Connie Roberts
Connie Roberts

It’s been a good few weeks for Irish poet and Artists Without Walls’ member Connie Roberts: She was declared the winner of the 2014 Boyle Arts Festival Poetry Competition, Roscommon, and she received—for the second year in a row—the Highly Commended Award in the iYeats International Poetry Competition, Sligo. The Boyle Arts Festival Poetry Competition awards ceremony was held in King House, a magnificently restored Georgian Mansion located in Boyle, County Roscommon on July 27th. Connie’s winning poem “Seeing”—a three-part sequence about sight and blindness, set on both sides of the Atlantic—will be posted to the Boyle Arts Festival website soon.


The winners of the iYeats International Poetry competition was announced on July 31st at a ceremony at the Hawk’s Well Theatre, Sligo during the 55th Yeats International Summer School. Connie read her poem “Oasis”—an homage to her foster-mother Eileen—via video link. (You can see and hear Connie at the end of this article.) The two judges, Peter Sirr and Catherine Phil McCarthy, remarked on Connie’s poem: “Oasis”, we thought, managed to communicate convincingly a striking life-force and feeling. The voice had vividness and humour and the sharpness of pain and sense of abandonment beneath the language.”


Noel Lawlor, far right
Noel Lawlor, far right

As it happens, fellow AWoW member Noel Lawlor is in Sligo at the moment, attending the Yeats Summer School. He attended the awards ceremony and celebratory luncheon on Connie’s behalf. Noel’s Wexford wit was in full swing in his follow-up e-mail to Connie:  “I had a great time being you for a day—star treatment, paparazzi, free lunch. [I even] got a ticket for a sold out show at the Hawks Well Theatre last night also. So your influence is far and wide.”


“Team effort and collaboration—that’s what AWoW’s all about!” said Connie. 



The members of Artists Without Walls honored Hanora O’Dea Kilkenny last week for her commitment to the arts, multiculturalism and Artists Without Walls. She and her husband, Noel Kilkenny, Consul General of Ireland, will be greatly missed. Our loss is Athens, Greece’s gain. We wish them all the best.


The following article appeared in this week’s Irish Echo.  To read, click on the article below. 


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Mary Raftery
Mary Raftery

Mary Raftery was an Irish investigative journalist and filmmaker whose 1999 documentary film series States of Fear brought to light the suffering of children in Irish reformatory and industrial schools, and was central in delivering a State apology to those who suffered.  Her book Suffer the Little Children bolstered her claim that the Irish childcare system between the 1930s and 70s was guilty of widespread persecution and abuse. The subsequent establishment of the Ryan Commission and the Residential Institutions Redress Board was largely as a result of Mary’s work.  Mary sadly passed away in 2012, at the too-young age of 54.  

Connie Roberts
Connie Roberts
The Mary Raftery Journalism Fund was established shortly thereafter to promote more in-depth investigative coverage of issues close to Mary’s heart.  On their website they post tributes to Mary, including New York Times/Irish Times obituaries.  Artists Without Walls’ member Connie Roberts sent them her “Banister” poem that she wrote in memory of Mary, which they happily posted.  The poem was inspired by Mary’s fond memory of climbing the stairs as a young child and falling into her father’s open arms.






i.m. Mary Raftery


Oh, give me a little girl

happy to rise to the occasion


and a smiling father

who waits with open arms


at the bottom of the stairs

to catch, to catch, to catch her,


and I’ll give you a woman,

solid as a granite banister,


with the nerve to change a nation.

The Mary Raftery Journalism Fund recently announced details of a series of screenings and panel discussions—sponsored by RTE, Ireland’s National Television and Radio Broadcaster, and the Irish Film Institute, that will take place on May 24th, to mark the 15-year anniversary of States of Fear.



Join Artists Without Walls for its next Showcase at The Cell Theatre on Wed.,  March 26, 7pm. A great night is planned including, Comedian Maeve Higgins, singer/songwriter Warren Malone, playwright Brendan Connellan, singer/songwriter Salina Sias, performing together will be poet Connie Roberts, Niamh Hyland and uilleann piper Jerry O’Sullivan, playwright/author Kate McLeod, writer Billy Barrett,  and the duo of fiddler Bernadette Fee and guitarist Patrick Coyne. Charles R. Hale, emcee.  


It’s going to be an incredible evening of entertainment and fun. See for yourself what all the buzz is about. Stay tuned, more info to follow.  The Cell Theatre, Wed., March 26, 7pm. 

Photo montage by Vera Hoar



“If you were to put Ed Sullivan, Oscar Wilde and TEDTalks into a blender you’d get Artist Without Walls. The Showcase is a friendly environment for artists to share their work and start unique collaborations in a remarkably intimate setting.  One of the most receptive and fun shows I’ve been a part of…” Ed Romanoff



Erin Layton
Erin Layton

An outstanding lineup of talent has been assembled for Monday night’s “Artists Without Walls Showcase at the Cell Theatre” in New York City. Erin Layton will be performing a scene from her one woman play, Magdalen, a play about finding one’s voice in the void. The void being the place where identity and beauty and language are stripped away. This void is what the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland were to the young girls and women who labored in the commercial workhouses operated by religious orders of nuns in Ireland from the 19th – 20th century. Erin’s Magdalen won the Best Documentary Script at the Fourth Annual United Sol0 Festival Awards Ceremony.



Ann Klein
Ann Klein

Guitarist Ann Klein has toured in Europe consistently for 10 years, played house concerts in the US and has written music for a number of documentaries. As a guitarist, Ann was a featured soloist with Ani DiFranco on several shows; she has had the honor of playing, writing and recording with Kate Pierson of the B-52s, Joan Osborne, Dana Fuchs, Darden Smith, PM Dawn, Randall Woolf & Maurice Sendak (for a ballet of “Where the Wild Things Are”), Keri Noble,  Of Ann, Billboard magazine said, “.…a dynamo guitarist and writer.”



Joseph Goodrich
Joseph Goodrich

Joseph Goodrich is an award-winning playwright and the editor of Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950.  His nonfiction appears frequently in Mystery Scene Magazine. On Monday night the masterful actor Jack O’Connell is going to read the opening pages of Joe’s short story “Ghost of Brooklyn Past”.



Jerry O'Sullivan
Jerry O’Sullivan

Jerry O’Sullivan has been widely hailed as America’s premier uilleann piper. He is also widely recorded on the tin whistle, the low whistle, the Highland Pipes and the Scottish smallpipes. Jerry will be performing with poet Connie Roberts, a County Offaly native.



Connie Roberts
Connie Roberts

Connie’s book-length manuscript, Not the Delft School, a collection of poetry inspired by her experiences growing up in an orphanage in the Irish Midlands, was awarded the prestigious Patrick Kavanagh Award.  Last May, Connie received the 2013 Poetry Collection Award at the Listowel Writers’ Week Festival.  She teaches creative writing at Hofstra University, New York.  Also performing with Connie will be AWoW cofounder and singer Niamh Hyland who will be putting one of Connie’s poems to music.



by John Mignault
by John Mignault

John Mignault drew a lot as a kid, but a horrible experience with oil painting at the age of 13 and the lack of employment for artists led to the pursuit of a degree in comparative literature. “Not a field loaded with jobs,” John said. In 2006 intimations of something–very likely his own mortality–spurred him to get with it and he began drawing again. A rematch with oil painting commenced in 2012. As John said, “Oil painting is winning on points, and I continue Rocky-like anyway.” John will be sharing his work with us on Monday night.



Marion Stein
Marion Stein

Marion Stein is a New York based writer and blogger with an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence and an MSW from Hunter. Of her novel Loisaida, one reviewer wrote – “if this doesn’t become a cult classic something is wrong somewhere.” You can catch her awesome television recaps over at Happy Nice Time People and on Monday Marion will be sharing one of her stories.


Join us at The Cell, 338 W 23rd St., Monday at 7pm. 



Cat Dwyer’s photos from Wednesday night’s “AWoW Showcase at The Cell.” Names appear above each photo.

Nadia Parvez Manzoor


Eimear O’Connor


Maggie O’Farrell


Deni Bonet


Pamela Herron


Liv Mammone and Connie Roberts


Brendan Connellan



Cat Dwyer’s photos of the Artists Without Walls’ Showcase at The Cell Theatre, June 25, 2013. The names of the artists appear above the pictures.


Navid Kandelousi and Mehdi Darvishi


Carl Capotorto


Mamadou Ba, Alioune Faye and Leni Stern


Koro Koroye


Michele Cetera and Jack O’Connell


Catahoula Cajun Band


Connie Roberts


Ciara Thompson


Matt Keating





Connie Roberts
Connie Roberts

Who is Connie Roberts? 


I am a mother, poet, teacher…….and late-bloomer.


I was born in County Offaly, Ireland and lived there with my parents until I was five years old, at which time I was admitted to an industrial school in County Westmeath.    Apart from 10 months back at home with my parents when I was eight years old, I remained in the orphanage until I was 17.


All of my 14 siblings spent their childhoods in Irish orphanages.


Many of my poems were inspired by my experiences growing up in care.


When I was 20 years old, I emigrated to the United States and settled in New York. 

I worked as a waitress for many years (Tommy Makem’s Irish Pavilion and the

Pig & Whistle, among other Irish bar-restaurants) before enrolling in college in my

early-30s.  A bachelor’s and master’s degree later, I secured an adjunct position teaching creative writing at Hofstra University, where I’ve been for the past eight years.



Connie Roberts and Paddy Moloney
Connie Roberts and Paddy Moloney

What honors have you received for your poetry?


  • Winner of the Listowel Writers’ Week Poetry Collection Award, 2013
  • Winner of the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award, 2010
  • Winner of the Dromineer Literary Festival Poetry Competition, 2010
  • Awarded a space in the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series
  • Awarded an Irish Arts Council Literature Bursary Award
  • Nominated for the Hennessy X.O. Literary Awards 
  • Finalist in the Strokestown International Poetry Competition
  • Finalist in the Dana Awards
  • Awarded a space at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Vermont
  • Recipient of the George M. Estabrook Award at Hofstra University


Why have you chosen poetry over other forms of writing such as short stories, memoir or novels?


Christmas at the Orphanage, 1970. Connie Roberts, far left.
Christmas at the Orphanage, 1970. Connie Roberts, far left.

To be honest, I don’t think I had much control over what genre I “chose” to work in.  In the mid-90s, when I was an undergraduate in a creative writing class at Nassau Community College, poetry grabbed me by the lapels, and refused to let go.  As Professor Gubernat recited Molly Peacock’s poem “Say You Love Me”, about a drunken father pinning his child to a chair, my heart quickened, my throat tightened; I was in.  Where do I sign up? I said.  Besides the subject matter, which reflected my own background, I found the density of language, the imagery

(the drunken father’s face described as “a ham on a hook”), the rhythm, the sound devices exhilarating.  


Now that I’ve been writing poetry for a number of years, I see another possible reason why the genre is a good fit for me.  Most of the fodder for my work

(read: Irish-Catholic misery) was foisted upon me—believe me, I’d rather be writing about the heather on the bog or the windswept hills of Donegal—and it is easier swallowed, by writer and reader alike, in bite-sized pieces.  The eight-line triolet or 14-line sonnet versus the 300-page memoir.




Connie Roberts at the "Listowel Writers' Week"
Connie Roberts at the “Listowel Writers’ Week”

Who are the poets/writers you admire?


Irish writers I admire include Seamus Heaney, Patrick Kavanagh, and John McGahern.  I love the sense of place in their work.  To say the least, my background is fragmented, so I find myself drawn to their sense of rootedness.  Heaney’s Derry, Kavanagh’s Monaghan, McGahern’s Leitrim—they seem to know every blade of grass, every highway and byway, every neighbor and straggler on the road.  I envy them their stability, their sure-footedness.


Other contemporary Irish poets I admire include Paula Meehan, Eavan Boland, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, Moya Cannon and Rita Ann Higgins.  Ireland is teeming with talented women poets…


I’m also drawn to African-American women poets:  Marilyn Nelson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Natasha Trethewey, Lucille Clifton, Toi Derricotte, among others. I love how they explore and excavate their past, the beautiful and the ugly.  I admire their bravery in taking on important—and oftentimes, provocative—issues.  But besides all that, they are just brilliant poets—verbal acrobats who use language in an exciting and interesting way.



Connie Roberts on BBC News
Connie Roberts on BBC News

Who is your greatest inspiration and why?


I don’t think a day goes by that I’m not inspired by someone.  Two examples from the past week or so:


  • The retired (and retiring) truck driver I met in Scribes coffee shop in Listowel who sheepishly pulled a sheaf of poems he’d penned over the years out of his breast pocket to show me.  It was open-mic night; thirty years earlier he might have stepped up to the podium.  That night, he recited them to me.
  • Two days ago, my son and I were working on his “Me-Book” project.  In the “My Future” section he wrote, When I grow up, I want a happy family and a happy home like I have now.  Like most of us, sometimes, I wish I had a bigger paycheck, a nicer house, or a slimmer waist.  But when I’m sitting in that ould rocking chair in the nursing home, the accomplishment I’ll be most proud of is that I brought my son up in a secure, happy, loving home.


Connie Roberts receiving the Listowel Writers' Award
Connie Roberts receiving the Listowel Writers’ Award

What are the top five things you’d like to accomplish in the next five years?


  • Publish my first poetry collection in Ireland (which will actually happen next year)
  • Record a poet & piper CD with the premier uilleann piper Jerry O’Sullivan (which is on the cards for this summer)
  • Drawing on my own poetry, collaborate with other artists on a multi-media project
  • Secure a full-time teaching/administrative position at a U.S. college
  • Create an (audio/video) oral history of Irish industrial school survivors. 

A massive undertaking I know (hint, hint:  any sponsors in the crowd?), but their individual stories need to be documented.  In their own words, not by scholars and intellectuals.  Yes, there’s the Ryan Report.  Yes, there are a handful of film documentaries.  But the majority of survivors are still voiceless.  And with each passing day, the chance of these elderly inmates (in Ireland, the UK and beyond) being heard grows slimmer.


What was the best gift that someone gave you that inspired or facilitated an interest in your art?


When I was in secondary school in Ireland, my English teacher, Mr. Costelloe, encouraged me to enter a Credit Union essay competition.  I won at the local level and went on to the Leinster final, which I subsequently won.  My first validation—I’d dipped my bucket in the writing well.  But Mr. Costelloe’s gift to me wasn’t merely his encouragement.  He also gave of himself.  No parental figure from the orphanage accompanied me to the awards ceremonies.  But he did.  It was Mr. Costelloe who stood behind me for the newspaper photograph; it was Mr. Costelloe who took my friend and I for a celebratory bag of Tayto crisps and bottle of red lemonade in the local pub.  It was Mr. Costelloe who took time out of his busy schedule as a teacher and father to reach out, to care.


Another gift I was given is a bit more tangible, and one that I’ll treasure for a lifetime:  a handwritten note from Seamus Heaney.  A few years after he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, on a visit to NYC, he happened to walk into the Irish bar-restaurant where I waitressed.  Unfortunately, I was off duty that evening, but my friend, knowing how much I admired the Great Poet, asked him if he would write me a note (I had just won a prize for poetry at Hofstra U.).  He obliged.




It is a far, far better thing you do now than you have ever done.  Stick with it…Congratulations.  Keep digging for the good turf…


When you’re a Nobel Laureate, everybody wants a piece of you.  Doubtless in the years after Seamus Heaney’s trot over to Sweden, he must’ve been pulled in a 100 different directions.  I’m sure on that visit to New York in 1998, SH would’ve liked nothing better than to slip anonymously into a nondescript bar downtown and enjoy a pint in peace.  Instead, he took the time to write a note of encouragement (on an American Express reservation card) to an insecure, fledgling poet.


Great note. Great poet. Great man.


What is your favorite quote?


Since I turned 50 last December, Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape has been spooling in my ears:


Perhaps my best years are gone….But I wouldn’t want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn’t want them back.