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Friday Letter, 17 April 2020

Friday Letter, 17 April 2020

Dear Friends,

I hope you have had a peaceful Easter. Today, we bring you a message from Ireland’s Minister for the Diaspora, Ciarán Cannon and details of #IrelandPerforms, but first I am going to take the opportunity for a little book chat and some investigating in the case of that famous Honorary Belgian, the renowned detective, Hercule Poirot. 

Many of us seem to be enjoying detective fiction and watching reruns of nostalgic series during these times, and I have also reverted to my old friend Agatha Christie and her fictional hero, Hercule Poirot, whom I first discovered during an overnight stay at my grandad’s when I ran out of reading material. I think I was about 10 years old at the time and already a devoted reader of Enid Blyton’s mysteries and the Nancy Drew series, which I suppose I was starting to outgrow. Anyway, I was blown away by “Death on the Nile”, followed by “Murder on the Orient Express” and after that I cajoled my way into the adult crime section of the local library back home and worked my way through every Poirot I could find. 

Jan Carson, the award-winning Irish writer of The Fire Starters, who some of you may have met at literary events here last year, tells a similar tale of discovery, though she was only 8 at the time and her first read was “Death in the Clouds”. Jan is re-reading every Poirot story and novel this year and is writing her own postcard stories series in response. You can follow her year with Agatha Christie on her Instagram and Twitter accounts. 

But back to Poirot. As everyone knows, the famous detective with the little grey cells was born in Belgium, but where? Ah, that is the question, mes amis. It seems that his father was one Jules-Louis Poirot, his mother Godelieve Van Prei, that he may, or may not, have had a twin brother Achilles and possibly a younger sister, Yvette. His date of birth is also a matter of dispute, varying from 1839 to 1884.  However, if you visit, as David Suchet did, (the actor who played Poirot for over 20 years on television) the charming village of Ellezelles in the province of Hainaut, there in the City Hall you will find not just a statue of the charming little man but also his birth certificate dated 1 April, 1850. The hamlet of Balmoral, in the Ardennes, near the town of Spa in Wallonia might choose to disagree, however, as they also lay claim to the birthplace of the famous detective. 

What is not in doubt is that he was evacuated to England in the Spring of 1916, 104 years ago, and a time also of pivotal significance in Irish history. By July of 1916, he had become reacquainted with his old friend, Captain Hastings, and was solving his first crime outside Belgium – The Mysterious Affair at Styles. 

Poirot featured in 33 novels and 56 short stories before he faced the final curtain, literally, in Curtain – Poirot’s Last Case, published in 1974, just four years before his creator passed away herself, though it was later revealed that she had written the story of his demise around 30 years earlier, when she was especially annoyed with him, but placed it in a safe. 

In a final twist to the mystery, it seems that Hercule Poirot, rather than being an inspired figment of the imagination, may have been directly inspired by a real Belgian evacuee and retired detective, a Monsieur Jacques Hornais, who Agatha Christie may have met during the first word war when she hosted a piano concert in support of the local evacuees in her home town of Torquay.

If all this has whetted your appetite, you might like to read the short story The Chocolate Box, which is partly set in Belgium and to watch the TV version of the same name which was filmed here and includes wonderful art deco settings, as well as famous locations such as Antwerp train station, the Metropole Hotel, the Urban Transport Museum, the Palais de Justice, Parc du Cinquentenaire, the Grand Place, Mokafe restaurant in the Galeries Royales St Hubert and the unchanged interior of the Pharmacie Botanique/Pharmarais. You could also keep an eye out to see if it remains possible to purchase the chocolate box in question – by St Alard, Maitre Chocolatier, Bruxelles. But if not, never fear, like Poirot himself, there are many more delicious versions to enjoy!

Happy hunting mes amis!
Helena

Email version of this bulletin.


A message from Minister for the Diaspora Ciarán Cannon T.D.

As Minister for the Diaspora, I am particularly conscious of the many Irish communities around the world that are being affected by the COVID-19 crisis. While the Government is working to assist thousands of Irish citizens stranded abroad to return to Ireland, I am conscious that many more of the Global Irish are already at home and facing the serious challenges posed by this global pandemic. I want to assure you that although you are abroad, you still are in our thoughts as we collectively fight against this pandemic.

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#IrelandPerforms

The COVID-19 crisis has rapidly changed how artists present their work and reach audiences.  As artists have largely turned to online presentation, Facebook Ireland with Culture Ireland, Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht have come together to support and present live presentations by Irish artists to ensure that the arts continue to be enjoyed online with #IrelandPerforms.

#IrelandPerforms line-up

The events are all streamed through the artist’s social media channels and will also be carried on Culture Ireland’s Facebook page


#ShineYourLight

The Shine Your Light initiative, in partnership with RTE, took place on Easter Saturday as part of the COVID-19 community call. The initiative was an expression of solidarity and collective hope for the future, in recognition of the unprecedented times in which we are living. 

Thank you to all the Irish diaspora in Belgium for shining your light in support of those impacted by the coronavirus. 

COVID-19 Useful Resources

An extension to measures currently in place in Belgium to limit the spread of coronvirus will now remain in place up to and including 3 May.

Details of the announcement are available on Belgium.be

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