Robert Ballagh and Geraldine Finucane: talent and determination

I was at an event last night that impressed me and depressed me at the same time. I was impressed by the quality of at least two of the people in the room, and I was depressed by the energy and  quality of both people.

The event was in the Gerard Dillon Gallery – the new bit of the Cultúrlann on the Falls Road. The occasion was a display of works/ paintings by that remarkable man, Robert Ballagh. I interviewed him for my book and was struck then by the quiet gentleness of the man. We did the interview in his studio, and he’d obviously taken time off from his work to talk to me. Nothing in it for him, but he was the essence of relaxed receptivity. At the event last night he noted that his painting career, spanning from 1968 to the present day, covered the Troubles. And he talked, again with self-deprecating humour, how he was moved out of his comfortable view of the world and his country by what was happening in the north back then and since. If you’re in Belfast or near it, I urge you to go over to the Culturlann and look at the range of work he has on display there. It’s all – or nearly all  – for sale. (And dammit, the one piece that caught my eye and my heart yearned after is not for sale.)

The reason for the sale of this wonderful range of works by Ballagh was embodied in the second person there last night who impressed/depressed me: Geraldine Finucane.  In real life she’s smaller than on telly, but you sense that unstoppable quality she’s had to show in trying to get to the truth about the shooting dead of her husband back in 1989, as he sat having dinner in his home with her and their  children.  She was there because Robert Ballagh has been generous enough to gift all the paintings/works on show to raise funds for the Pat Finucane Centre.

There were lots of other important people there, including Michael Farrell, the lawyer, civil rights activist and former leader of People’s Democracy (ask your granny), but Ballagh and Finucane shone out particularly. Like all truly good and gifted people, they have a modesty, almost a shyness about them, while maintaining a focus that cuts through distractions.

I felt privileged to be there. And as I say depressed, but I took that out on the cat when I got home and I’m quite cheerful now, thanks.

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