It’s not every day you get invited to be in the same room as the president of a country and so yesterday I was very honoured, privileged and, if I am honest, a little starstruck, when I was asked to attend a reception at Belfast’s Linen Hall Library for poet, writer and President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins.
I travelled to the event, which was held in Linen Hall’s coffee shop, with Ulster Tatler‘s Editor Chris Sherry. Although we arrived slightly early, the room was already buzzing with people. We spotted such people as US Consul General Daniel James Lawton, Irish writer Brian Keenan and musician Neil Martin. We spoke briefly to the lovely Samantha McCombe, Linen Hall’s first ever female librarian, who welcomed us to the library. We also bumped into The High Sheriff of Belfast Alderman Jim Rodgers and comedic genius Tim McGarry.
After a catch up, which included Tim and Chris reminiscing about their time studying in the Linen Hall Library during their school days, the man of the moment, President Higgins, arrived. To welcome him to the Library, pupils from Holy Cross and Campbell College Prep performed a gorgeous choral piece. Following this, Linen Hall Director Julie Andrews welcomed Belfast’s inaugral Poet Laureate and T. S. Eliot Prize winner, Sinéad Morrissey to read her poem, ‘The Millihelen’, for the President and guests. Whilst not every poet is a born performer, Sinéad Morrissey is a natural and her powerful words and rendition had the audience completely captivated.
After this stunning performance, Julie Andrews passed the platform over to President Higgins. As he got to the stage to a rapturous round of applause, he was very charming and humourous in greeting the audience. Though softly spoken, he had the audience attentively hanging on his every word. As a former Minister for the Arts, Culture and the Gaeltecht, he was more than qualified to discuss libraries and why they are still important in today’s society. I think he perfectly summed this up with a quote from Norman Cousins: “A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life.” I had not heard this before, but what could be a more apt sentiment when thinking of Linen Hall Library, a place that not only houses works by such literary icons as Seamus Heaney, but also housed the man himself as Heaney was a member of the Library.
I have always been a huge fan of libraries and this event helped remind me of all the things that make them so great. As well as a haven for book worms, they also are a place of support and nourishment for those creating works, whether literary greats or budding writers. If you haven’t been to Linen Hall Library before, I can’t recommend it enough, even if you just pop in to the coffee shop, which has a stunning view of Donegall Square. As well as welcoming staff, this really is a place that enlightens, and through the books it houses can truly transport you to another time and place.