An Appreciation

Michael Morgan who died suddenly on the 27th April was
a true original fighter, thinker and campaigner. A
disability activist who touched lives and changed
lives, a journalist who wrote for a number of
community journals and papers including Disability
Now, the Andersonstown News and Fortnight. He was a
founder member of Euro-Ataxia a European network which
co-ordinates support and information for ataxians.
Michael was also an active trade unionist writing
progressive policy documents on disability for his
union the National Union of Journalists. Despite his
degree of impairment he traveled widely in Europe,
America and the Middle East. A keen photographer he
took a number of outstanding photographs which were
recently shown at an exhibition in Belfast in December
2006 at the Arts & Disability Forum – an
organization which he also helped found. He lobbied
hard for disability access to arts and arts venues and
successfully campaigned for an all‑Ireland award
scheme for disabled artists, which has just recently
celebrated ten years of productive operation.

Born in west Belfast on the 28th of January 1956 he
was educated by Christian brothers at St Mary’s
secondary school where he earned the nickname
Talleyrand after the French disabled Primeminister
and political survivor. He attended a number of
universities including Reading, Queens Belfast and
also the University of Ulster at Jordanstown (or
simply the ‘Poly’ as it was known at that time by the
students).

Graduating with First Class hons in Social Science in
1984, his thesis was on the origins and operation of
the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement. This
directly challenged the established accounts (such as
as the British Governments’ Cameron Report) and later
academic histories which took the foundation of the
Northern Civil Rights Association as the beginning of
Northern Ireland’s most recent political conflict. He
showed that NICRA (which was founded in 1967) was
preceded by a number of important community campaigns
and civil actions against the Unionist authorities
which had in fact begun as far back as 1963. When
studying at Queens University Belfast he had hoped to
take up a temporary lecture post as a way of beginning
an academic career, but this was directly blocked by
his professor on the grounds that the students would
be ‘put off’ by his disability. From this time on he
became involved in disability activism. When once
asked why he choose to do this he simply replied, ‘I
had no choice’. Arrested many times by the police and
the Army for being drunken and disorderly he was
simply not believed when he tired to explain that he
had a genetic disorder which effected his ability to
walk. This meant also that he was frequently refused
service in bars as he was thought to have already ‘had
enough’ – he had but it was of this kind of treatment.
Not surprisingly, one of his very first successful
Euro-Ataxia campaigns was to have a form of official
ID that people with ataxia could show when they were
questioned by the police.
Michael had recently been reappointed editor of the
Euro‑ataxia Newsletter to which he also contributed
many articles and was responsible for it recently
going on-line. Many fondly remember the good times
they had at Euro-ataxia events that Michael
organized on which they formed long lasting
friendships. On the evening of the 27th of April he
had been finalizing his plans for a trip to a
Disability Spa in Tenerife when he suffered a heart
attack. He will be greatly missed by close friends and
family in Belfast and his colleagues in the NUJ
Disabled Members Council and by those who knew him in
the arts and disability community.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “

  1. Brendan

    Oration

    Michael Morgan was an interesting stimulating man with a mission in life, which if it could be summed up in one word alone, it would be – Enlightenment.

    Which in Michael’s very singular case meant the words he had of course read, which ranged from Russian novels, political biography and the poems of Philip Larkin which yes he could recite the lines of. It also meant words that scrolled across the TV screen on an interesting documentary in the form of subtitles – which he used and also campaigned for successfully at the QFT so that he could share with others the experience of watching a film. It also meant as many here will know the words of the Irish Language which he spoke.

    Then there were the words that he wrote first on his electric typewriter from which he produced his outstanding academic work to gain a first class hons degree and his first news articles of which the most notable was a report written for a Swiss newspaper on the progress of the hunger strikes. That as his friends and colleagues from his chosen profession of journalism here will also be able to tell you, was to be the first of many original and thought provoking articles for the disability and community press for Fornight and the Andersonstown News and Disability Now and many others .

    Then of course there were the new virtual words that he sent out to build the Arts and Disability Forum which in turn founded an all Ireland Award Scheme for disabled artists. But his virtual words went further to England and to Europe were they would help build a European movement for people with Ataxia. Again the membership of Euro-Ataxia could testify to the quality of Michael’s humane professionalism as they established long lasting friendships at the events and trips he organized. One of which was to Belfast and the other to the holy land itself. And yes it was the one were Bethlehem and the Golan Heights are situated and not the place in Belfast where, as I can hear him say , in his usual manner – where they play hurly at three o’clock in the morning.

    But now he’s telling me very loudly that I’ve said enough and to leave on a high note which can only be like the ones he listened to – which were performed by the Rolling Stones and his favorite Irish Group Altan – and those written by Shostakovitch in the first movement of his 7th Symphony, which he also sang on many occasions after we had listened to it together. And Michael, your melody is still with us and will be sung for many many years and by many others that follow your example into the future.

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