‘Arts a reflection of who we are in the future’: Adrian Dunbar

‘Arts a reflection of who we are in the future’: Adrian Dunbar
10 May 2023

Patrons of the Linen Hall Library and fans of actor Adrian Dunbar alike filled the Great Hall of Belfast City Hall for An Evening with Adrian Dunbar, a fundraising event benefiting the Linen Hall Library. With comedian Tim McGarry acting as compère, the evening featured a conversation with Dunbar and BBC Broadcast Journalist Tara Mills, and music by cellist Neil Martin. Guests purchased ballots for a giveaway of items donated from various local businesses with all proceeds going to support the Linen Hall Library. 

Tim McGARRY, Tara MILLS, John KYLE, Adrian DUNBAR, and Neil MARTIN. An evening with Adrian Dunbar: a fundraising event for the Linen Hall Library. City Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Image used by license by Linen Hall Library.

High Sheriff Councillor John Kyle began the evening with a welcome address, touting the Linen Hall Library as a “living archive” and an “inclusive space”. McGarry then treated the audience to some comedy, making jokes about grammar, election posters, and politics. An honorary member of the Linen Hall Library, the comedian referenced a quote by Norman Cousins: “A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas.” McGarry affirmed, “That, ladies and gentleman, is why I support the Linen Hall Library.”

Dunbar and Mills were welcomed to the stage for a conversation. The pair began by discussing Dunbar’s experience on the BBC’s Line of Duty before transitioning to talking about Belfast. He shared the pride he felt in sharing the city with his co-stars and recalled the persistence of the arts throughout the Troubles. “I often talk about the great civilising effect the arts had in Northern Ireland during that time. They just kept going,” the Enniskillen native reflected. 

When Mills asked if the storytelling from Northern Ireland came out of the struggles of difficult times, Dunbar agreed but also noted, “You don’t need to suffer to be creative.” He reminded the audience of the legacy of Belfast as being one of the three great republic cities in the world during the 1770s, along with Paris and Washington, DC. Dunbar emphasised Belfast’s history as a place that celebrated independence, new ideas, and innovation, of which, he commented, the Linen Hall Library was a part. 

Dunbar went on to discuss the need for Belfast to “reinvent” itself to challenge outdated assumptions and stereotypes. He argued the importance of remembering the past, to recall the aspects of Belfast’s history that are often overlooked. Dunbar lauded the historic principles held by Belfast — such as resisting the slave trade — that influenced the United States. “The Linen Hall was a repository of all that,” the actor stated. 

Mills and Dunbar paused their conversation for an interlude featuring cellist Neil Martin. Playing three different pieces, the musician explained the history of the music and their connection to the Linen Hall Library. 

McGarry then began the raffle to give away a variety of gifts, ranging from artwork to gift cards. A gift was also given to Dunbar in appreciation: A Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the Wee Donkey, a reference to one of his lines from Line of Duty. 

Dunbar and Mills returned to the stage to finish the conversation and the evening’s events. After briefly chatting about cop show Blue Lights, Dunbar praised the talent of actors in Northern Ireland and the well-established local film/TV industry. He called for more sustainable support of what he called “the arts on the ground”, which includes local theatres, operas, singers, and actors. Dunbar cited the large reach of Northern Ireland arts. 

When Mills asked about the impending fiscal cuts to the arts, Dunbar contended that it is often the “beautiful” things that are preserved and remembered of a society. “Those are the things that we will be remembered by: great works of literature, Seamus Haney’s poems, Brian Friel’s plays,” he asserted. “So as a society, we have to address ourselves through the arts, completely, because they are a reflection of who we are in the future.”

Dunbar talked about the interest in Northern Ireland from mainland UK residents, his regard of the works of famed playwright Samuel Beckett, the process of getting into character for a role, and paying tribute to great local artists. He also reflected on his experience of watching a play for the first time in Ballyshannon. “That feeling of awe and wonder, you keep searching for it, don’t you,” the actor mused. 

Drawing the conversation to a close, Mills enquired what was next for Dunbar, who shared that he would be going to New York City to visit family and would be creating a new children’s film with Hollywood actor Danny DeVito. McGarry concluded the evening, offering applause and thanks to the supporters of the Linen Hall Library. 

In what will be an unforgettable night for many, Dunbar reminded patrons of the value of the arts in Northern Ireland and remembering Belfast’s rich history and legacy, so meticulously preserved and celebrated at the Linen Hall Library

Donations to the Linen Hall Library can be made here.

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