Big Irish Night, Old Crown, Digbeth

Held as part of the St Patricks festival celebrations, this was a night of poetry spoken word and song in a pub that has seen more St Patricks day celebrations than most. The Old Crown reputedly can trace its history back to 1368, but much of the existing building is mere 16th century with Queen Elizabeth the First having been an honoured guest. That sense of history gives any evening held here a sense of place.

A good turnout was orchestrated by the combined skills of Laura Yates, Northfield Arts Forum co-ordinator and Pat Murphy Wright, Cultural Development co-ordinator for Irish in Birmingham, a charity providing welfare and cultural services to the Irish community in Digbeth. Birmingham and the Midlands has a thriving poetry scene currently, operating from a wide variety of venues. Given the rich Irish tradition of poetry, Pat is absolutely right to apply her efforts to cultivating that tradition amongst the Irish community in the city.

Laura Yates shared hosting duties with Kurly McGeachie and both had their work cut out to accommodate all the aspiring performers before closing time. Antony R Owen read not only from his own work but also that of Joseph Horgan, from his collection, Slipping Letters Beneath the Sea. Typically Horgan’s poems are short, the subject matter often exploring the dislocation of an ex pat Brummie now domiciled in Ireland. The contrast between his urban roots, and his rural present ,is another source of dislocation, and finds expression in his city poems. Joe skillfully acts as an observer on both a Birmingham shaped by Imperial migration, and an Ireland shaped by economic migration. His observation that the more that societies reach out, the more they contract in their perception of what their core identity is,was a point shrewdly observed.

Councillor Reg Corns read a moving introduction to his book about the mid 19th century forced emigration of Irish citizens to Canada aboard the notorious coffin ships to a destination that was forced to create mass graves for those who had died in the appalling conditions of the journey.tet the evening offered plenty of light and shade too. Shirley Cooper, a stalwart of the Old Crown entertained, as did Alan Wales with his offbeat Celtic musings from Under Deadwood. Young Worcestershire Poet Laureate Laura Deadicoat’s poem on horses could not fail in such a setting and the evening was closed with a traditional Irish song, current Birmingham Poet Laureate Jan Watts having opened proceedings.

The Big Irish Night is part of an occasional series, details of future such events and other associated cultural activities can be found on the Irish in Birmingham website:

Gary Longden 14/5/12

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