As someone who treasures the vibrant arts culture Northern Ireland now enjoys (it was one of my main motivations in starting this blog in the first place), I wanted to write a tribute to Mike Moloney, who died following a tragic accident at his home on 20th April 2013. Mike was from Australia, but moved to Northern Ireland in the eighties, co-founding Belfast Community Circus with Donal McKendry in 1985, a wonderful institution which thrives to this day; teaching, entertaining and inspiring.
Between 1992 and 1997 he worked in Northern Ireland prisons as a drama specialist, joining the Prison Arts Foundation in '97 as a development officer and becoming the organisation's director in 2005, a post he held until his death.
That is a very potted history. I did not know Mike personally, but through my good friend Colleen Eardley, a burlesque and circus performer, and the many wonderful friends and performers I have met through her, I knew who he was, how loved he was and how important he was.
Or at least I thought I did. The sheer volume of tributes following his untimely death is overwhelming, never mind the heartfelt, heartbreaking, heartbroken content.
Nuala McKeever, Mike's partner, set up a tribute site in the days following his death, knowing that there was an entire community of people, both here and in Australia, that would need somewhere to come together and share their memories and pain.
For what it's worth, having spoken to Col and other members of Mike's circus family, I feel my life will be the poorer for never having known him. Those who did, tell me of a man whose most striking quality was that he saw potential, creativity, goodness, something worthwhile, if not downright beautiful, in everyone he met.
Whoever you were, whatever you had within you to give, no matter how chewed up, broken down or well hidden it was - stand in Mike's light for long enough and he would find the best in you and help you make the most of it.
It is only right that the words of those who knew him speak about him now that he isn't here.
You can visit www.mikemoloney.net and share any pictures, videos, memories, tributes you wish to.
I will give the final words to Colleen.
"I first met Mike many years ago when I was a student studying Performing Arts in Belfast. On the first day, you met all of the tutors and each tutor told you a bit about their subject and you got to choose.
Mike steps forward and explains Arts in the Community and I was hooked - that was the subject for me. From Taiko drumming to circus skills it was the only subject - not only that I didn't miss but was early for!
Mike also gave me my first gig (and many more after that) and was always on hand to offer advice.
What can I say about Mike that hasn't already been said? Thanks to Mike, I found the type of performing that I love (I was never going to be a great actress), met lifelong friends, was introduced to cabaret, and above all, got confidence in myself.
He was a gent. I owe a lot to Mike. It's hard to imagine Belfast without him.
RIP Mike, you are missed and thank you..."