On September 11, 2003, The Impartial Reporter published an interview with Michael Softley by Rodney Edwards as he reflected on his life. Following Mr. Softley's death last week, aged 77, here is that interview as it first appeared in full.

Poet, writer, eccentric, Michael Softley dares to be different

He's an unusual looking character, and those who see Michael Softley around Enniskillen certainly regard him as unorthodox, eccentric even.

But spend time talking to him and you'll find he is an interesting, diverse and warm man.

Born in County Essex, England, 60 years ago, Michael is the son of Frederick and Mary who was originally from County Cork.

“My father was a mechanical engineer, while my mother came from a small Irish farming background,” he said, continuing: “I can recall being on the farm once as a child and you wouldn't eat apple pie without going outside and taking the fresh thick cream off the urn that was going to the dairy. It wouldn't be a thimble full either, it would be a big scoop, so it was a small farm but they did live well,” he laughs.

“My mother had a variety of jobs, one of them was as a nurse, once she had moved to England where she later bore me and nursed me through some appalling periods of ill health whilst still a small child.” She also worked for the family of the well known suffragettes Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst as an office assistant.

His mother's contacts enabled Michael to start his own stamp collection.

“The Pankhursts would get letters from all the important people in the world, including one from the Emperor of Ethiopia.

“So I had this immense stamp collection and I was really proud of it. But as I got older I got less interested in my stamp collection and more interested in bottles of Coca Cola in the school tuck shop at lunchtime.

“One of the boys managed to wheedle my stamp collection out of me because I wanted a bottle of Coca Cola with my dinner,” he laughs.

If anyone knows about getting stick, this is the man. It's no surprise that when people see that famous Father Christmas type figure cycling on his bike or hear a bit of that English accent they immediately paint a quite negative picture of him, but why?

“That's their opinion really, it's the way they think. I also have no record whatsoever of causing trouble,” he says.

“I tend to not get involved in social gatherings, I prefer to leave people alone to get on with their business and I'll get on with mine. I live my life in a world of science. I've great admiration for Albert Einstein,” he says.

But what makes Michael stand out more from a crowd than his quite unique appearance is his strong belief in principles.

“I don't like people making money out of what I do which is why I've avoided having a proper career. I don't generally like he police, but I'm not against law and order and I certainly don't like the recent war in Iraq.

“I feel that the war is about oil and money, nothing else. I also cannot tolerate fascists. America is fast becoming a fascist state with a small minded fascist puppet in charge.”

He even suggested a theory that the Americans carried out the September 11 atrocity themselves.

Michael is the kind of man who likes to speak his mind.

“I cycle a bike because I can't afford the taxes for a car; but if I could afford them then I still wouldn't drive for a variety of other reasons,” he explains.

“Michael was in the music business for many years and recorded many long playing records.

“I decided to get involved in it because I wrote a song as a child, which later was stolen from me by someone. It was then recorded without my permission and that person issued a contract for me to sign as if I had already issued them permission before they recorded it.

“I didn't really know much about it so I went along with it until I realised what I was going was illegal. I then refused to go along with it any further which brings me back to my principles.”

When asked what his average IQ is Michael laughs and says: “Not that much different from a tree.”

As a child Michael grew up in South Woodford where he attended the Infant Junior Primary School before going on to college in Tottenham.

He first came to Fermanagh in 1983 after playing in Belfast's folk festival where he performed songs and poetry at the Group Theatre.

“It was well received. I was quite enthusiastic about it and people were so friendly. I mean, they had never seen me before and I would just walk down the street and they'd say hello. But you could live next door to someone in England for 20 years and they wouldn't even open their mouth.

Having to live like that proved difficult for Michael.

He decided that he couldn't possibly stay in England. So in 1984 he moved to Fermanagh in search of harmony and a bit of that 'gracious' atmosphere.

“I was living with the travelling community at that time and as it happens, the county court where I was living in England took an injunction against us living in the lanes and by-ways. We were told to leave, so rather that move on with the rest of them, I decided to move to Fermanagh.”

Michael's first home was in Tempo.

“Well it was someone's farm. I was allowed to park on it for a while. It was a friend of mine who I'd known from many years before then they (she and her husband) sold it and I moved to the Redoubt up on the hill in Enniskillen and when it, in its own turn, was sold on, I moved to where I am now.”

Now living in Ferney Rise, Michael takes great pride in gardening and it plays a big part in his day to day routine.

Hardly a day goes by without him pottering about in the soil one way or another.

Last year he decided to take on the difficult task of digging up the roots of his own family tree and finding out information on his late grandfather.

“My grandfather was a missionary for the London City Mission and he lived during the latter part of Queen Victoria's reign in Norfolk before moving to East London.

“I sent a letter to the people at the missionary society that he worked for requesting more information on him, as everyone else was dead.

“When you get as old as me and you realise you're coming to the end of a line you want to make sure everyone remaining in your immediate family knows about their ancestors because you can't exactly relay much information when you're dead, now can you?” he says.

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks but this old dog could surprise us all.

“I've got four computers. I do a lot of work on them each day. Typing, writing poems and stories, etc. They are a big part of my daily routine,” he says.

Michael likes to describe himself as a person with deep consideration, very effective and tenacious.

As I finish the interview the expression 'don't judge a book by its cover' comes to mind. Michael is one of a kind, he dares to be different.