20 March 2023

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

James Martin. James is a common name and Martin is common too, both as first and last name. I don’t know anyone by that name. I hadn’t heard of the short film ‘An Irish Goodbye’ and if someone told me that it had won the Academy Award for the Best Live Action Short Film, I probably wouldn’t have made much of it. I don’t know much about films.  And I don’t follow the Academy Awards.

Right now, though, the name is playing in my mind and I’ve told myself that I will watch the 23-minutes long ‘An Irish Goodbye,’ in which he leads as Lorcan, a young man whose mother’s passing reunites him with his estranged brother Turlough, played by Seamus O’Hara.

Before the film won this Oscar, he was working at a Starbucks outlet in Belfast and that’s where he returned to work after the event. He also works as a chef in a local restaurant, Scalini’s. The event was held, coincidentally, on his 31st birthday and the entire audience sang ‘Happy Birthday’ when he went to collect the award with co-director Tom Berkeley.  

‘I am the first person with Down Syndrome going over to America to pick up these Oscars,’ he had said earlier. The doctors had apparently told his parents when he was born that James is unlikely to speak.

I don’t know James’ story. I don’t know how he faced life’s challenges, what his parents did, what kind of medical assistance he received, who encouraged him, who walked by his side. I do know that he had reassured his father, Ivan, ‘don’t you worry, I just have a feeling we’re going to get nominated.’ All of that would no doubt be written about. All I know is that reading about James Martin took me back several years to a sports meet, an embrace and an amazing photograph.  

Nirmali Wickramasinghe was at the time the Principal of Ladies’ College, Colombo. There was a dance performance by ‘special needs children.’ It was beautifully choreographed, I remember. Afterwards, the girls went up to the Principal to receive gifts and she embraced every single child. The photo, taken by the late Ravindra Dharmatilleka, says so much about the love, caring and absolute commitment of the Principal and the school to ALL the children.

And I also remembered the most special of all races at the school’s annual sports meets, the one where special needs kids along with their friends ran an obstacle race. Children volunteered for this race and those who volunteered are extra special. No losers. All winners. And they all got the biggest cheers too.

James Martin may or may not have enjoyed the kind of love and belief all children need, I don’t know. There’s something beautiful about it all in a world that seems fixated with backing those who are assumed to have got the inside track in life’s many races.

There’s always something special about those who overcome stiffer challenges, those who achieve that which they are not expected to; they inspire, they empower.

James Martin’s story would obviously encourage countless people with Down Syndrome, their parents and friends. And not just them. Anyone and everyone seen to be somehow challenged can draw so much strength from this particular achievement. And that goes for every single person who aspires to win an Oscar or achieve something, anything, in life.

Writing about Nirmali Wickramasinghe in a piece titled ‘If no one is to be left behind…’ I observed the following: ‘It cannot be just a momentary embrace, a tear-jerker of a photograph and a nice story to write.   To make sure that no one is left behind, we have to hold things closer to the heart, one another too.  It’s as simple as that.’

James Martin has softly offered what could be called ‘An Irish Hello.’  Heard. And hello back to you, James. And thank you again, and again, Ms Nirmali Wickramasinghe. 

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart