Michael Longley, poet, educator, and promoter of the arts, received the highest honor that one can receive from the Belfast City Council on March 23, 2015. The Freedom of the City title, much like the Key to the City awards given in American cities, is, according to Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon: “the city’s formal expression of the high regard, esteem, and affection in which our citizens universally hold an individual who has made an outstanding positive contribution to our city and its reputation,” and in Longley’s case:
“It is also Belfast’s greatest way of saying thank you to Michael, a citizen of such creativity, compassion, and unassuming grace.”
Amongst the distinguished figures who paid tribute to Longley at the ceremony, poets Frank Ormsby and Irish President Michael D. Higgins expressed admiration for Longley’s cultural and literary contributions. Higgins was keen to note that Longley, “so often in the vanguard,” had a less obvious but not insignificant influence in creating the social context for the Belfast Agreement.
“Even in the darkest days,” Higgins said, Longley and other artists “kept up an unbroken conversation, a common commitment to the humane and the decent, a common belief in the constructive and salvific power of the imagination as a human good.”
Amongst Longley’s manifold works are elegiac poems that confront the memory of the Troubles. Longley, who served on the city’s arts council for many years, also took the opportunity to remind
legislators of the importance of funding the arts and stressed that:
“Without the beautiful things, our society will die.” ♦