But first a warning. If you’ve got something that needs done soon then read no further. If the kids need to be put to bed or you’re just killing time until Emmerdale Farm starts then this is not for you.
Only read on if you’ve got a little bit of time and a clear mind. Like the bubbling stream this story moves at its own pace. And not in a straight line.
It started last year. I think. Or it might have been the year before.
I’ll explain. I’ve got a group of friends who organise an annual football trip. Every January we go away to England to watch a Premier League match.
We’ve been doing it for about 15 years I think. When it started there were eight of us and we all worked at the Belfast Telegraph newspaper. Now none of us work there but the ritual goes on.
We’ve been all over. London several times, Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Bolton.
We’ve seen a lot of matches.
And I can remember virtually nothing about them.
In the early days my friends would have put this down to my alcohol consumption. But now I’m teetotal and the matches all still blur into one in my mind. Lots of well-paid guys running about a grass patch while the fans who help to pay their wages yell foul abuse at them.
Because for me the football is the least important part of the trip. I go for the comradeship. The retelling of the same old stories that we’ve all heard countless times. Being reduced to helpless mirth because one of my friends has ordered the hottest curry on the menu and now looks like a human hot press.
Knowing that we’ll all have our turn at being the sap at the sharp edge of the joke. Being able to laugh along when it’s my turn. Being comfortable enough to not care. Or not to have to say anything.
There have been so many trips now. So many times we’ve had the same animated drunken discussions.
And so it was that last year (or another year) we were all in a curry house in London (or another English city).
We were talking about music. The way middle-aged men do. This is always an awkward one for me. I love various sorts of music but have rather unconventional tastes. I don’t own a single album and I’ve never downloaded a piece of music in my life. I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin. There are many things I know about music but many, many more things that I don’t.
One of our number asked the group what was the best gig we’d ever been to.
We all started to think about it. It was quickly clear that the rest of the group had been to see much more live music than I had. One of them seemed to have been to every gig which had ever taken place in Ireland, even when there was more than one on the same night.
The truth is I’ve been to very few live music events. I had a disappointing exam result once which could probably be explained by my insistence on seeing the Saw Doctors in Coleraine the night before.
I’ve seen U2 live twice, once at Botanic Gardens in Belfast and once at Croke Park in Dublin. But I found neither occasion memorable, the music lost in the sheer size of the spectacle.
I’ve fond memories of experiencing The Pogues at Brixton Academy with my brother, although the truth is that by the time I was old enough to see them live much of their honest to God anger had already dimmed.
I thought about the question for a while. Then I came up with an answer. Eric Bogle at the McAllister Hall in Ballycastle.
It says something about the musical knowledge of my friends that most of them knew who I was talking about. That’s the guy who wrote The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. And Leaving Nancy.
Eric Bogle is a Scottish songwriter who has spent most of his adult life living in Australia. He’s written a few of my favourite songs.
And it is true that late in the last millennium he played the McAllister hall in the town closest to where I grew up. It’s a tiny venue. There were probably less than 200 people at the gig. But I remember more about that night than I do about U2. The thoughtful lyrics of his songs, the witty dialogue between them.
So this was my answer. I waited for the inevitable onslaught of beer-inspired verbal abuse. It never arrived.
Instead the group moved on to talking about what’s the best album of all time. I think my suggestion was The Beatles, Best of.
That night I was lying awake in my hotel room. It occurred to me that I hadn’t listened to Eric Bogle’s music in a long time. Many years. Here I was claiming him in front of my friends as an influencer but I couldn’t even be bothered to put one of his songs on now and again.
I didn’t even know if the man was still alive. What he wrote was important to me in my youth so why was I so neglectful of it now? Had the advancement of the years taken a bit of the art out of my soul? How could something which was once so important now be so remote? Are such things stored away like childhood toys in the attic?
It bothered me. But then many things which pop into my mind bother me everyday. I fell asleep. When I awoke in the morning I’d forgotten all about it.
And that’s probably how it would have stayed.
Except for the centenary of The Great War.
Again, I’ll explain.
Like most good folk singers Eric Bogle is at his most powerful when singing songs of protest. He is best known, among those who know him at all, as the composer of lengthy anti-war songs. A reviewer once described him as an artist who writes songs about the First World War which seem to last longer than the war itself.
The Band Played Waltzing Matilda is one such piece. Probably one of the best folk songs ever written, it takes close to 10 minutes to tell its sprawling story of the young carefree Aussie rover who becomes a soldier with the Anzacs brigade and lands at Suvla Bay as part of the British ordered Gallipoli offensive in 1915.
The Australian and New Zealander troops are slaughtered by the waiting Turks and the subject of the song is caught in a bomb blast which rips off both his legs.
He returns to Australia aware that his young life has changed forever and haunted by what he has seen.
‘For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs. No more waltzing Matilda for me.’
The song finishes with the soldier, now an old man, watching his former comrades marching in the annual Anzac Day parade.
‘And the young people ask, what are they marching for? And I ask myself the same question.’
It’s lean, stark and powerful. I’ve listened to the song hundreds of times but it still always demands my full attention. Background music it is not. It’s been covered by artists as varied as Joan Baez, June Tabor, The Pogues and Johnny Logan.
But Bogle is also the composer of what, in Ireland at least, is an even better-known war protest song. He called it No Man’s Land. The Fureys made it famous as The Green Fields of France. Some people know it simply as Willie McBride.
The song’s narrator is walking through what was once the battlefields of France but what is now the location of graveyards for the fallen (‘countless white crosses’). He rests at the side of a grave. It belongs to a young soldier, Willie McBride, who died in 1916 while just 19 years old.
The narrator imagines what Willie’s life was like. And his death and funeral.
‘Did they beat the drum slowly? Did they play the fife lowly? Did the rifles fire o’er ye as they lowered you down.’
The story takes its time, building to a profound message about the futility of war and the misguided old men who send young men off to fight.
‘Did they really believe that this war would end war……for young Willie McBride it all happened again. And again, and again and again and again.’
The strong political message and humanity of the song do not remove from the fact that it is achingly beautiful.
And when the centenary of the Great War came round people here started to take notice of it again.
Joss Stone recorded a version of No Man’s Land which was horrible and, I’m assuming, merely tolerated because it was raising money for the Poppy Appeal.
I was reading The Guardian one day when I came across an article written by Eric Bogle distancing himself from Stone’s cover of his song.
I heard her version, and a few others, played on the radio.
I was working on the news desk of a daily paper at the time. Soon after I received a press release from a group of veterans who were going to France to visit the original grave of the young soldier, Willie McBride, who inspired the song.
The only problem with this is that Bogle has stated several times that the song is not inspired by any specific person. Apparently he choose the name as a reaction against anti-Irish feeling which was prevalent in England in the 1970s.
I remember briefing a young reporter on the story and trying to tell her about Eric Bogle and his song. She gave me that look of confusion and concern that I often see when I talk to people.
On another day shortly after an envelope arrived on my desk. I opened it and a CD fell out. I should explain that occasionally journalists get sent books or albums, for the purposes of review. But I hadn’t written a review in years and it wasn’t clear why anyone would send me anything.
I turned the CD over. Eric Bogle’s name was on the front sleeve. It was his new album. At least this answered the question of whether he was still alive.
But this was all getting a bit strange. I hadn’t had cause to think about Eric Bogle for many years but now, since the football trip, it seemed that I couldn’t avoid him.
I took the CD with me and put it in my car stereo. It was good. It’s been in my car ever since. My four-year-old knows all the words to some of the songs.
I went home. I started to listen to some more of his music, reacquainting myself with many of the songs of my youth. I was surprised by how familiar they still were. It seems that the things that are important to you when you are young never truly leave you. It’s the time when your mind is open to so much new information and possibility. Music seemed so much more important to me then. I felt some of that adolescent enthusiasm returning.
Then I started to wonder what Eric Bogle was up to now. Satisfied that he was still alive and active I searched for more information online. I found his website. I started to read.
It said that he was playing in Belfast the following week.
It wasn’t a tour. As I said before Bogle is originally from Scotland but lives in Australia. He was coming home to visit loved ones and friends. While here he was squeezing in a couple of gigs, including Belfast. He made it clear this was the last time he’d be making the trip to the northern hemisphere. I bought two tickets on the spot.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m not in the slightest bit superstitious or spiritual but events seemed to be following a narrative of their own making now.
A few days later my wife and I were in the Elmwood Hall in Belfast. Unlike the previous occasion when I had seen Eric Bogle two decades earlier, the hall was full. And the crowd was knowledgeable.
Bogle, alongside his long-time sidekick John Munro played a long and intimate set. He chatted with the crowd, made jokes, told stories. Some of his songs and tales were funny. Some were sad. All were about the human condition and brought a reaction. He played every song that was asked of him. It was an experience as far removed from going to see U2 in a stadium as I could imagine.
Eric Bogle is in his 70s now. Making the long trip from Australia is exhausting. Several times he referenced the fact that this would be his last visit to Belfast.
The show ran on. As if he couldn’t bear to finish and the crowd couldn’t bear to let go of him. It must be strange state of mind to undertake a task that has been so familiar, but to know that you will never do it again in your life. It’s ahead of us all.
Eventually, almost unwillingly, he brought it to an end. The final song of the night, of course, was No Man’s Land.
He introduced it by telling a story. I’d heard it before but it never gets tired.
The year, he explained, was 1997. Tony Blair had just become Prime Minister and one of his goals was bringing peace to Northern Ireland. While he was still fresh in office he received a letter from a 12-year-old Belfast girl called Margaret Gibney.
Margaret had grown up on the Shankill Road and her whole life had been dominated by The Troubles. Her letter stated that she had only ever known one year of peace in her life and she asked Blair to do something about it.
Ever the opportunist, the young Prime Minister saw the PR potential straightaway and went public with the letter. He told the world’s media how a young Belfast girl has given him the determination to do whatever was needed to end The Troubles.
Margaret was invited to Downing Street. In her original correspondence she had asked Blair to contribute a letter of peace. Blair presented her with a framed copy of the lyrics of The Green Fields of France which he called his favourite anti-war ‘poem’.
Eric Bogle was on a tour of the UK in the same year. He was reading The Times newspaper when he came across a report of the Gibney visit. The accompanying photograph showed Tony Blair and Margaret Gibney together smiling and holding a copy of the lyrics to Bogle’s song.
The accompanying text included the sentence. ‘The Green Fields of France was written by a Scotsman, Eric Bogle, who was killed in the First World War…..’
As Bogle delivered this line on stage the audience emitted a huge roar of laughter. His sidekick John Munro chipped in with ‘He’s looking better now though…’
And then they played the song and nobody in the audience dared to make a sound until they were finished, such is the reverence. If you needed to cough, you held it in. No sound other than their voices and the gentle, melancholic strum of the acoustic guitar.
The crowd left happy. But a little bit sad too.
As my wife and I drove home we discussed the concert. The music was all new to her but she was dazzled by it. I felt the particular joy of introducing the person I love to a thing that I love.
We discussed the Margaret Gibney story. We’re both journalists and had the same thought. What is Margaret Gibney, the girl who met Tony Blair, doing now?
Then we went to bed and forgot all about it.
More months passed. I had other things on my mind. My health had started to fail. Old problems had returned. My doctor removed me from work to prevent a complete breakdown. My future was uncertain, my mood wretched. I suffered countless sleepless nights, worrying about the future. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to work again.
And then the football trip came around again. Looking back now I probably shouldn’t have gone. My mental health issues were raging almost out of control. But my doctor wanted me to maintain some level of normality and there was a part of me which thought a weekend away with the lads might help.
And so we flew off to some English city to see another load of millionaires kick a ball around. I’ve no idea who we saw play but I do remember having an outstanding spiced lamb shank in a wonderful curry house.
But other than that I struggled badly. I drifted in and out of the group conversations and several times felt as if I was about to fall to pieces. There was a thought which kept rolling through my mind and I couldn’t shift it.
It was, ‘I won’t be around for the next football trip’.
Late on the Saturday night we were chatting in a bar. The usual stuff, football, music, work. I was so low that when one of my friends asked me who my favourite artist was I told him that I hated music. And I probably did at that point.
Then the best live gig debate came round. Again. It gave me a chance to tell them the Eric Bogle story. How the conversation on the last football trip had started the process which led to me seeing Bogle live again. And this one was definitely my favourite gig. I thought it was a good story and I enjoyed telling it. It was probably the only time I felt anywhere remotely close to the person I am during that whole weekend.
The months wound on. I decided my health was more important than work and I left the company that had employed me for almost two decades. I started to recover slowly, enjoying being with my family and away from the pressures of deadline. I started to recover a little bit of my old confidence. I looked forward to meeting people I knew again and some of my intellectual curiosity returned. There was joy in the world once more.
I started a blog. People seemed to like it.
My writing took me in new directions. A bit of teaching, magazine writing, editing, charity work, some broadcasting. I enjoyed being my own boss and not having professional responsibility for anyone else.
And Eric Bogle was the soundtrack to much of it. As I was writing my blogs his songs were often playing in the background in the spare bedroom I pretend is an office. It was usually his CD on in the car when I was driving to a meeting or appointment.
And so it was that one afternoon earlier this month I was listening (again) to a recording of Bogle playing No Man’s Land live. Again I heard him recount the Margaret Gibney story. I smiled, as I always do.
It reminded me of the gig at the Elmwood Hall. The emotion of the night. My conversation with my wife afterwards. The question we asked. ‘What is Margaret Gibney, the girl who met Tony Blair, doing now?’
So what is Margaret Gibney, the girl who met Tony Blair, doing now?
I sat back in my chair. I’d been a journalist all my adult life. Proficient in all aspects of investigatory techniques. Cunning. Crafty. A master of the dark arts. Able to find the answer to the most challenging of questions. To track down the most elusive subject. A detective at heart.
I opened my laptop. I put the words ‘Margaret Gibney’ into Google.
Her Facebook profile flashed on the screen in front of me.
I smiled to myself. ‘Still got it’, I mumbled.
I scanned the Facebook page. Was it definitely her? I found some old photographs of her from 20 years back, meeting Blair at Downing Street. I compared them to the pictures of the smiling girl taken in the past few months. My instinct was that it was the same woman.
Without thinking it through I sent her a direct message. I introduced myself as a journalist. I said I was interested in talking to the girl who met Tony Blair. What did she make of the experience 20 years later?
I was conscious that I was making an uninvited approach to a woman who I’d never met before. I tried to sound friendly but authoritative. Not at all like a knife-wielding maniac.
I sent the message. I suppose I didn’t really expect to get a response.
Less than two minutes later a message flashed on the screen of my phone.
‘That sounds fine Jonathan. Just let me know when you are free to meet.’
This rather caught me out. First the speed of the response. Second the fact that she seemed so keen to help. Years of working in the media had taught me always to have low expectations. Most people are initially cautious and suspicious when approached by a journalist. I understand that.
But I didn’t really have the second part to my plan in place. In fact it wasn’t a plan at all, just a curiosity, an instinct. A path that I was following without a destination in mind. I’d sold myself to her as a journalist but I didn’t work for any organisation. It was more than a year since my name had appeared in any sort of publication. I had no idea what to do with the story. I had no idea if it even was a story.
I went ahead and made an arrangement to meet Margaret a couple of nights later. We agreed to make contact at the front of the Mac in Belfast. For the uninitiated, the Mac is a gallery and theatre in the fashionable Cathedral area of the city. I see it a representative of the new, post-Troubles Belfast so it seemed a fitting location to meet the girl who became a symbol of peace.
Plus it’s a busy public area so it was safe, which seemed important when meeting someone for the first time. Just in case Margaret was considering chopping me into bits and feeding me to her cat.
I arrived at the allotted location in plenty of time. It was a dry and cool evening, young couples were meeting up for dinner. It felt good to be there.
I waited. And waited. Then I waited some more. Half an hour after the agreed time I accepted Margaret Gibney wasn’t coming. I sent her a message, light in tone, hoping that everything was OK.
She responded quickly. She was mortified. She explained that she had so many things going on in her life that she had simply forgotten about our meeting. She messaged me again and again apologising. I quickly softened. It’s fine I told her, I forget stuff all the time. We agreed to meet at the same location a couple of nights later. The last message she sent me was one saying that she was going to write it in her diary and definitely wouldn’t forget this time. Lol.
Two nights later I was standing at the same spot. It was slightly damper this evening but still pleasant to be in the fresh autumn air. Being an (almost) full-time parent means I’m not often out of the house at night and it felt refreshing.
I waited. And waited. Then I waited some more. Half an hour after the agreed time I accepted that Margaret Gibney had stood me up for the second time in a week. I sent her another message. This time there was no quick response.
I have a journalistic motto. It goes something like this…
Be persistent. Be tenacious. But don’t make a buck eejit out of yourself.
As I walked back to my car I knew it was time to abandon this nonsense. After all, what was I even doing? Trying to find some bizarre train of logic out of a drunken conversation with my friends in a curry house and a funny anecdote from an obscure Scottish folk singer. Wasting my time chasing what exactly? A story that nobody even wanted to hear.
I drove home feeling the beginnings of a depressive episode. The whole sorry tale seemed to encapsulate how everything I had tried to do in my life had ended in failure. But it was deeper than that. A feeling that I was out of place with the rest of the world. Unable to sniff out what was really important. Allowing my own obsessions and whims to devour logic and sense.
When I reached the house I had a message of my phone. It was from Margaret. She was beyond embarrassed this time. She couldn’t believe that she had forgotten again. She asked if she could meet me the following morning and she insisted she was buying the coffee.
I sat in the car seat staring at the screen of my phone for some time. Then I responded. I told her it was entirely understandable what had happened. I agreed to meet in the morning. I went to bed wondering if I was the world’s biggest buck eejit.
The following morning I was standing at the same spot in front of the Mac. I waited. Soon I received a message from Margaret on my phone.
It told me that her bus was running late.
I have to admit I was highly dubious by this stage. Part of me wondered if Margaret Gibney actually existed. Was her phone really controlled by a gang practical jokers who were secretly filming me? Laughing helplessly at how many times this poor sap would turn up at the same spot to be stood up. Looking hopefully at every woman who walked round the corner.
Ten minutes later an attractive, confident young woman approached me and introduced herself as Margaret Gibney. We went inside to get a coffee. She was buying.
I had rehearsed the moment. I told myself again and again not to mention the Eric Bogle thing too early. I didn’t want to come across like an obsessive or a stalker.
As it was we almost reached the bar before I blurted it out.
‘Have you ever heard of Eric Bogle?’
She had not.
So I began to tell her the story. About her meeting with Tony Blair and his presentation of the lyrics of The Green Fields of France to her. About the press reports of the author of the ‘poem’ dying in the First World War.
About how Bogle now tells the story when he plays the song live and mentions her role in it. I played her a YouTube clip of Bogle telling her story.
Margaret was stunned. Almost speechless. She was familiar with the Fureys’ version of the song but not its origin. She had believed it written by some dead guy.
‘That’s what Tony Blair told me.’
It was going well. Then we sat down and Margaret asked me who I was writing the article for.
I mumbled something unconvincing about being a freelance and wanting to keep my options open. I heard myself say that I might try and sell it to the Sunday Times. The Ballymena Times seemed a more likely option.
And then we chatted.
I’d suggested that we simply talk during our first meeting. Rather than facing the pressure of a formal recorded interview it allows the subject to relax and tell their story. It also allows me to decide what lines and angles I like and then to guide the follow-up interview in that direction.
And Margaret’s story is truly astonishing. Growing up on the Shankill, she lived the early part of her life in the shadow of constant violence.
It was a school project when she was 12 which changed everything. She wrote a letter to Cherie Blair asking her to contribute a letter of peace for Northern Ireland.
But it was Cherie’s husband Tony, who had just become Prime Minister, who saw the potential of Margaret’s letter. During a visit to the US to meet President Bill Clinton he told a TV interviewer how a simple letter from a 12-year-old girl had strengthened his determination to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
It was classic Blair, well intentioned but opportunistic. Boiling everything down to its lowest level, replacing logic and argument with an emotional slap.
But it turned Margaret Gibney into a celebrity overnight. When she arrived at school the next day the world’s press was waiting for her.
Soon she had travelled to Downing Street to meet Blair. She rubbed shoulders with the Clintons. She worked alongside Jemima Khan as a UNICEF ambassador. She toured with The Fureys. She recorded Channel 4’s Alternative Christmas message. She travelled the world. She was invited to the UN headquarters in New York and the Winter Olympics.
This was an incredible life for a young girl from the Shankill. But what interested me even more was what happened afterwards. What became of Margaret Gibney after the journalists stopped being interested in the story? And what did she think looking back on it all?
Margaret now is a formidable and impressive young woman. It’s easy to imagine her as the 12-year-old writing that letter hoping to change the world because she’s still trying to do it. A sense of frustration and injustice rages within her against inequality in all its forms. She devotes her professional life to helping others and is eloquent in her scathing assessment of politics since 1997.
She is torn in her opinion of Tony Blair, the man who brought peace to Northern Ireland and war to Iraq. She said she thought her letter proved to be a convenient hook for him. When she used the word ‘pawn’ to describe his treatment of her and I knew I had a headline.
But her full anger was directed towards the Tories and their implementation of welfare cuts and the DUP and Sinn Fein’s current failure to reach agreement at Stormont.
‘Working class people are having to go to food banks and our politicians can’t even sit down together.’
But I don’t want to give the impression that Margaret is merely an angry young woman. She is generous and funny, completely selfless and totally dedicated to improving the lives of working class people in Belfast.
We chatted for a long time and I felt like we could have gone on a lot longer.
We said goodbye and arranged to meet up the following week to record the interview. There was a part of me thinking that I should not let her out of my sight in case she didn’t turn up again.
But I had something else to worry about. I needed to find someone to buy the story and I didn’t exactly have a catalogue of recent work to promote myself.
I had mentioned the Sunday Times and my wife encouraged me to go for it. I sent a pitch to the news editor. Margaret Gibney, the girl who was the face of the peace process now believes she was used as a pawn by Tony Blair. At a crucial time in Northern Ireland’s political evolution she tells how our leaders are letting us down
Within the hour I’d received a response. The Sunday Times loved the idea and wanted 1,000 words. It was the first time I’d been commissioned to write a piece by a major newspaper in several years. I was exhilarated and a little scared. But mostly relieved. I’d spent so much time thinking about this, put so much of myself into it. Now I had some measure of validation. My point was not lost on others. The time not wasted.
I met Margaret again the following week. She turned up. Just 15 minutes late. We had broadly the same conversation but this time I recorded it. She said all the things I wanted her to.
Then we went for a trip in my car. A tour along the peace wall between the Shankill and Falls. I’d seen the wall hundreds of times but its size never failed to daunt me. Margaret shared some of the stories of her youth, growing up here, in its shadow. The rain was pissing down but she kindly agreed to get out of the car so I could photograph her against the wall. I knew the Sunday Times would take proper pictures but I wanted one for my blog.
As we left the wall she told me a story about when she travelled around Europe with a Catholic friend. They went to see what was left of the Berlin Wall but were both taken aback by how small it was.
‘That’s nothing like the walls we have back at home. People there couldn’t believe we still have walls in Belfast.’
I started writing my feature as soon as I got home. I was keen to impress, determined to do a proper job. The words and images came quickly to my mind and soon I had the rough outline of an article. I spent some time polishing and refining it, changing words here and there. And then changing them back.
I sent it off to the Sunday Times news desk, feeling way more anxious than I should. I knew I was putting too much of myself into it but I couldn’t hold back. I dreaded any sort of negative review. I knew the Sunday Times would be thorough and I was expecting a long list of queries, complaints, alterations.
I kept checking my phone for a response but this only made the time go slower. Eventually a little message appeared in the inbox. Just four words.
‘Thanks Jonny. Looks good.’
I heard nothing else before the Sunday. Then I was up early that morning, fighting against the clock on my phone which insisted on going back an hour. The corner shop wasn’t open early enough so I went off in search of a 24 hour garage to buy the Sunday Times.
I carried the heavy paper to my car and opened the main section, magazines and fliers sliding onto the floor. There it was. Dominating a page. And the bit I saw first was ‘….writes Jonny McCambridge’. I had the same excitement I felt when I was a trainee journalist at college and I did my first front page story in the Ballymoney Times. The same as when I wrote my first splash for the Belfast Telegraph and I had to use the name Michael McCambridge because I was still working for another paper.
I read the article in full. They didn’t change a word. Not a single word.
Beneath my name on the page was a large picture of Margaret looking defiant in front of the peace wall. She was wearing a ‘Tories Out’ badge. For some reason this delighted me and I started to laugh. Sitting there in the empty carpark of a petrol station with the paper early on a Sunday morning. Just laughing.
Are you still with me? Full marks for stamina if you are. I almost gave up myself a couple of thousand words back.
When I started doing a blog a few months back I took some advice from someone much more experienced in the art than me. She told me that a blog should never be more than 250 words long.
But then I’ve never been much good at listening to advice.
So what’s the point of it all and why do I think anyone other than myself should care?
Well maybe there isn’t a point and maybe nobody cares.
Other than if you think you have a story to tell then go ahead and tell it. It might make a decent blog, or end up in the Sunday Times. Or it might just give you pleasure to tell.
And I’ve made a new friend. Someone who has a completely different background to me, different experiences from yesterday, but who shares my values and hopes for tomorrow.
After my story appeared in the paper the BBC approached Margaret asking her to talk on the radio. Maybe, just maybe, I do know what I’m doing.
I might arrange to meet Margaret for a coffee again someday. She might even turn up.
And I’m still listening to Eric Bogle and laughing at his stories. I’ll send him a copy of this. You never know, he might read it. After all it lasts almost as long as one of his songs.
And the guys are already in the advanced stages of planning our next football trip. Discussions continue on which match we’ll be going to. I don’t care because I won’t remember it afterwards anyway.
But I intend to be there. I intend being there for many more years having the same rows over favourite albums and gigs. Telling them how much I love music.
I can’t wait.
6 thoughts on “Finding Margaret Gibney”
It must have been during his visit to Ballycastle that a person I know hounded him in The House of McDonald. He was wearing a hat indoors which was always a warning that the person was either a show off from “the city” or else a poet, writer or artist of some description – when asked what he was at young Bogle modestly replied “I’m a singer” – this person who hasn’t a clue who he was pestered him to sing “Wild Rover” or “Athenry” or “Molly Malone”….I don’t think he did
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I loved this story. So beautifully told and definitely not too long. Who makes these arbitrary rules on the length of blog posts anyway? Congratulations on your article!
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Thanks so much
A superb piece Jonny and not too long at all 👍
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Great story, covering so many topics.
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