to introduce a visual element to complement the poetry whereby the students would take photographs which would provide a background for their poems when they were displayed. We also hoped that the students would record their poems. Unfortunately this was not possible as schools closed in March. However the project continued. Photography teacher Brigid Dunne and Kevin himself provided images to match the mood of each poem.

As it wasn’t practical for the students to do so, Irish language poet Ciara Ní É recorded each of the poems and Kevin then spent many hours editing and fine-tuning to produce the short poetry audio-visual presentations that we are all now so proud of.

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Listen to all of the poems HERE

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There are hopes that we will produce a short booklet celebrating the Irish, English and Swedish poems that have been written by young people from Ireland and Sweden sometime in the near future.

In similar ways to the In Pieces project, a small acorn of an idea managed to grow into something much grander than we could have expected when we started off.

Kevin may have checked out of ‘The Hotel California’ which our JCSP Library has become to him but it is unlikely that he will be allowed to leave anytime soon.

Echoes from a JCSP Library

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