Lord Puttnam, as he is known in Westminster and beyond, is a long-time resident of Skibbereen and the man who, in his career as a filmmaker, commissioned the original script for the cinema depiction of Collins’s life. Yet as he arrived at Lisavaird National school near Clonakilty yesterday to unveil a tapestry in honour of the man, it was to the strains of Gabriel’s Oboe, from the soundtrack to another Puttnam film, The Mission, that welcomed him.
Flautist Rebecca Santry, a past pupil of Lisavaird National School, carried the melody on the wind as everyone stood in a West Cork breeze and listened. Just moments earlier in the hubbub school principal Oonagh O’Sullivan had asked the children forming the guard of honour to “put in your shirts, please”. By the time the song was finished playing, everyone looked immaculate.
The tapestry had involved all 63 pupils at the school, which had been attended by Collins between 1897 and 1904. Ms O’Sullivan said every child contributed stitches, aided by visiting sewing teacher Clara Moloney, and that it also incorporated lines from the poetry of WB Yeats because of the 150th anniversary of the poet’s birth last year and his own role in Irish culture and history. The children played more music on their accordians and tin whistles, including a plaintive ‘Mo Ghile Mear’.
Mr Puttnam was then shown the roll book featuring Collins’s name, as Ms O’Sullivan remarked how well he had performed in his time in Lisavaird. Former principal Pat French picked up the theme as he spoke to the children and welcomed Mr Puttnam, claiming no other school in the locality had such a claim on helping to make Collins the man he was. “Michael would encourage our pupils to do their best, rather than be the best,” he said.
Mr Puttnam recalled how when he spoke at the Béal na Bláth commemoration nine years ago, the first non-Irishman to do so, he had never felt more nervous. The 75-year-old paid tribute to murdered Labour MP Jo Cox and outlined his own depth of feeling for Collins, saying later that he was a “constructive modern politician” who sought solutions, who was always there in his life, “not so much as an inspiration, but as an idea”.
He said that following his moment at Béal na Bláth, “I felt accepted, I felt I wasn’t a blow-in any more”.
The beautiful tapestry was duly unveiled, showing the path of Collins’s life and also the beauty of Yeats’s words: “I walk through the long schoolroom questioning”, from ‘Among School Children’. “And walk among long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done, The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun” from ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’.
Just as the old log book featuring the name of Michael Collins sits in a glass case in the hallway, so the latest addition to the school’s history will be mounted on the wall and gazed upon by future generations. Ms O’Sullivan said as part of the school’s fundraising efforts it will also produce postcards featuring the tapestry. It seems Yeats was onto something when he wrote the lines “I made my song a coat covered in embroideries”.
Puttnam had words of his own for the children which have a ring of poetry about them: “Feel special, have a dream, and stay with it.”
Surely Collins would have approved.