Author, playwright and civil rights activist, Danny Morrison, to attend ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’

Interesting experiences fire the imagination, so it’s little wonder Danny Morrison has become master of both the written and the spoken word as author of numerous books, including fiction and non-fiction, short stories and plays, as well as being a newspaper editor, insightful radio and television commentator, community arts festival chairperson and elected public official.

Ireland Writing Retreat‘ is proud to welcome Danny as one of the guest trainers at this year’s event which begins at Teac Jack in Gaoth Dobhair at the end of June. Participants from places as diverse as Minnesota, Cork, New Hampshire, Dublin and Missouri are to attend this year’s international gathering.

I have met Danny on many occasions over the years, often at political, media and writing events (the most recent being at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in Dublin) and was honored when he invited me to speak at the West Belfast Festival that he chaired a few years ago. Interestingly, before knowing Danny, I knew his lovely younger sister, Susan, as she and her friends and myself and mine would strut our stuff, teenage-style at the weekly Clonard dances on the Falls Road to the sounds of Sweet, T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, Queen and David Bowie. Susan, now sadly departed, married a close friend of mine, John Patterson, who came with their daughter to my 50th birthday party at the Gaoth Dobhair golf club where we wandered down nostalgia road together. Danny and I have much in common, both being from Andersonstown and having attended some of the same schools, including St. Theresa’s Primary and St. Mary’s Grammar in Belfast. I admire greatly what he has suffered in his lifetime, what he has achieved and what he has become. It’s  wonderful he has agreed to come to the Donegal Gaeltacht to be a trainer at this year’s writing retreat but also to take part in a special Q&A public event at Teac Jack about his life.

Danny Morrison author

Unique life experiences make for interesting stories as illustrated by published author and creative writing trainer, Danny Morrison.

Born in Andersonstown, west Belfast, the friendly, down-to-earth Irishman has led such an intriguing and eventful life, including internment without trial and imprisonment for eight years while barely in his 20s, that it has imbued him with multi-faceted views on both the world of politics and the world of literature.
Morrison grew up in a solid, working-class family, reaching teenage years just as the so-called ‘Troubles’ in northern Ireland erupted, with civil rights protests becoming widespread, then civil strife and finally a peace agreement based upon a fairer and more just society for everyone.

As a young man, influenced by what was happening around him and the anti-Vietnam protests in the US, Morrison developed a yearning to write and a need to confront injustice. When his sister loaned him the money in 1971 to buy a typewriter, his fate was sealed.

'Rudi - In the Shadow of Knulp, Danny Morrison

Later, both before and after becoming editor of An Phoblacht/Republican News, he wrote many articles, political pamphlets and even scripts for documentary films on Irish history until, in the 1980s, he became national director of publicity for the Sinn Féin political party.

His love of creative writing flourished even in jail and led to Morrison’s first novel, ‘West Belfast,’ being published in 1989 but never formally launched. In 2015 a revised edition was re-issued to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first publication. ‘On the Back of the Swallow,’ his second novel, was written in prison and published nine months before his release, in May 1995. ‘The Wrong Man,’ his third novel, also begun in prison, was completed after his release and published in 1997. Morrison’s three works of non-fiction are: ‘Then The Walls Came Down,’ based on his prison letters, published in 1999; ‘All The Dead Voices,’ a part-memoir, published in 2002; and ‘Rebel Columns,’ a collection of his political writings, published in 2004. He edited a book of essays, ‘Hunger Strike,’ which was published in 2006 by Brandon. His fourth novel, ‘Rudi – In the Shadow of Knulp,’ inspired by ‘Knulp,’ the 1915 novel by Hermann Hesse, was published in 2013.

Then the Walls Came Down book, Danny Morrison author

 

His writing also spans the short story format leading to published work in various magazines and broadcasts on BBC, RTE and Lyric FM radio. Interestingly, ‘We’ve Got Tonite’, a love story he penned, was banned by the BBC in 1992 despite having already been recorded. He also adapted ‘The Wrong Man’ for the stage. The play was hosted in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Dublin and was nominated by ‘Fest’ magazine as one of the top three dramas of the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Morrison has also written articles for such prestigious newspapers as ‘The Irish Times,’ ‘The Observer,’ ‘The Guardian,’ “The Washington Post’ and ‘The Boston Globe’ and is currently working on a fifth novel, ‘Band on the Run’ and a play, ‘The Mental.’

For a number of years, Morrison has been in strong demand as a trainer of creativity writing and recently completed a writer-in-residence program in Berlin.

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Sinn Fein Ard Fheis features multi-faceted personalities

It’s interesting, the people – some expected, some unexpected – one meets at a political Ard Fheis – in this case, Sinn Féin’s in Dublin’s ultra-modern glass and steel, Liffey-fronting Convention Centre recently.

The former included loyal, hardworking party stalwarts – both at local and national level. People like Donegal Councillor and youth worker, John Sheamais Ó’Fearraigh, from the Gaeltacht hamlet of Bun na Leaca, Gaoth Dobhair, who voiced his concerned “about the closure of rural post offices and banks and lack of broadband coverage and tourism development, as well how European legislation on planning and wild life is preventing rural development – all leading to the export of our youth and loss of our Teanga Dúchas.”

John Sheamais Ó'Fearraigh, Sinn Fein Donegal

(l to r) Donegal Councillor, John Sheamais Ó’Fearraigh, discusses issues with Pearse Doherty TD, outside Dublin Convention Centre at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis.

And Inishowen Councillor Albert Doherty from Carndonagh who spoke passionately to the 2,500 party members about “unfortunate Donegal residents who are having to watch their homes disintegrate before their very eyes” because of Muscovite mica, a mineral that weakens concrete. He called for the government’s much-delayed experts report to be concluded by August 31.

Then there’s Pearse Doherty, TD. Though only six years since his victorious High Court case against Fianna Fail for delaying the Donegal South-West by-election, Doherty has risen in the party ranks astronomically since, culminating in national kudos recently when he found a gaping two billion euro hole in Fine Gael’s ‘fiscal space,’ (the amount of money available to the government above what is already being spent on public services). His value to Sinn Fein was more than obvious last weekend when I entered the so-called ‘green room’ to find him engaged in whispered conversation with party president Gerry Adams and vice-president Mary Lou McDonald. Even though a photograph was required of him for this article, a subliminal ‘not-to-be-disturbed’ sign hung clearly in the air.

Easter Rising Celebrations Dublin,

Celebrating women’s role in the 1916 Rising. Over 300 women participated, some of whom were sentenced to death, later commuted.

All three Donegal politicians supported calls made by delegates under the party banner “Saoirse Ceart Aontacht’ for the rejuvenation of rural Ireland, on behalf of people the official Ard Fheis programme declared, “are tired of being treated as second-class citizens, fed up with under-investment and angry at the lack of jobs and opportunities.” Among the motions to strengthen rural areas under the document, ‘A New Deal for the West,’ were “the introduction of rural equality legislation; a spatial enterprise and infrastructure strategy backed up with financial stimulus; a commitment to significant investment to protect and enhance public services; support for traditional industries, particularly co-operatives; and measures to assist emigrants wishing to return.”

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis Dublin

Honoring those who died during the Hunger Strikes and the Easter Rising.

Such were the expected.

Among the unexpected was meeting author and former ‘Sunday Times’ managing editor and ‘Daily Mirror’ editor, Roy Greenslade, now journalism professor at City University London, my alma mater, who now pens an insightful media blog for ‘The Guardian.’ From sturdy working-class roots in east London and a fellow West Ham fan, Greenslade has been a long-time supporter of Sinn Fein. We met way back in the mid-80’s ago when he and his wife, Noreen, a former national feature writer, visited me in Kansas City and later at Mirror HQ before I headed off to the Romanian revolution, former Yugoslavia and the Iraq war. Greenslade bought Ballyarr House in Ramelton and two years ago stood surety for Creeslough-based former IRA member John Downey after his arrest at Gatwick Airport.

Roy Greenslade journalist

Roy Greenslade, author, editor and journalism professor: unafraid to speak out on sensitive social issues.

Last, but not least, was Danny Morrison, Sinn Fein’s former national publicity director, now successful fiction and non-fiction author and international creative writing trainer. Dressed stylishly in black hat and long leather coat, the affable man reminded me of Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of Aristide Bruant, famous on so many posters. Both Greenslade and Morrison have been invited as special guest speakers at this year’s ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ held at Teac Jack’s in Glassagh from June 27 to July 3.

Danny Morrison author

Belfast-based Danny Morrison: a life well lived. Former editor of An Phoblacht-Republic News, Sinn Fein publicity director, author and creative writing guide.

For those interested in writing a novel, poetry or a memoir, or simply want to hear some fascinating speakers, this is the place to head for. It should be a most stimulating week. You can stay for the whole week, or sign up for several of the days. Your choice.