March 21: I’ll miss EJ, but it was a privilege to know him

John Liddy pays tribute to the late EJ Peters, artist, seen here showing one of his paintings at the Chopin Exhibition presented by the Irish Polish Business Association at the Strand Hotel. Picture Brendan Gleeson
On my summer trips to Limerick, the first available Saturday, I would always make my way to the market and, as Pasternak once wrote, “find the people good”. One such good man I always sought out was the artist and friend EJ Peters. He was to be found in the Outback of Nancy Blake’s hostelry with an assortment of foreign cigarettes in a silver case on the table where he sat, along with Brian MacMahon and Co. We would chat for a while and go our separate ways only to meet up again in Tom Collins’ and talk some more before EJ made a beeline for the six o clock bus to Tipperary Town.

On my summer trips to Limerick, the first available Saturday, I would always make my way to the market and, as Pasternak once wrote, “find the people good”. One such good man I always sought out was the artist and friend EJ Peters. He was to be found in the Outback of Nancy Blake’s hostelry with an assortment of foreign cigarettes in a silver case on the table where he sat, along with Brian MacMahon and Co. We would chat for a while and go our separate ways only to meet up again in Tom Collins’ and talk some more before EJ made a beeline for the six o clock bus to Tipperary Town.

The talk would roam around the Irish music scene and I would always ask him about his brother Red’s version of Mná na hEireann, which he promised me a copy of way back in the old days when I rented rooms above Clunes tobacco shop, now a bank, I think. Denials and jokes mixed easily and we would move on to exhibitions and mutual acquaintances and old manuscripts.

I remember the way his eyes shone at the mention of a book The Secret Languages of Ireland by R.A.S. MacAlister – given to me by a friend for my birthday – a work he was familiar with because it dealt with Ogham, Hisperic, Bearlaghair na Saor, Bog-Latin and Cryptography with special reference to the origin and nature of the Shelta language. That was the subject of our conversation in Collins’ last July.

His knowledge of and love for language, particularly Irish and Dutch, was extensive and his great gift was his ability to make letters beautiful. One such masterpiece can be found in the pages of issue 7 of The Stony Thursday Book (1978), dedicated to the work of Kate O’Brien. Other works he selflessly produced for me were his illustrations for Song of the Empty Cage (Lapwing Publications, Belfast, 1997). They hang forlornly, as I write this appreciation, on a wall in my apartment in Madrid.

EJ was, as his friend Noel Molloy, the performance artist, so elegantly stated, a great artist, a master of print, calligraphy, painting and curating, a friend whom I consider a brother.

I echo that sentiment and know that I will miss his presence when next I roam around the market in Limerick or sit in the Outback beside an empty chair. But I will also raise a glass in his honour and give thanks that I was privileged to know such a talented artist and good man. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dilis.

JOHN LIDDY

MADRID, SPAIN