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Manchester Vigil: Choose Love

In the immediate aftermath of the most tragic event in Britain’s recent history, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority announced, “There will be a vigil tonight [Tuesday 23 May] at 6pm outside the Town Hall in Albert Square, Manchester, to remember the victims of the attack on Manchester Arena and show support to their families. Please attend if you can and show those that wish to frighten us that we are not scared.”

The response was incredible.

Thousands of people from all manner of different communities packed into the square to pay their respects, bearing flowers and ‘I Heart MCR’ placards, and to listen to some of the city’s leading figures speak. Lord mayor Eddy Newman praised the emergency services and bishop David Walker embraced all victims, proclaiming “whether they were local people or from farther away, from now on they are Manchester too.” The huge Manchester Tattoo Appeal which sprung up in the days following the vigil seems drawn from the same mentality, with people across Britain and indeed the world – some with no direct connection to Manchester – having the city’s worker bee symbol tattooed onto them in a display of solidarity and defiance.

Manchester’s newly elected mayor, Andy Burnham, was also present at the vigil, along with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. But for many watching, either from the square or on TV, the most significant appearance will no doubt have been that of the local working class poet, Tony Walsh, also known as Longfella, who delivered a highly emotional rendition of his poem, ‘This is the Place’, originally commissioned in 2013 for the Forever Manchester project.

A stirring piece which describes the significance of Manchester’s history, culture and unique personality and the strong nature of its people, particularly in the face of horrible events such as those of the Manchester Arena bombing, few hearing the reading will have been left unaffected. On being the home of the first railway station, the poem injects a slice of humour, stating, “So we’re sorry, bear with us – we invented commuters / But we hope you forgive us – we invented computers,” while an aside that Walsh’s deceased mother was passionate about the area in which she lived and died was a sobering personal touch.

Easily the most emotionally charged moment was the reading of the line, “This is the place where a Manchester girl, name of Emmeline Pankhurst from the streets of Moss Side / Led a suffragette city with sisterhood pride.” Interrupted by deafening cheers and applause, Walsh looked almost overwhelmed by the reaction. The fact that reference to the fighting spirit of the city triggered a response greater than that of mentions of the city’s wealth of musical and sporting achievements is clear evidence that everything everyone is saying about the strength and unity of this great northern powerhouse is true.

It has to be expected that ‘This is the Place’ will go down in history alongside Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘Masque of Anarchy’, which deals with the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.

As the vigil ended and those present on Albert Square began to return to their lives in the city and beyond, queues of more people filed in with flowers and heartfelt written messages for the dead, the injured and their families. The turnout, considering the short notice, was absolutely incredible and far beyond all expectation. That crowd from cultures and communities with no limit to their diversity, who felt that they were as one, serves as a touching reminder that Manchester is a beautiful city of strength and acceptance.

“Always remember / Never forget / Forever Manchester / Choose love.”

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