The joy of having a project

An elderly woman wearing glasses looks to the right.
Published: 19/06/2018

As part of our conversation on town centre living and a caring place, we have invited contributions that explore our ten principles of a caring place. In this blog we hear from Marie Mullan about her work with U3A (University of the Third Age), a learning cooperative of semi-retired and retired people which enables members to share many educational, creative and leisure activities. 

The joy of having a project

In 2005, I downsized and moved to a new area to be near my daughters and grandchildren. I was determined to be independent so I joined a local bowling club and Belfast U3A (University of the Third Age). I am 84 and my hearing has been deteriorating for years.

I became interested in Harry Clarke’s stained glass after watching an RTE Nationwide programme about it. My interest became focused on Clarke’s Geneva Window. It was commissioned in 1926 by the Irish Government as a gift to the International Labour Organisation in Geneva. In 1930 it was rejected following concerns that it did not truly represent Irish Culture. It has always been called ‘The Geneva Window’. Fifty years of obscurity followed and then in 1988 it was sold to the Wolfsonian Museum in Florida where it is currently on display. This became my project.

The window represents poems, novels and plays by Irish authors and is very important in the history of the Irish Literary Revival. It is one of Ireland’s greatest works of art and a very important part of our heritage but is little known.

I decided to do some research and develop a PowerPoint presentation to tell people this great story. I got help with the design and technology from various family members. The U3A Literature, play-reading, poetry, creative writing and drama groups provided volunteers to do readings from the novels, plays and poems represented on the window and the Art Appreciation Group gave us our first opportunity to do the presentation. It was a great success.

Presenting the story

We have presented and performed the story very successfully to seven U3A groups, three community groups, two public events, an Adult Education Art Appreciation class in Dublin and private events in Edinburgh and Loughborough. It is much easier to do the presentation when the venue and staff understand the specific requirements of older people, such as having a T loop.

I still drive during daylight and we tend to car share, we sometimes use public transport. We get a payment towards expenses. We have made many new friends.

NVTV (Belfast Community TV) invited me and two readers for an interview. We showed images of the window, read poetry and explained the popularity and enthusiasm for the story. This was a most interesting experience for us and we were pleased with the programme. It is available on ‘NVTV In Focus Harry Clarke’s Geneva Window’

This project has encouraged numerous people to find out more about the work of Harry Clarke and to appreciate the design of stain glass windows. On other U3A outings we have taken the opportunity to view stained glass art in different locations throughout Ireland.

I am keen to turn the presentation into a book so I have spent many hours rewriting it. I have friends and family proofreading and I have made submissions to publishers. I have received encouragement from some editors but so far have not found a publisher. This has been the greatest learning curve of all!

There has been a move recently, led by The Irish Arts Review and literary circles for the window to be returned to Ireland at least on loan.

There is a temptation to devote all my time to this project but I do go out to U3A bowling, bridge and other activities.

Header image credit: Christian Langbelle on Unsplash

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