Write Us A Letter – Filling the Void

Public Art Participation Project –  Armagh Georgian Festival – Join in!

Together with the citizens of Armagh, three leading contemporary artists explore and celebrate the legacy of Archbishop Richard Robinson to create an exhibition, audio installation and a legacy pen-portrait of modern Armagh, whether they are warty and worldly, or wishful hopes, dreams and wonderings.

Splendid The Congress of The Beasts – an exhibition of  new art works from artist Helen Sharp inspired by the menagerie of animals to be found within the books and prints of the Robinson Library.

LiberalFilling the Void: Archbishop Richard Robinson had all his letters burned after his death. With the citizens, Maria McManus creates an epistolary legacy of new letters to fill the void, from the professional to the confessional, from love to loathing and from the curious to the confirmatory.

Lofty Whispering from the Sky – a sound installation by composer Simon Waters and modern citizens of Armagh on the 1770 census of Armagh  which is archived in the Robinson Library.

Maria McManus (Poet) is the author of Available Light (Arlen House, 2018), We are Bone (2013)The Cello Suites(2009) and Reading the Dog (2006) (Lagan Press). She has collaborated extensively with others producing performance pieces for choir (18, with composer Keith Acheson) dance (TURF and DUST with Eileen McClory) and multi-art form collaborations. She is Artistic Director and curator of Poetry Jukebox, an on-street audio installation of contemporary poetry.

Maria wrote the following message:

Archbishop Richard Robinson (1708- 1794) was a most significant figure in the history of Armagh and as a consequence all of Ireland. He founded the stunning Armagh Robinson Library, a hospital, the  Armagh Gaol, Palace Demesne and the Armagh Observatory.  He enlarged the Royal School and had it built like an Oxford College. His aspiration was that Armagh would be a university city – so far, that particular aspiration has not yet come to fruition, but … perhaps … who knows?

The Armagh Robinson Library building  may look formal, but the welcome is warm and hospitable. Always.  At present I have the great privilege of undertaking a writing residency at the magnificent Armagh Robinson Library. Built, curated and opened by Robinson in 1771, the library is a vibrant, elegant, light-filled, evocative place. The motto carved in stone above the door translates from the Greek, as The Healing Place of the Soul.

There is a copy of a first edition Gulliver’s Travels Swift was a frequent visitor to Armagh and the library copy is annotated and corrected by Jonathan Swift himself. Further, there are two of Swift’s handwritten letters; one is an intervention on the purchase of a horse, the other relates to practical arrangements on a land survey.  Another letter in the archive written by Arthur Conan Doyle argues matters of religion and spiritualism, and one by Florence Nightingale relates to the war in Crimea. However, Archbishop Richard Robinson’s own archive of letters were, in accordance with his will and directions, and as was the custom of the time, incinerated following his death –  creating a void in the record of the quotidian.

Through this project, we want to fill the void left after the letters of Archbishop Robinson were burned. We want to create a contemporary epistolary archive written by citizens – especially the citizens of Armagh, but also from all over Northern Ireland, the border area, the island of Ireland, Britain, Europe and the whole world. Everything in a letter tells something –  the handwriting, post marks, the subject matter, the demographic and concerns of the writer: the letter is a  point in time pen-portrait.  We are also interested in receiving correspondence which for some reason has personal significance to the donor.

 We want letters, preferably hand-written, from people of all ages and ethnicities, from anywhere in the world, on any topic they wish to record. Then we will include it in our exhibition and archive in the beautiful Armagh RobinsonLibrary for posterity.  

  • If you wrote the letter you wanted to write, to whom would you write it?
  • What would you write about? A letter to your childhood home, the parent you’ve lost, your old lover, those pesky politicians, your heroine/ hero, the generations yet to come, the child in your arms, or in your womb, your idol, the lost, the prodigal, the fictional, the historical?
  • Who would be the object of your letter? We live in such uncertain and turbulent times. What do you have to say about climate, Brexit, the border, the grudge, the past, the lost opportunity, the gratitude, the quotidian, the chance you ought to take, regret, courage, agency and activism, finding a quiet place, peace…what is the ‘thing’ you can write about in a letter, but just can’t say any other way?
  • Is yours letter to the masses, or to just one person?  To your older self? Your younger self? Your braver self – something for the record.

Letters from anyone, about anything are welcome. To be included in the first exhibition of these letters, please post your letter to us,  to arrive by 25thNovember 2019.

 Filling the Void – Letters Project

Splendid. Liberal. Lofty

C/O Armagh RobinsonLibrary

43 Abbey Street


BT61 7DY