In this Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature Dixi Patterson from the Pen2Paper writers group reflects on the groups development, its accomplishments over the past ten years in Donegal and the power of the written word.
In 2010, a writers’ group was established by Karin White with funding from the Peace III programme. For the first year, journalist Julie Costello was the group’s inspiring facilitator; then, because we had shared so many memories, both happy and sad, and formed lasting friendships through sharing our written pieces – prose, poetry, free verse and song – a core group decided to stay together for regular meetings, and so Pen2Paper – P2P – was born.
Writing, by its very nature, can be a lonely experience, and the aim of P2P is to provide an environment which encourages all its members to develop writing skills and confidence and to share their work in a supportive atmosphere, with positive feedback.
P2P projects have included readings from – and singing the lyrics of – our work at North West Words public events in Letterkenny. A major project was a cross-border venture involving residential weekends and workshops in Derry and Letterkenny with ‘Here We Go!’ Theatre Company.
Since we were free to design our own joint project, we took into account the prevailing resurgence of interest in real-life stories of people – not of celebrities or fashion icons, but of ‘ordinary’ folk like ourselves. This was accompanied by a universal lament that we have not been more careful in recording for posterity the fascinating stories of those who went before us. So, we decided to write & record on DVD stories of each of our childhoods, as we grew up in different parts of Ireland, north and south, rural and urban. The result was ‘Stories of Yesteryear’, a fascinating social history of part of the 20th century in Ireland.
As a group, we try to use our talents not only to benefit each other, but also the wider community. Over the years, we have contributed to many charities, including the Simon Community, Donegal Town Solas and Cancer Bus, St. Thomas Special Needs Fund, Ride for Change, Brainwave, Hand on Heart, Sassy, the Warrington Youth Club, Vincent de Paul Society, the Chernobyl Appeal and the Donegal Railway Project.
Then, in the summer of 2018, after months of hard work and selection, P2P launched our first anthology ‘A New Day Dawns’, named after the title of a poem by one of our founder members, Cathy Anderson. This was a compilation of members’ prose, poetry, free verse, song lyrics and art work, and was dedicated to two of our much-loved members, former postmistress Peggy Hegarty of Donegal Town and film-maker Susan Underwood of Inver, who both sadly passed away before publication.
Julie Costello returned to be the editor of what was envisaged as a local community magazine and we originally pledged to give any small profit to our three chosen charities: the Donegal branches of RNLI, the Alzheimer’s Society, and Irish Guide Dogs for the blind and Assistance Dogs for children with autism.
In the event, we found overwhelming support from the public, shops, hotels and businesses, local councillors and our own families! On the opening day of the 2018 Patrick McGill Summer School in the Highlands Hotel in Glenties, the book was launched before a packed audience by Lochlann McGill, historian, author and past President of the Donegal Historical Society.
Further launches, all supported by generous raffle donations, were held on the Donegal Water Bus and in the Dawros Bay Hotel, Rosbeg. Individuals, shops, cafés and Glenties Library took books to sell for us, and by November our profits had reached an amazing €8,400, which we were able to divide equally and present to our three local charities.
Presentation of €2500 to Jennifer for Guide Dogs for the Blind and €2500 to Donegal Alzheimers Association
In the Irish Times on the day after the first launch, Anne Hailes devoted her column to the “eclectic debut” of P2P, describing ‘A New Day Dawns’ as “…an intriguing and varied anthology illustrating how writing groups can reveal hidden talents.”
P2P meets fortnightly in the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the Donegal Railway Centre, where evenings include writing on a given prompt or image, sharing our writing (not compulsory!) with the group, feedback, a cup of tea or coffee and, inevitably, a lot of laughter!
Three of the founders of P2P still attend regularly and members come from far and wide: Donegal Town, Clar, Stranorlar, Convoy, Drumkeen, Rossnowlagh, Drumduff, Inver, Portnoo and Rosbeg. From time to time, aided by ETB grants, we invite professional writers to lead and inspire the group.
We each bring a couple of euros to cover rent and add to our ‘kitty’, which is then spent on outings or party evenings. Last year, these comprised a trip to Glencolmcille for a stage production of John B. Keane’s ‘The Field’ and a day’s outing to the exhibition at Seamus Heaney’s Homeplace in Bellaghy, Co. Derry, which included poetry readings by poets Noel Connor and Gerald Dawe and a special screening of Noel’s film ‘The Bovedy Illuminations’, and we ended the year with a Christmas party in the Manhatten Restaurant, Donegal Town.
Some copies of ‘A New Day Dawns’ are still available and will be in local outlets next month.
Further information may be found on our Facebook page:
NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.