In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of The Bovedy Meteorite falling in Northern Ireland on Friday 25th April 1969, Artist Noel Connor has compiled some thoughts and reflections on his experience with Bovedy.
The sky always seemed low over our street in Andersonstown, with the Black Mountain looming behind the housing estate, seeming to draw down the sky. And on top of the dark silhouette, the television mast, it’s flashing light a constant presence above my childhood. My friends and I played football in the street constantly. I remember watching my first few live football matches on television and being shocked that they stopped after ninety minutes. Why would you stop?
But playing in the street on Friday evenings was difficult as it was always especially busy then. At the end of the week the wages were in and everyone arrived in cars and vans and trucks to collect their money. Seamus the bread man in his Barny Hughes van, Tommy the milkman with his terrific leather satchel full of loose change slung over his shoulder, and not one insurance man but two, wearing suits and all sweetness and light. Our grocery order would arrive all the way from McAlea’s shop on Divis Street, the Mikado biscuits always lying tantalizingly on top. As many people were going out as coming in, with older brothers and sisters all dressed up, heading downtown for the start of the weekend.
So that evening my mates and I took our football down to ‘the Ring’, Koram Ring, a sort of muddy roundabout where our street ended and converged with three other streets. It was a perfect circle of baldy grass, criss-crossed by paths which people used as a shortcuts from street to street.
At times, every kid on the street would be there, the McMahon’s, McCann’s, Gilmore’s, Murphy’s,
Bannan’s, Allen’s, Casey’s, and me, always me.
Not long after we had started playing, the ‘Bovedy’ blazed low across the sky above our heads; at that stage a magnificent fireball floodlighting a group of amazed kids. We all stood transfixed, watching it disappear off behind the mountain, having no idea what had just occurred. Back at home, I discovered that no one else had witnessed the event, and over the subsequent days and weeks it was forgotten about. Indeed, recalling the event in much later years, I could find no family member, friend or neighbour who could remember anything of the evening, it was almost as if the subsequent years of violence and political unrest had brutally erased the memory. I almost began to believe that I had created some sort of false memory.
But as an visual artist it was too profound an image to be ignored and many years later my research eventually led me to the Armagh Planetarium. Not only did they confirm the event and times and dates, but the actual meteorite which had come to ground on farmland at Bovedy, had been loaned to their collection. I was invited to visit and had the extraordinary privilege of holding the mysterious object which had fire-balled across my childhood sky in 1969. Anyone from my generation will recognise the significance of that year in Northern Ireland, and I have come to regard that event as symbolising an end to the innocence of my childhood. At that point I had begun to take an interest in art, and had travelled into Belfast with my pocket money, especially to buy my first proper set of paints, from the Educational Supply Store, in Fountain Lane. I can imagine that my precious paint box was sitting open on my bedroom windowsill where I kept it and would have been lit up by the passing meteorite. In many ways that image lit the fuse on the work I have produced for this whole project.
Having the opportunity to work with the original copy of my old school register, which was completed on that day, has also provided a terrific stimulus for the work. Those ink crosses, made by our teacher, registered my ‘presence’ and that of all my friends as the Bovedy crossed the Universe towards us. I captured each tiny mark using micro-photography, and then projected them across the surface of the meteorite, photographing the results. These previously insignificant and long forgotten trails of ink were transported and transcribed across fifty years of space and time, to create wonderful visual and poetic illuminations.
The project provided such a variety of stimulus, that I needed an outcome which could combine image, poetry and sound, and I began experimenting with film and audio recordings.
I will be forever grateful to my friend Davy McBride, who was able to work with a class of boys at our old school, now La Salle College, recording them responding to the original class register of 25th April 1969. That recording became the spine of ‘The Bovedy Illuminations’, the short film I’ve produced for the exhibition.
I also wanted a poetic narrative to run throughout the film, at times in two voices, allowing me a dialogue with my fourteen-year-old self. To my amazement I discovered that Nathan Quinn O’Rawe, a current pupil at the school had previously won the prestigious ‘Poetry Aloud’ Award, a national competition to find the best young reader of poetry in Ireland. Throughout the film, Nathan speaks as my younger self. Again I am indebted to Davy for recording us both at the school.
Without a doubt, this project would not have come to fruition without the support of Professor Michael Burton and his colleagues at the Planetarium, and I can’t thank them enough. Having the opportunity to present a complementary exhibition of my photoworks and poetry at the Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre enabled me to further develop my response to the project, and I’m grateful to Christine Donnelly for her help and support there.
Noel’s inspiration for this work, The Bovedy, is on display at Armagh Planetarium along with some images of Noel’s artwork. More of Noel’s work can be found at noelconnor.com
An Evening with Bovedy will take place at Armagh Planetarium and Observatory on the 25th April starting at 7pm. Please visit armagh.ac.uk for further information.