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Next ‘Eamonn Mallie Face to Face with...’ features poet Michael Longley

Poet Michael Longley, CBE

 Poet Michael Longley, CBE

“I’m Irish with British sympathies, I’m an Irish poet, or I’m nothing” – Michael Longley

Popular UTV series ‘Eamonn Mallie Face to Face with…’ continues this Thursday with the veteran journalist and writer sitting down with one of Northern Ireland’s foremost contemporary poets, Michael Longley, CBE.

In this wide-ranging interview, he talks about family - his parents, wife, daughter and grandchildren; his school days at RBAI, and love of rugby and the classics; how he started to write poetry; his friendships with other writers and artists, including Van Morrison; and his hopes for the future of Northern Ireland.

The interview is also interspersed with readings of his most well-known pieces, as well as an exclusive first read of a new poem inspired by his daughter Sarah.  

Eamonn kicks off by asking him about his identity, as he was born in Belfast to English parents. He says, “I’m Irish with British sympathies, I’m an Irish poet, or I’m nothing.”

Referring to himself as ‘pan-Irish’, he explains that he’s not concerned about a united Ireland, “I’m not opinionated on the border question, spiritually for me the border doesn’t exist.”

He tells Eamonn of his school days at RBAI, his favourite teachers, and how he played rugby alongside Ireland and Lions international David Hewitt. He regales Eamonn with tales of his Latin and Greek teacher who also used to knit socks in class!  

He also wrote his first poem aged 16, having fallen in love with a girl from Methody, which ignited what would eventually become a “24 hour a day obsession” with writing poetry.

Eamonn asks him about one of his most well-known works, the poem ‘Ceasfire’, written in 1994 just as the IRA were on the cusp of announcing their ceasefire.

His poem was inspired by one of his favourite pieces, Homer’s Iliad, where he drew parallels with the characters who were enemies but who sat down and ate together. He describes it as a “poem about forgiveness, and the magic of sitting down and talking.”

In the final part of the interview he talks of his friendship with Van Morrison and how he was a ‘warm up man’ for Van when he launched his own book of poems. He says, “He lives 100% for music. I made him laugh – which was an agreeable thing – as he could be very grumpy.”

Finally he talks of his hopes for the future of Northern Ireland and the Arts. He has met the First and Deputy First Ministers, and says, “I was warmed by their interaction - they fill me with hope. The transformation of Stormont fills me with hope.”

He continues, “I am hopeful for the future of writers – there is a steady tidal wave of poetic talent that fills me with hope.”

His last word goes to his hometown, when he tells Eamonn, “I love Belfast… Belfast has given me far more than I have given back.”

The Michael Longley episode airs Thursday 6th June, at 10.45pm on UTV, and afterwards on ITVX. Go to Categories, then NEWS, pick UTV as the region and scroll along the rail to find the episode.


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