Radio and TV host, newspaper columnist, poet, short story author, writing trainer, festival and concert host – there is hardly an area of artistic endeavor the friendly 62-year-old won’t venture into.
Most known for his media accomplishments over the decades, Galligan admits falling into that particular world quite by accident. “I was never interested in media as such. I loved poetry and short stories and was tutoring a creative writing class in the University of Ulster in Coleraine after graduating with a degree in English Literature when a Derry girl, Myra Dryden, a student of mine, said to a BBC Radio Foyle producer: "I know a guy from Donegal you should consider for a slot on 'Thought for the Day.' I owe Myra so much.”
The door having opened, the affable Galligan promptly walked straight in. “After doing a few thoughts for the day, I was asked to present an arts programme called 'Break-a-Leg.' I loved it. Within a year, BBC Radio Ulster came calling and I co-presented 'Frankly Anne-Marie' with Anne Marie McAleese. Almost 25 years on, I met her in Radio Foyle recently and it was wonderful to touch base again. Finally, I presented my own morning programme on Foyle and I now present for Highland Radio and for Irish TV.”
Frank interviewing 'The Three (Donegal) Degrees' at annual Robbie Burns night
Through sheer hard work and determination, many accolades have followed. Among those he is most proud of: “Getting a nomination for my documentary on songwriter, Mick Hanly, and being part of the BBC Sony award-winning ‘Station of the Year’ in 2000. Awards aside, my six-part radio series, 'The Other Foot' on Radio Ulster with former Rev. Ian preacher, James McClelland, was a personal highlight. I took him to Oideas Gael, (a Donegal Irish language project) and he brought me to Orange House and elsewhere as we explored each other's heritage.”
Galligan remembers clearly the seeds for his love of creative writing. They were both poignant and deeply personal. “I was home for my first Christmas holidays in 1966 from boarding school. I was twelve, my brother Tom who was 10, died on January 4th. A few days later, I was back at school, totally bereft and bewildered. I started writing to make sense of it all.”
The tragedy and confusion of that time remains as yet unresolved, “Every time I think I'm almost there...the goalposts move,” he admits.
Though many years have passed since those dark days, Galligan is still intrigued by what he terms “the child’s voice,” explaining simply, “I know how dreadful it is to not be heard.”
A long-time creative writing facilitator with The Pushkin Trust and a former N.I. Chairman of the UK National Year of Reading, Galligan’s publications include a collection of short stories – ‘Out of The Blue,’ and poems – ‘A Strong Weakness.’
Like all avid readers, Galligan has his favourite books. ‘The Valley of the Squinting Windows’ by Brinsley McNamara. “When I was 12 or 13, I thought, "My God, is the real Ireland really like this?”
‘Doctor Zhivago’ by Boris Pasternak. “I got a first at the University of Ulster in Coleraine for my in-depth analysis of it. The examining professor said I was the only student who had explored the poems at the end of the novel...hence the good mark. It pays to be Jesuitical!”
‘The Bend for Home’ is by his favorite writer, fellow Irishman, Dermot Healy. “I laughed, I cried, I shouted 'Yahoo!' My late father was from Cavan and Healy got the Breffni psychology in spades.”
As for Healy himself. “Searingly honest, funny, a writer's writer. I launched the book for him in Cootehill and met some of his family who take up so much of the narrative. I couldn't face his funeral...I want to think of him as alive and Cavan kicking.”
After being told ‘Irish Writing Retreat’ had learned ‘from a deep throat’ that he has a fine singing voice, Galligan replied light-heartedly, “Sources? God, are there whistle-blowers for the chanters as well?”
The tall, friendly man, who calls Derry his city but Donegal his county, won the ballad competition at ‘Listowel Writers Week’ forty years ago with a song he himself wrote commemorating the great ‘Prince of Donegal fiddle players,’ Johnny Doherty. “I met the legendary writer Bryan McMahon on the street afterwards as I clutched my award and cheque,” he recalls fondly. “Aha,” says he, “I see the prize is going north of the Black Pig's Dyke. I sang it for John B. Keane the following day.”
Galligan also has a deep and abiding interest in music, particularly bluegrass and has hosted a number of festivals. “My mother's people, the Byrnes, were all musicians, so I grew up with a love of the fiddle. One of the biggest influences on bluegrass music was the Donegal/Scottish fiddle style. The great Ricky Skaggs loves the old Johnny Doherty recordings. For ten years, I helped organise the ‘Bluegrass on the Walls’ festival in Derry and I've MC'd most of the annual Appalachian and Bluegrass Music Festivals in the Ulster- American Folk Park in Omagh. We celebrate 25 years this September.”
He has also been imvolved with the Johnny Keenan International Banjo Festival in Longford.
Not one to stay still for long, aside from being excited to meet international visitors at this month’s ‘Ireland Writing Retreat,’ Galligan is also looking forward to an upcoming project in Belfast. Entitled, “Me, Myself and I,’ it is organised under the auspices of Poetry Ireland and has a decidedly anti-sectarian theme. He is also finishing a number of projects ‘as Gaeilge.’ “Considering I hated the language when it was a compulsory school subject many decades ago, I've embraced it wholeheartedly again and I'm no longer apologetic about speaking it imperfectly,” he said. “Purists destroy everything.”