One of the groups that I have had the pleasure of working with recently is the Omagh Community Youth Choir. The choir was set up by Daryl Simpson within three or four weeks after the bomb in 1998. This was just about the same time that I first met John McKinney, Chief Executive and Frank Sweeney, Culture and Arts Manager, both from Omagh District Council and we developed the idea for Petals of Hope, Rays of Light. Since then, I had heard the choir at some of the key anniversary services but never had the chance to meet or work with them until now. This, has been a pleasure.

During my Masters, one of my lecturers, Melinda Ashley Meyer endorsed creative collaborations when working in the Expressive Arts (EXA), particularly in the context of Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding. As creatives from different disciplines work together, new ideas are incubated and this leads to opportunities that would otherwise lie untapped. This advice resonated with the planning for creative process associated with the 20th anniversary.

When I had previously returned to work in Omagh with Malachi O'Doherty after the fifteenth anniversary, there was a strong sense that the community still needed to be soothed. Keeping this in mind for the 20th anniversary, a choir of this musical strength and vitality holds an important role as they sing back into their own community. 

So, when it came to the recent arts workshops, I was keen to facilitate a different approach with the choir than with other groups. As their Haikus suggest, we walked in the workshop space, merged together and apart as we sang, improvised with our voices and then wrote within the boundaries of 5,7,5 syllables. The Haikus provided inspiration for the visual art-making.

We were inspired by the words from the titles of the large pictures in Petals of Hope, “...believe that a further shore is reachable from here”. Seamus Heaney wrote a verse from the Cure of Troy, in the book of condolence in Bellagy Bawn not long after the bomb. When asked by Council, he kindly gave permission for these lines to be used as the title for the three large art pieces. 

The first time I met the choir, I was very conscious that these current singers are made up of young people who were not born at the time of the bomb yet none of them are strangers to the effects from that awful day in their history. I could see traces of some of their parents in their faces and family names were familiar from my earliest involvement in the community. These young people live in a different world and have much potential. 

Their visual art also influenced the shape and direction of the display in the library. Here are some of the 50+ Haikus written by the members of Omagh Community Youth Choir...


Water flows among

The mystery becomes known

Unity will grow

        Bronagh Broderick


Stuck for too long now

Believe, strive for greater things

With one good, one song

        Rachel Montgomery


Sandcastles from shores.

Building a tower of hope

for us to live in.


When brought onto earth,

Equilibrium in all,

Blissful innocence.

        Bríanna Gormley


Don’t panic and sink

Sail again, another route

Water knows no bounds

        Niki Browne


A stone throw away,

lies a still serenity

that song can take us to


Flowers are blooming

and people are singing

We are in Omagh

        Ellen McCaughey