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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 year 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 us with the inspiration 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 who helped to tidy up the translations and provided 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 also. 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 which Kevin then spent many hours editing and fine-tuning to produce the short and beautiful 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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Meanwhile our friends in Sweden were busy working on their own poems which had been inspired by Kevin’s workshops and writing prompts. Such was the enthusiasm there that the students produced a bilingual book of poems in English and Swedish called Words. Some extracts from this wonderful book by the young poets Niklas and Amanda are included below:

Best Time of Day

This is the best time
 Of the day
 When I ride
 My bike
 Into the forest

Bästa tiden på dagen

Det är den bästa
 Den friaste tide
 På dagen
 När jag kör
 Min cykel
 I skogen
 Och tittar på enduro 
                                                         Niklas

My Soul Sings

My soul sings
 My soul makes the melody
 My soul sings to the world
                                               Amanda

Reflecting on the project, the class English teacher Beata Ringström praised the students for the “bravery” students displayed by simply sharing their work.

Students from Astrid Lindgren Skola, Vimmerby, Sweden

In Sweden, unlike Ireland, it is commonplace for schools to have a librarian. Similarly to the JCSP Library Project where librarians often guide students and encourage them to write, in Vimmerby Lena Andersson filled this role. As a former writer for a newspaper, Lena understands the importance of having a mentor to encourage young people and went on to say that “the professional guidance of Kevin Mc Dermott gave students the courage to rise above themselves and deliver true poetry. While exchanging texts with others has opened their eyes to how others form their ideas on the page.”

As delighted as we all were by the success of the project, we were taken aback and honoured when we learned that Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D. Higgins had recognised the importance of the initiative in a letter he wrote to Kevin Mc Dermott:

I was most interested to learn of the innovative and truly valuable collaboration (…) between Trinity Comprehensive School in Ballymun, its twinned school in Vimmerby, and the JCSP Library.

As President, (…) I am particularly impressed by how the initiative addressed the issue of language by helping students in Ireland to reimagine the Irish language in the context of their own lives and their newly forged friendship with their counterparts in Vimmerby.

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

That our current President of Ireland is himself a poet bestows the words with even greater honour.

As borders are again erected and some nations choose to turn away from their neighbours, this project is an example of how the fragile words and language that hide within us all can be used to bring different cultures together. When we take the brave step to let others read the dreams and fears that emerge on the page we see all that we share.

In similar ways to the In Pieces project, a small acorn of an idea managed to grow into something much grander than we could ever have hoped for.

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

latest news

JCSP Library in St. Kevin’s College, Crumlin is relaunched as the ‘Lynott Library’

by: Kathleen Moran

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A commemorative silver coin marking 70 years since rock artist Phil Lynott was born was launched by the Central Bank and unveiled by President Michael D. Higgins on November 26th. The launch took place in St. Kevin’s College, Crumlin, Dublin – the school Lynott attended in his youth.

Every student and staff member, as well as members of the Lynott family, assembled in the Sports Centre to hear the St. Kevin’s College Brass Band (ably led on trombone by St. Kevin’s JCSP Librarian, Neil Kettles) perform a medley of Thin Lizzy songs, and listen to a fascinating address from President Michael D. Higgins. 

Speaking at the launch, President Higgins said Lynott was “not likely to be forgotten,” and that it was “a very great loss” for him to die at the age of 36.

President Higgins added it was “very important that we not only protect the right to perform but the space to perform”. The President spoke of the creativity of Irish young people and of the importance of performance in their lives. This is something that we fully support through our JCSP Libraries.

President Michael D. Higgins speaking at the launch

Sharon Donnery, deputy governor of the Central Bank, spoke of Phil Lynott’s iconic status, his contribution to modern Irish music and the enduring popularity of his music.

The President, together with the Lynott family, guests from Educate Together, CDETB and other organizations were then invited to the newly named “Lynott Library” to view Phil’s original attendance register. 

Students from St. Kevin’s College presented the President with a copy of ‘We Write What We Like’, an anthology of poetry written by students from across CDETB schools working with Writer-in-Residence Kevin Mc Dermott and published by the JCSP Demonstration Library Project. The President’s copy was signed by the St. Kevin’s students who contributed to it.

President Michael D. Higgins and Sabina Higgins with Lesley Byrne (Principal) and students and staff of St. Kevin’s College

St. Kevin’s received one of the newly minted coins, and a signed book by Jim Fitzpatrick, who created the Thin Lizzy album art, both of which will be proudly displayed in the main hall.  Coins were also presented to Phil Lynott’s daughters and son.

Sarah Lynott and Cathleen Lynott , daughters of Phil Lynott with new coin. Photograoh: Tom Honan
MacDaragh Lambe, son of Phil Lynott, is presented with the new coin by President Higgins

Lesley Byrne, St. Kevin’s College Principal, emphasised the central role the JCSP Library plays in the school.  She specifically mentioned the brass band, noting that the “Lynott Library” has never been a space where you can expect to be shushed!

Carol Hanney (Chief Executive, CDETB), President Michael D.Higgins, Paul Crone (Director of Schools, CDETB)
President Michael D. Higgins with singer Brush Shiels

Congratulations to all involved in organising this wonderful event. Wishing our JCSP Librarian in St. Kevin’s College, Neil Kettles, the very best of luck in his new ‘Lynott Library’ where we have no doubt that music and the arts will, from now on, play an even greater part in students’ lives.

The future at St. Kevin’s is loud!

Kathleen Moran – Senior Librarian, JCSP Demonstration Librarian Project