The third annual Michael J. Murphy Winter School took place on November 18th-21st in Dromintee GAA club and in Ti Chulainn Cultural Centre in Mullach Ban. This event, in memory of this remarkable writer, folklorist, broadcaster, photographer and socialist republican, was an unqualified success, both in attendances and in the outstanding contributions from all of the speakers.
There was a large crowd in Dromintee GAA club on Wednesday night for the unveiling, courtesy of The Department of Irish Folklore, University College, Dublin, of a Survey of Dromintee Parish. There were lively contributions from a very interested audience when Kevin Murphy showed some of the pages from this unique 65-page document which was compiled by Michael J. in the spring of 1942 and this was followed by the presentation of a bound copy to the chairperson of Dromintee CLG by Anthony Flynn, chairperson of Cuimhneamh.
On Friday, November 20th, there was a reception at 7pm and the new Michael J. Murphy website (www.michaeljmurphy.org) was launched. This website, which will be added to in the coming months and years, is part of the Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership and contains a wealth of material which includes video, audio, photographs, articles, letters, short stories and poems.
There was a capacity audience for a talk on the overall theme of the Winter School, ‘A Sense of Place’, by Joe Mahon (Lesser Spotted Ulster/Journeys). This was an inspiring, humourous and wide ranging account by a master storyteller. Local singer/songwriter Paula Flynn from Forkill, accompanied by her husband, Greg, brought the evening to a close with a truly uplifting performance.
On Saturday the first speaker was Aine Ni Neachtain. Her talk was entitled ‘Tradition as an Anchor: The Relevance of Michael J. Murphy’s Legacy in 2015 and Beyond’. It was very thought-provoking and showed that, as Michael J. always insisted, the individual must be able to think for himself or herself and not accept the soul-destroying propaganda put forward by government and big business. She has agreed to have the text of her presentation made available to Cuimhneamh.
The afternoon forum brought together five of the most formidable women on this island under the direction of Una Walsh. Each speaker made a fifteen-minute presentation on the theme ‘A Sense of Place: Boundaries and Perceptions’ and then the discussion was opened to the audience. One visitor said that this was the best forum which he had ever attended and this is surely true because the contributions of Donna Traynor, Bernadette McAliskey, Linda Ervine, Cathleen O’Neill and Frances Black were thoroughly engaging, entertaining, informative and humourous. The big problem for any organisers is how to equal that standard in future years.
The historian Colm Donnelly gave a thoroughly researched lecture on ‘Medieval Gaelic Ulster’ with particular emphasis on the Ulster families and their tower houses. He also gave the good news that, after concentrating on Tyrone and Derry, the archaeological focus is now shifting to the Barony of The Fews in South Armagh.
It was at this stage that the winner of the inaugural Michael J. Murphy Short Story Competition was announced. The quality of the entries was excellent and the prize of £150 went to a truly outstanding story by George Sloan from Newcastle, Co.Down, entitled ‘Baltic Blue’. This story will, with the kind permission of the author, be available on the Michael J. Murphy Website.
Saturday night featured a man who needs no introduction to the historical and GAA world—Donal McAnallen from Co. Tyrone. Donal has an unparalleled knowledge of Gaelic games and the Irish Volunteers in the 1913 to 1923 period and he had his audience in the palm of his hand as he ranged over the affairs of GAA clubs, county boards, provincial councils and central council. After more than an hour of weaving a coherent tapestry and answering questions one felt that he was only at half-time. Surely any GAA club which is serious about extending its members’ knowledge and understanding of the history and inner workings of their organisation should invite this true expert to come along to impart his vast store of research?
Saturday night concluded the Winter School when music was provided by south Armagh’s leading traditional music group, Bothan. Look out for these fine musicians and singers as they become household names throughout Ireland and beyond.
It is no exaggeration to say that this was one of the most successful cultural events ever held in South Armagh. Michael J. Murphy, after whom the Winter School is named and who was, despite his massive achievements, the most modest of men, would be pleased.