Wednesday, March 20

Michael Collins, Irish Patriot- & Me

These Irish Eyes are smiling. Last weekend, the whole world (well, it felt like it anyway) celebrated St. Patrick's Day. Yep, come the 17th March, people across the globe determinedly pull on enormous Guinness hats, pin shamrock onto themselves, develop a passion for tin whistles and party quite hard. Very hard, in some cases. And part of this annual Irish-fest is the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Hundreds of cities have them, including Manchester here in the UK. This year was extra special, with the parade setting off from the newly opened Irish World Heritage Centre. Over 100,000 people turned out to watch, including this guy. 
St Patrick's Day Cool: the VERY cool Aaron Adeboye!
The parade was a huge success and is the highlight of Manchester Irish Festival. The Festival runs over two weeks and is a fantastic mix of music, dance, sport, culture. You name it, it's there, including pleasing events advertised as 'St. Patrick's Day 12 Hour Celebration Party.' Ouch. 
Yet for me, the highlight this year wasn't the Parade. I say this from a point of complete selfishness. For yesterday evening, 19 March, I got to be an event as part of Manchester Irish Festival. Manchester Irish Writers, who meet regularly at the Irish World Heritage Centre and of which I a member, offered me the chance to host an evening promoting my novel, The Fifth Knight. That was pretty special but Rose Morris, who is the Cultural Director at the centre, had a surprise up her sleeve. Well, actually, in a safe. Rose knew that the Irish revolutionary leader, Michael Collins, was my grandfather's uncle.
Michael Collins
Collins played a key role in the struggle for Irish independence from the UK. I write about a fictional fighter but Collins was the real, fearless deal. He was ambushed, shot and killed in August 1922 at the age of 31. His body was brought to Dublin where it lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall. Tens of thousands of mourners queued to pay their respects. Over half a million people are estimated to have attended his funeral. This was in a country whose population at the time was around three million. Collins died unmarried, so the family line continues through nieces and nephews only, continuing down to me and on to my daughter.
But the surprise for me came when we were setting the room out for my evening. The IWHC holds a number of precious objects. And one of them is the Irish Tricolour flag that was put on Collins' coffin. To say I was gobsmacked is not even close. Rose brought it out, encased in layers of special tissue and unrolled it in front of me. History whispered right in my ear. However much you read about something, see it on TV, to have an actual object right in front of you is genuinely astonishing. It's not a big flag. The linen is thin, with holes and tears, the colours surprisingly vivid. I asked if I could touch it. It's not usually allowed, but I was allowed to. 
So when I did my talk about The Fifth Knight last night, telling a lovely audience all about my journey to publication, Collins' flag was beside me. It rested on a white linen tablecloth that had belonged to my grandfather, Collins' nephew. 
Hubby Jon captures me, Angela & the Collins Tricolour
You will also see daffodils in the picture. I had placed dozens of them, all round the hall. Nice Spring flowers, yes. But they were there for a reason. The daffodil is the symbol for the Irish Cancer Society. And exactly 22 years ago, on 19 March 1991, I lost my beloved father, Pat, to cancer. So he was with me too. I dedicated the night, the wonderful special night where I got to present my first published novel to the world in person, to him. I hope he'd have been proud. 

The Fifth Knight is available on and
The Irish Cancer Society has been fighting cancer for 50 years. Daffodil Day is on 22 March 2013

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