Sean Hollywood Arts Centre: Memorial To All-Rounder

THE OFFICIAL renaming of the Newry Arts Centre in honour of the late Sean Hollywood is a fitting memorial to a multi-talented personality, including a promoter of the arts, who died at the early age of 54, ten years ago.

President Mary McAleese, in a tribute read at the Requiem Mass in Newry Cathedral, - attended by SDLP leader and deputy leader, John Hume and Seamus Mallon, as well as representatives from the world of sport, education and drama, - described Sean as “a rare phenomenon, but a great witness.

“He loved his community and his country, basing his life on service to others. An example of all that is good, he sacrificed himself to bring out the best in young people,” the President added

Civil rights leader, all-round sportsman, award-winning actor and producer, teacher and politician, this modest yet genial personality displayed zest, courage, commitment and humour in every aspect of an amazing life.

Though the sideboard in his home at High Street sagged with trophies, Sean Hollywood possessed no scrapbook, which would record his major achievements in politics, hurling and football, or on the stage, especially the unique double as “Best Actor” and “Best Producer” at Ulster and All-Ireland Drama Festivals. Nor were there any photographs of such protoges as film and TV stars like John and Susan Lynch, etc.

Missing were any Press cuttings relating to that massive civil rights march, which he masterminded in the frontier town after Bloody Sunday. Sean, Rory McShane and Co. took a gigantic gamble, which shook the Northern Ireland State to its foundations, when a powerful, peaceful rejection of Stormont’s security policy led to the downfall of Unionist rule.

Despite a modest demeanour and engaging manner, Sean displayed courage and true grit, challenging rules and restrictions, confronting authority in the pursuit of principle. As a young teacher at St Colman’s College, he organised a demonstration against the visit by Secretary of State, Willie Whitelaw, to the Violet Hill campus. He was prepared to sacrifice his career for the cause. Later, Sean was appointed Head of English and Drama at the college.

But while the young campaigner had led many protest marches against the security forces, in support of civil rights and against detention without trial, as an S.D.L.P. councillor he was later prepared to disregard party policy, sitting on Newry and Mourne Council’s Security Committee, alongside R.U.C. and British Army chiefs.

In the field of sport, Sean had been player and manager of Newry Shamrocks, Down and Ulster hurling squads, as well as chairman and long-time secretary of Shamrocks G.A.C. He first played hurling for Clan Uladh, along with Noel Campbell, John McGivern, Sean McAteer and Dennis Ward, when they won the All-county Junior and Intermediate Championships.

Later, along with Benny McKay, Mickey Keenan and Freddie Kearns, they were the corner-stone, when Newry Shamrocks hurling club was launched. Players like Mickey Brown, Tony Carr and youthful hurlers such as Peter Donaghy, Aidan Daly and Liam O’Flaherty learned the craft at the feet of the master.

As chairman of Shamrocks GAC, Daniel Baxenden stated: “Sean’s name and unique blend of genius, sportsmanship and razor-sharp wit, coupled with elegance, will live after him. He taught us that life is a beautiful and precious gift, and should be lived to the full. He lived life with courtesy and respect for others, and encouraged us all to do the same.”

That versatile sportsman had ignored the GAA Ban on “foreign games,” playing soccer for Newry Bosco. In fact, he was in rivalry with my brother, Larry, for the title of leading goal-scorer in the Carnbane League, - while representing Down in hurling at Croke Park!

Educated at the Abbey C.B.S., young Hollywood graduated from Queen’s University, along with future civil rights leaders like Bernadette Devlin, Eamonn McCann, Michael Farrell and Kevin Boyle from Newry, later Professor of Criminal Law at Queens and University College, Galway.

His first taste of politics came when invited by Paddy O’Hanlon to join his election campaign for the South Armagh seat at Stormont. Sean had marked the bearded U.C.D. student from Mullabawn in an under-21 Ulster Championship game, and they became friends.

A born leader, articulate, charismatic, and a skilful organiser with a self-deprecating sense of humour, Sean Hollywood was catapulted into the leadership of the local civil rights movement. And with the imposition of Internment, he was deeply involved in campaigns such as street protests and marches, as well as the rents ands rates strike.

When British paratroopers opened fire on the demonstrators in Derry on Bloody Sunday, the young Newryman was forced to crawl under the stage along with Paddy Devlin, caught up in the carnage.

A civil rights march had been scheduled for Newry on the following Sunday, but enormous pressure was exerted on the local organisers. British Prime Minister, Ted Heath, who imposed a ban, publicly urged Cardinal Conway to call for the march to be abandoned, fearing a repeat of the previous Sunday. But the All-Ireland Primate rejected the appeal.

Sean Hollywood and his committee dug in their heels. He stated: “I was determined that the march would go ahead, despite being banned; and we took steps to ensure that there would be no trouble.” A battalion of burly stewards was recruited to control the crowds, with strict orders to stamp out any disturbance. Everybody was given their orders at a meeting in the Shamrocks Hall in Boat Street.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008