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Some Literary Legends

From the creators of childhood heroes to Nobel Prize Winning Poets, Northern Ireland has a rich and varied literary heritage. Take some time to learn a little more about our literary heroes and the place that inspired them.

  • Seamus Heaney

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    Seamus Heaney (1939 - 2013) was arguably Northern Ireland’s most famous son and one of the world's greatest poets of modern times.

    • He started his career as a teacher but soon returned to Queen's to lecture and it was at this time that he became associated with the Belfast Group of young writers.
    • His first collection, Death of a Naturalist (1966) immediately established his reputation as a poet.
    • His second collection Door into the Dark was published in 1969 and after which he spent a year as visiting professor at the University of California, Berkley.
    • In 1972, he moved to Wicklow where he worked as a freelance writer and broadcaster.
    • In 1981 he became visiting professor at Harvard University and between 1989 and 1995, he was Oxford Professor of Poetry.
    • In 1995, Seamus Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his work’s “lyrical beauty and ethical depth.”
    • Heaney won several awards throughout his career and is also noted for his critical and translation work.
  • Michael Longley

    • Michael Longley was born in Belfast in 1939 to English parents.
    • He attended Royal Belfast Academical Institution and went on to study classics at Trinity College, Dublin.
    • During his time at Trinity, he became friends with a number of other young writers including Derek McMahon.
    • He initially worked as a teacher before joining the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 1970.
    • His first collection, No Continuing City was released in 1969.
    • In the 1970s, Longley released three further collections with the final The Echo Gate being released in 1979.
    • Longley did not release a further collection until Gorse Fires in 1991.
    • Gorse Fires was critically acclaimed and received the Whitbread Prize for Poetry.
    • The Weather in Japan (2000), won the Hawthornden Prize, the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Belfast Arts Award for Literature.
    • From 2007 – 2010, he held the Ireland Chair of Poetry.
  • Glenn Patterson

    • Born in Belfast in 1961, Glenn was educated at Methodist College and the University of East Anglia.
    • He remained at the University of East Anglia to complete his MA in Creative Writing under the guardianship of Angela Carter and Malcolm Bradbury.
    • In 1988, his debut novel Burning Your Own was published.
    • He has worked as a Creative Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia, and writer-in-residence at University College Cork and Queen's University Belfast where he currently teaches.
    • His novels include Fat Lad (1992), The International (1999), That Which Was (2004). Glenn is also known for his articles and journalism work including essays, Lapsed Protestant (2006) and family memoir Once Upon a Hill: Love in Troubled Times (2008).
    • In 2012, his first feature film, Good Vibrations, co-written with fellow Belfast writer Colin Carberry, debuted at the Belfast Film Festival. The film tells the story of Belfast music impresario Terri Hooley and the punk scene in Belfast in the late 70s.
    • Glenn’s latest novel, The Mill for Grinding Old People Young was released in 2012 and selected as the text for Belfast’s first One City, One Book initiative.
  • C.S. Lewis

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    Belfast-born C.S. Lewis (1898 - 1963) was one of our most famous authors, best known for his magical world of Narnia, which was inspired by the places and landscapes of his youth. 

    • Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, on 29 November 1898.
    • Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century and arguably the most influential Christian writer of his day.
    • His major contributions in literary criticism, children's literature, fantasy literature, poetry and popular theology brought him international renown and acclaim.
    • He wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience and his most distinguished and popular accomplishments include The Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet, The Four Loves, The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity.
    • In 1910, Lewis became a boarding student at Campbell College in Belfast; just one mile from his home, but withdrew one year later.
    • It is said that here Lewis got his inspiration for the lamp where Lucy first met Mr Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia.
    •  In 1913, Lewis enrolled at Malvern College where he remained for one year.
    • Lewis went on to receive a scholarship to University College, Oxford, in 1916.
    • On 20 1925, Lewis was appointed Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University, where he served for twenty-nine years until 1954. During his time at Oxford, Lewis went from being an atheist to being one of the most influential Christian writers of the 20th century; 1931 marks the year of Lewis's conversion to Christianity.
    • He became a member of the Church of England. Lewis cites his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the writings of the converted G. K. Chesterton, as influencing his conversion.
    • While at Oxford, Lewis was the core member of the now famous literary group The Inklings. This group was an informal twice-weekly gathering of friends which included Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, Charles Williams, Dr. Robert Havard, Owen Barfield, and Nevill Coghill, among others.
    • Lewis was married late in life at age fifty-eight to Joy Davidman Gresham, an American writer fifteen years his junior. They married in 1956, two years after Lewis accepted the chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge, where he finished out his career.
    • C. S. Lewis died at his home "The Kilns" on 22 November 1963. His grave is in the yard of Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry, Oxford.
    • On the 50th anniversary of his death in November 2013, CS Lewis was honoured with a memorial stone in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, London.

  • Samuel Beckett

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    • Samuel Barclay Beckett (13 April 1906 – 22 December 1989) was an Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, who lived in Paris for most of his adult life and wrote in both English and French.
    • Beckett is widely regarded as among the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is considered one of the last modernists.
    • Beckett's earliest works are generally considered to have been strongly influenced by the work of his friend James Joyce.
    • Beckett was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature "for his writing, which—in new forms for the novel and drama—in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation".
    • He was elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1984, an Irish association of artists.
    • In 1919, Beckett went to Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh (which Oscar Wilde had also attended).
    • Beckett studied French, Italian, and English at Trinity College, Dublin from 1923 to 1927 (one of his tutors was the eminent Berkeley scholar A. A. Luce). Beckett graduated with a BA, and—after teaching briefly at Campbell College in Belfast, moved to Paris.
    • The Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival is now held every year in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh where Beckett attended Portora Royal School.
  • Louis MacNeice

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    • Louis MacNeice was born in Belfast in 1907.
    • He attended Oxford, where he majored in classics and philosophy.
    • In 1930, he married Giovanna Ezra and accepted a post as classics lecturer at the University of Birmingham, a position he held until 1936.
    • MacNeice published four poems to Oxford Poetry, 1929 and his first undergraduate collection Blind Fireworks (1929).
    • Some of his best-known plays, including Christopher Columbus (1944), and The Dark Tower (1946), were originally written for radio and later published.
    • Although he chose to live the majority of his adult life in London, MacNeice frequently returned to the landscapes of his childhood, and he took great pride in his Irish heritage.
    • His poetry is characterized by its familiar, sometimes humorous tone and its integration of contemporary ideas and images. In addition to his poetry and radio dramas.
  • John Hewitt

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    • John Hewitt was born in Belfast on 28th October 1907. He was a renowned poet, art historian and collector and political activist.
    • In 1976, he was appointed first Writer-in-residence at Queen’s University and in 1983 he was made a Freeman of the City of Belfast in recognition of his profound contribution to our society.
    • There is a public house named after the poet in Belfast, aptly named The John Hewitt.
    • Two festivals are held in Northern Ireland every year in both Spring and summer which celebrate the life of this famed poet and brings together high profile writers, artists, performers, speakers and critics.

     

  • Brian Friel

    • Brian Patrick O’Friel was born in 1929 in Omagh, County Tyrone.
    • Friel attended Long Tower School, Derry and continued his education at St Columb’s College, Derry and St Patrick's College, Maynooth, where he studied for a career in the priesthood.
    • Friel would eventually decide to follow his father into the teaching profession and went on to enter St Joseph’s Teacher Training College, Belfast.
    • Friel's first major success stage success was Philadelphia, Here I Come.
    • In 1980 Friel co-founded the Field Day Theatre Company with actor Stephen Rea.
    • Dancing at Lughnasa, probably his most successful play so far, received three Tony Awards in 1992, including Best Play.
    • Two of Friel’s plays, Philadelphia, Here I Come and Dancing at Lughnasa have also been adapted into film. Collections of short stories include The Saucer of Larks (1962) and The Gold in the Sea (1966).

     

  • Bernard MacLaverty

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    • Bernard MacLaverty was born in Belfast in 1942.
    • He was educated at St Malachy's College Belfast before attending Queens University where he also worked as a lab technician.
    • MacLaverty’s time at both St Malachy’s and Queens provided the basis for his novel The Anatomy School (2001).
    • MacLaverty relocated from Belfast in 1975 to Edinburgh and the Isle of Lay before settling in Glasgow.
    • He has published four novels and five collections of short stories.
    • He has also adapted his work for screen and radio plays as well as writing the screenplays for his two earliest novels, Lamb and Cal which were both made into movies.
    • In 1984, MacLaverty won the London Evening Standard’s award for Best Screenplay for his work on Cal.
    •  In 1997, the novel Grace Notes was published. The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize the same year.

     

  • Marie Jones

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    • Marie Jones was born in Belfast in 1951.
    • Educated at Orangefield Secondary School, she was punished for bad behaviour by being put in drama class.
    • She worked as an actress for a number of years before cofounding the all women Charabanc Theatre Company.
    • Although the company originally started out creating pieces based on oral histories, Marie soon emerged as the lead writer for the company.
    • In 1991 she co-founded DubbelJoint Theatre Company.
    • Marie Jones has written several popular plays including A Night in November (1994) and Women on the Verge of HRT (1995).
    • In 1994, Jones’s play Stones in His Pockets was first produced and the play went on to find success on both Broadway and the West End.
    • Marie Jones has won several awards including the 2001 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy (Stones in His Pockets) and the John Hewitt Award for Outstanding Contribution to Culture, Tradition and the Arts in Northern Ireland.
    • Marie currently resides in Belfast where she continues to act.
    • She is married to Northern Irish actor Ian McIlhinney.
  • Martin Lynch

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    • Martin Lynch was born in Belfast in 1950.
    • For almost 30 years Martin Lynch has been one of the leading playwrights in Northern Ireland.
    • He has been Resident Writer at the Lyric Theatre Belfast, the University of Ulster and most recently with Greenshoot Productions, Belfast.
    • In 1976, he organised a theatrical tour of community centres and went on to co-found the Turf Lodge Fellowship Community Theatre for which he wrote his earliest plays.
    • Martin Lynch is best known for his plays The History of the Troubles According to My Da, The Titanic Boys, The Chronicles of Long Kesh and Dancing Shoes - The George Best Story.
  • Flann O'Brien

    • Brian O'Nolan was an Irish novelist, playwright and satirist, considered a major figure in twentieth century Irish literature.
    • Born in Strabane, County Tyrone on 5th October 1911 and is regarded as a key figure in postmodern literature.
    • His English language novels, such as At Swim-Two-Birds, and The Third Policeman, were written under the nom de plume Flann O'Brien. His many satirical columns in The Irish Times and an Irish language novel An Béal Bocht were written under the name Myles na gCopaleen.
    • An Béal Bocht is widely regarded as one of the greatest Irish-language novels of the 20th century.
  • Brian Moore

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    • Brian Moore (25 August 1921 – 11 January 1999) was a novelist and screenwriter from Northern Ireland who emigrated to Canada and later lived in the United States.
    • He was acclaimed for the descriptions in his novels of life in Northern Ireland after the Second World War.
    • Moore was born and grew up in Belfast.
    • Moore lived in Canada from 1948 to 1958, and wrote his first novels there. His earliest novels were thrillers, published under his own name or using the pseudonyms Bernard Mara or Michael Bryan.
    • He was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1975 and the inaugural Sunday Express Book of the Year award in 1987, and he was shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times (in 1976, 1987 and 1990). Moore also wrote screenplays and several of his books were made into films.
    • Moore's first novel outside the genre, Judith Hearne, remains among his most highly regarded. The book was rejected by ten American publishers before being accepted by a British publisher. It was made into a film, with British actress Maggie Smith playing the lonely spinster who is the book/film's title character.
    • The legacy of Brian Moore lives on through The Creative Writers Network in Northern Ireland. Launched in 1996 the Brian Moore Short Story Awards are now open to all authors of Irish descent.
  • Michael McLaverty

    • Michael McLaverty was born in County Monaghan and then moved as a child to Belfast.
    • He attended St Gall's School and then went to St.Malachy`s College and became a school teacher.
    • McLaverty was one of Ireland's distinguished short story writers, painting with spare intensity the northern landscape of his homeland, the hill farms, rough island terrain and the backstreets of Belfast.
    • In the 1950s-60s he was the principal of St. Thomas' Secondary School on in Belfast. During his tenure there Seamus Heaney was one of his staff. Heaney recalls McLaverty's enthusiasm for teaching but also for literature. He introduced Heaney to the work of Patrick Kavanagh.
    • Heaney's poem Fosterage, in the sequence Singing School from North (1975) is dedicated to him.
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