Sam McAughtry

1921- ; b. Tiger Bay [Comber, Belfast], Co. Down; left school at 14; served in Royal Air Force as rigger and then flying officer; worked as builder's labourer in London after the war; entered Ministry of Agriculture in Belfast, 1947, retiring as deputy principal in 1980 to become fulltime writer as journalist, broadcaster, and Ulster memoirist acknowledging the Irishness of Protestant Ulster; developed first-person, slangy, wise-cracking style reminiscent of Damon Runyon in The Sinking of the Kenbane Head (1977), an anecdotal autobiography that includes account of WWII naval battles in 1940;

other story-collections in his colloquial manner incl. Play It Again, Sam (1978), Blind Spot (1979), Belfast No. 1 (1981), McAughtry’s War (1985), and Belfast Stories (1995), on Tiger’s Bay and New Lodge; settled at Ringsend, Dublin; invited to contrib. column to The Irish Times by Douglas Gageby; settled in Ringsend, Dublin; supported ‘Two Nationism’, with Matt Merriganet al.; elected [not appt.] to Seanad Eireann as Labour candidate; co-founder of the Peace Train and awarded hon. doc. by Maynooth (NUI); voted Columnist of the Year, 1985; contrib. to “Sunday Miscellany”on RTÉ; issued On the Outside Looking In (2003), a memoir. DIW OCIL DIL

Mervue House (Galway)
Sam McAughtry at Mervue Hse., Galway
(Fred Johnston behind him)

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  • Play it Again Sam (Belfast: Blackstaff 1978); Blind Spot and Other Stories (Belfast: Blackstaff [1979]), 116pp.
  • A Belfast Boyhood and Hard Times, Pts. 1-6 [ser. of short stories for Bangor, Co. Down; N.I. Adult Literacy Liaison Group, 1980], rep. as Belfast Stories (Belfast: Ward & River 1981; Blackstaff 1993), 157pp. [ “Pints and Punters”, “A Belfast Boyhood”; “Belfast and Beyond”, et al.].
  • Hillman Street High Roller: Tales from a Belfast Boyhood (Belfast: Appletree 1994) [15 stories].
  • Touch and Go (Belfast: Blackstaff 1993), 233pp. [a novel]; Belfast Stories (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), 157pp.

Autobiography & Anecdote, The Sinking of The Kenbane Head (Belfast; Blackstaff 1977, foreword by Ludovic Kennedy (Belfast: Blackstaff 1977), iii-x+139pp., ports.; Sam Mc Aughtry's Belfast (Belfast: Blackstaff 1981) [stories and sketches]; Mc Aughtry's War (Belfast: Blackstaff 1985), iii+170pp. [cased]; Down in the Free State (Belfast: Blackstaff 1987), 179pp.; On the Outside Looking In: A Memoir (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2003), 218pp., ill. [8pp. col. photos.]

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Patrick Ramsay [of Lagan Press], review-article on Touch and Go, in Causeway 1 (Autumn 1993), pp.5-56: ‘Set in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the novel charts the alcohol-induced odyssey of Hugh Reilly, recently-demobbed RAF fighter pilot, from the funeral of his mother to his reprieve from the hangman’s noose [Albert Pierrepont whose shadow hangs over the novel] for the brutal, and quite deliberate, killing of a Catholic moneylender, Leo Grogan.

Brendan Hamill, review of Touch and Go, in Fortnight Review (April 1995), [q.p.], remarks working-class life in Tigers Bay, Belfast; victims of brutal social and economic forces, forced to go to sea, or play pitch and toss on waste ground; McAughtry claims that nobody under 50 has the slightest idea just how brutal and dispiriting was the life of the Belfast working class between the 1930s and the 1950s; a socialist, MacAughtry’s world has its own integrity, prismatic idiosyncrasies and quick, sly humour; one of the best writing about this neglected segment of Belfast life.


Frank Ormsby, ed., Northern Windows, an anthology of Ulster autobiography (Blackstaff 1987), pp.159-63, contains extract from The Sinking of Kenbane Head (1977 ed.).

Brian Cleeve & Ann Brady, A D ictionary of Irish Writers (Dublin: Lilliput 1985), gives bio-data b. 1921 [err.]

Appletree Catalogue (1994), recounts story of Touch and Go (Belfast: Blackstaff 1993): Hugh Reilly returns to Protestant Streets of Belfast in edgy aftermath of WW2, to a dying mother and a brother’s envy; an ex-bomber pilot with a drink problem, he lurches from crisis to crisis; steadied for a time by friendship and frank sexuality of school friend Mary Waugh, turned into a ‘cracking good whore’; sinks into a dark world where violence explodes in an attack on a Catholic pawnbroker; sentenced to hang at hands of Albert Pierrepont, the state hangman.

Catalogue to 1994, Play It Again, Sam (Belfast: Blackstaff 1978); Blind Spot and Other Stories (Belfast: Blackstaff 1979); McAughtry’s War (Belfast: Blackstaff 1985); Touch and Go (Belfast: Blackstaff 1993); Hillman Street High Roller, Tales from a Belfast Boyhood (Belfast: Appletree 1994).


Selling Article 2’: Sam McAughtry was a signatory to letter with Pat Sheerin and others captioned ‘Selling Article 2’, and dealing with lexical distinction between cultural unit and political unit in the use of the term “nation” - making compromise possible in relation to the article of the Irish Constitution laying claim to the territory of Northern Ireland. (The Irish Times, 2 July 1994.)

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