By Ronan Lunny, (Year 13 pupil, St. Michael’s College)
On Friday November 9th, English Literature students from: St Michael’s College Enniskillen, accompanied by Mrs Bernie O’Reilly, Enniskillen Royal Grammar School, accompanied by Mrs Maeve Ferguson, and Coláiste Colmcille in Ballyshannon, met at the Abbey Theatre Ballyshannon, for a poetry masterclass from renowned anthologist, Niall Mac Monagle. This event was part of the annual Allingham Arts Festival.
This was a cross-border and cross-community activity; bringing together pupils from a variety of backgrounds, which was witnessed and acknowledged by the newly appointed Irish Minister for Education, Mr Joe Mc Hugh, a native himself of Donegal.
Saturated by characteristically Donegal weather, we were warmly greeted upon arrival, by members of the Allingham committee and the staff of the Abbey Theatre. Many students had the chance to chat and mingle with Minister McHugh, who was traversing the room, conversing with young people about issues they felt to be the most paramount.
When addressing the room, and in conversation, Minister Mc Hugh expressed his astonishment and elation at the political motivation of young people in Ireland, especially with regard to issues such as climate change, and the environment. Minister Mc Hugh exhibited a clear passion for education in his speech. He took particular interest in the cross-community endeavours of St. Michael’s College and Enniskillen Royal Grammar School through the Peace Studies scheme.
Especially resounding for the students present, was Mr McHugh’s comments on young people’s duty and responsibility for ensuring Ireland’s stability in the future. Par contre to the usual rhetoric in this respect, Mr McHugh stressed that we are already Ireland’s present and future, reinforcing the need for a cross-border co-operation now.
Following our reception with the minister, students and teachers were seated in the theatre for our workshop with author, Niall Mac Monagle, a former tutor and lecturer of English in Wesley College Dublin, and a former teacher of none other than Graham Norton; who still regularly reaches out to Mac Monagle for publishing advice.
To have the opportunity to hear from someone of such extensive knowledge and experience in the field of poetry, was naturally an honour for English students and teachers alike. The speaker deigned to tear down any preconceptions about poetry, to make it less daunting and black and white; in his own words, asking “what have we here?” as opposed to “what is this about?”, focussing more on the effect poetry has on the reader.
Mac Monagle urged the audience to develop a great fondness and awareness of literature in order to formulate our own personal style and flair, which is of course preeminent in ‘A ‘Level studies. Astounding knowledge of literature, poetry, and art, and a functional link throughout the three disciplines was exhibited by Mac Monagle, and this analogy was of particular interest to the pupils gathered.
Beyond his semantic intellect and commentary on the creative process, the audience were treated to excellent practical advice for English examinations, with exemplar pieces of Mac Monagle’s star students down the years; including an evocative piece entitled “Plastic Surgery” by a young Graham Walker in 1981! Teachers were also generously gifted with copies of Mac Monagle’s texts on poetry and other useful resources that are certainly worth their weight in gold.