At 16, Aoidh Barbour witnessed some of the most brutal violence on Bloody Sunday, now after years battling alcoholism, he’s found his way back, through his passion for the arts...
Aoidh (Hugh) Barbour stood under Derry’s Flyover on Thursday to have his photo taken for the Derry Journal.
The previous evening his play had been chosen from thousands of arts projects by the judges at the Epic Awards to scoop a Peer award for excellence.
It was a long way from the days, just over five years ago, when Aoidh found himself sleeping under the Flyover with a bottle in his hand.
That’s how he knows that Every Bottle Has A Story to Tell, and perhaps, why he wrote the script so powerfully.
The Creggan man says his time spent drinking on the streets of Derry taught him the true meaning of honesty. He has no time for egotism or one person taking too much credit, and first and foremost he points out that the success of the play isn’t just down to him, but to everyone who worked with him at the Foyle Haven on John Street.
“It’s not about me. It’s about us all, it’s about all the men and women who come through the Haven. What we do here, we do as a team, and there’s no room for ego,” he says.
“That was the beauty of this project, all those people got to have their voices heard.”
Aoidh’s voice is one of those. When he writes about facing his own mortality and staring death in the face, he’s speaking from first hand experience.
At sixteen, a teenager eager for adventure, he joined the fateful anti internment march in Derry in January 1972. The events of that day changed the course of his life forever. Years later, in his witness testimony to the Saville Inquiry, Aoidh recounted the graphic detail about watching the shooting dead of Barney McGuigan in front of him. He told the inquiry that the events of that day would forever be his “personal hell”. He said he had seen reality that day and that it had taken him many years to come to terms with the brutality and violence that he witnessed.
For years afterwards the events of that day made their mark on Aoidh.
In retrospect he says witnessing events as he had, made him sure that he didn’t want to be a part of any organisation which would justify doing that to another human being.
“Had I been a hundred yards up Rossville Street and not seen Barney McGuigan being shot, I would have joined the IRA,” his witness statement said.
What he saw made a young Aoidh sure that he wanted to remove himself as much as possible from the chaos and violence on the streets of his home town. Instead, he pursued a career in the arts and had built respect in local theatre circles, working at Derry’s Playhouse in the 1990s and taking huge enjoyment from working with children and young people to whom he taught circus skills. He even had plans to set up his own circus skills school.
Giving his key evidence to the inquiry had a profound impact on Aoidh. It opened up wounds that for years he had self medicated with alcohol.
Weeks after attending the hearings, his drinking quickly got out control.
He recalls painfully doing a childrens’ workshop in the Guildhall Square and enjoying his passion for his work. Within days, he was a drunk, on the streets of that same Square.
“The character, Eddie, says it in the play. You weren’t supposed to meet your own mortality at 16, and that’s what happened to me. Eddie’s story is my story. I was minutes away from ending it all.”
Aoidh, like many members of the Foyle Haven Arts Collective, had spent months sleeping rough.
“Under that Flyover is a raw and honest place to be. There’s no fakeness or politeness there. What you see is what you get. You don’t pretend there, all your faults are there for everyone to see. You can’t be a false face there.”
Those lessons picked up from the harsh experiences of sleeping rough have stayed with Aoidh and are very much a part of his approach to his work as a writer and director.
He now considers the Foyle Haven (run by De Paul Ireland) a home from home and the people there as friends for life. He thinks the Arts Collective has more important work to put out there too.
“I’m so proud of everyone at the Haven. I suppose I’m proud of myself too. There was a time I wouldn’t have taken credit but in here, they give you back a bit of the confidence that you lost. When I first came here, I thought, Hallelujah. The people who work here are saints. It’s as simple as that. It’s about harm reduction. They take people out of harm’s way in the very truest sense. They go out onto the streets at night and they make sure that people are ok.”
Recently, Aoidh has availed of counselling at the WAVE Trauma Centre. He says this too has been a great support.
“The counselling has been a massive help. That kind of support just wasn’t available to me years ago when I needed it unfortunately. But the people at WAVE do such great work.”
Now, re-emerging into the arts world with the runaway success of Every Bottle Has A Story to Tell, Hugh wants to work more with the Haven’s arts collective.
“I’m privileged to have been part of the play and the project and I think we can use it to let our young people know that they have choices. We can show them the consequences of peer pressure. Theatre lets you do that in a face to face way. That impact from a story, when you see it in front of you, is something so strong.”
Looking to the future, Aoidh has no lofty ambitions.
“I want to fulfil my potential as a person, that’s all,” he says. “I look around at my sons and my nieces and nephews and they’re all well rounded, happy balanced people. That’s what I want. If life had gone differently I might have been brought down a different path, but as everyone here in the Haven knows, really it’s all about being content. You don’t want wealth, or fame or fortune, you just want to be comfortable in your own skin.”
Limited copies of Every Bottle Has A Story To Tell are on sale at the Little Acorns Bookstore at Bedlam on Pump Street, priced £5.