Roy McFadden

1921-1999; b. 14 Nov. Belfast; ed. Knock Grammar School, Newtownards [var. Methodist College, Belfast and Regent School Grammar House, Newtownards]; educ. Queen’s University Belfast where he contributed to The Northman under Greacen’s editorship, grad. 1944; an early collection in Garryowen (1940) were published by Chatto & Windus; he practised law as a solicitor in Belfast up to retirement; first appeared in Three New Poets, with Alex Comfort and Ian Serraillier (1942); ed. with Robert Greacen Ulster Voices, Nos. 1 & 2 (Spring & Summer 1943), receiving early encouragement from Herbert Read; contrib. to and associate ed. of Lagan, 1943; issued Swords and Ploughs (1943); contributed to the Dublin Magazine, 1944;
a second collection, Flowers for a Lady (1945), includes an elegy-sequence for his mother; The Heart’s Townland (1947); joint-ed. with Barbara Hunter [otherwise Edwards], Rann (1948-53); he broadcast on William Allingham for Sam Hanna Bell at BBC NI; radio-appearances in ’The Arts in Ulster’ (dir. John Boyd); twenty-four year silence broken with The Garryown (1971), followed by A Watching Brief (1978) and Seymour’s Funeral (1990); his Collected Poems (1996) were launched at the 9th John Hewitt Summer School; m. Margaret Ferguson, 1952, with whom 3 sons and 2 daughters; d. 15 Sept. 1999. 14 Nov.; obit. by Michael Parker (28 Sept., Guardian). DIW DIL HAM ORM OCIL

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  • with Alex Comfort & Ian Serraillier, Three New Poets (Billericay, Essex: Grey Walls 1942).
  • A Poem: Russian Summer (Dublin: Gayfield 1942) [pamphlet poem].
  • Swords and Ploughshares (London: Routledge 1943).
  • Flowers for a Lady (London: Routledge 1945).
  • The Heart’s Townland (London: Routledge 1947).
  • Elegy for the Death of the Princess Victoria (Belfast: Lisnagarvey 1953) [pamph.].
  • The Garryowen (London: Chatto & Windus 1971), 40pp.
  • Verifications (Belfast: Blackstaff 1977).
  • A Watching Brief (Belfast: Blackstaff 1978).
  • John Boyd, ed., The Selected Roy McFadden (Belfast: Blackstaff 1983) [?includes criticism].
  • Letters to the Hinterland (Dublin: Dedalus 1986).
  • After Seymour’s Funeral (Belfast: Blackstaff 1990), [61]80pp.
  • Collected Poems 1943-1995, preface by Philip Hobsbaum (Belfast: Lagan 1995), 381pp.
  • Last Poems, intro. Philip Hobsbaum (Abbey Press 2003), 32pp.

Also Russian Summer (Dublin: Gayfield Press [q.d.]), [pamphlet].

Articles & reviews
  • with Geoffrey Taylor, ‘Poetry in Ireland’, The Bell, VI, 4 (July 1943), p.342 [debate].
  • Review of Collected Poems by Louis MacNeice, and The Edge of Being by Stephen Spender, in Rann, 7 (Winter 1949-50), p.11.
  • ‘Review of Poetry Ireland’, in Rann, 8 (Spring 1950) [pp.1ff.].
  • ‘Conversation in a Shaving Mirror’, in Poetry Ireland, 15 (Oct. 1951), pp.9-10.
  • ‘Reflections on Megarity’, in Threshold, 5, 1 (Spring-Summer 1961), pp.25-34.
  • ‘The Belfast Forties’, in Gown Literary Supplement (June 1989), pp.5-8.
  • review of [q.auth.], Selected and New Poems, in Books Ireland (Feb. 2007), p.15. See num. other reviews in Books Ireland.
  • with Robert Greacen, ed., Ulster Voices, 1 & 2 (Spring & Summer 1943).
  • with Barbara Hunter, ed., Rann (Lisburn: Lisnagarvey 1948-53) [literary magazine].


  • Michael Longley, Causeway: The Arts in Ulster (Belfast: Arts Council of Northern Ireland 1971), [q.p.].
  • Terence Brown, ‘Robert Greacen and Roy McFadden, Apocalypse and Survival’ [Chap.], in Northern Voices (1975), pp.128-40.
  • John Boyd, ‘Introduction’ to The Selected Roy McFadden (Blackstaff 1983).
  • Sarah Ferris, ”“One who stayed”: an interview with Roy McFadden’, in Irish Studies Review, 17 (Winter 1996/7), pp.21-24 [extract].
  • John Brown, ‘Roy McFadden Interviewed’, in The Irish Review, 24,  1 (June 1999), pp.104-17.

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Terence Brown, ‘Robert Greacen and Roy McFadden, apocalypse and survival’;, in Northern Voices (1975), pp.128-40; also remarks under Louis MacNeice, where he cites a review article of MacNeice’; Collected Poems of 1949, written (acc. Brown), ”partly, one feels, hoping to recruit a really large talent for an Ulster regionalist experiment’;; (McFadden: ) ‘The only uneasy ghost in Mr MacNeice’;s mind is his place of origin. For time to time the poet reverts to Ireland, nostalgically, impatiently, contemptuously - only to set his face firmly again to the English scene. This retreat from childhood and country is a pity, for, in the absence of any spiritual roots, Mr MacNeice might well have strengthened his work by allegiance to place. The man who has no country has no God, Dostoyevsky wrote some little time ago; and the intellectual poetry of today would seem to bear this out; not only in that statement but in its corollary. Allegiance to something beyond one’s immediate time is a valuable asset in poetry. Mr MacNeice may yet apply for membership of Mr Hewitt’s school of regionalism, and studying the superstitions and sagas of the forefathers, discover Louis MacNeice.’ (McFadden, review of Collected Poems [1949] by Louis MacNeice andThe Edge of Being by Stephen Spender, in Rann, No. 7, Winter 1949-50, p.11; Brown, op. cit., pp.99-100); Brown traces McFadden’ s shifting relation to Hewitt, and characterises the former’s version of regionalism as ‘the prodigal’s sense of failed alternatives’ as compared with the latter’s ‘calm rejoicing tone’ (Brown, p.136); Quotes: ‘What we need is a way of life, personal, dignified and purposeful; and while small-group consciousness and opposition to centralised control over our thinking and living are necessary incidental aids, the essential beginning is with the individual person.’ (McFadden, ‘Review of Poetry Ireland’;, in Rann, No. 8, Spring 1950, p.1) [bibl. of articles as supra].

Sarah Ferris, ”“One who stayed”: an interview with Roy McFadden’, in Irish Studies Review, No. 17 (Winter 1996/7), pp.21-24: cites prominently Tom Clyde’s vitriolic review of reissue of After Seymour’s Funeral (1990), viz., ‘A Senior Citizen’s Insolence’, in Honest Ulsterman, 90 (1990); McFadden identifies Hewitt as older generation, though published later than himself, and seems Herbert Read and Alex Comfort greater influences than Hewitt, opening to question the view of the last name as ‘the Daddy of them all’; ‘’In terms of critical recognition I am not centre stage. In reality, I have always left the stage for the career poets and their associates. I imagine that my poems will survive for those who prefer to read rather than be read at.’ (p.24.)

Philip Hobsbaum, obituary, The Independent (16 Sept. 1999): ‘Roy McFadden presented in his lifetime the aspect of a Belfast solicitor, which is what he was. A sturdy figure in serviceable tweeds, one would notice the Shakespearian brow, to which his massive baldness added distinction, the shrewd but guarded glance, the voice precise in language as in articulation. The effect was to suggest that McFadden was no ordinary lawyer. [...] The bitter circumstances of Northern Ireland decreed that McFadden reify as a war poet. He himself said, towards the end of his life, “I was born in violence, and my whole life was dominated by violence.” A human face emerged from behind what had been Yeatsian rhetoric. The Garryowen (1971) possesses an unforced authority lacking in the earlier books. A Watching Brief (1978) is unified by its running theme, that of a lawyer going through the forms and ceremonies of a lawless city. McFadden’s experience as a working solicitor allowed him to put his finger on pulses that Yeats, for all his sublimity, never touched. The key poem has, almost defiantly, a Yeatsian title: “The Law Courts Revisited”. Nevertheless, the voice is substantially and sardonically McFadden, with a metre that can be best described as a calculated slouch. / McFadden was one of that rare band of poets whose work improved with the years. [..] In the end, his monument is the Collected Poems, arranged chronologically backwards, so that the accomplished pieces he wrote in his fruitful seventies appear first. There is no overstatement in that verse, no lushness, no posturing. The precision of the vocabulary marked out the man. In a particularly creative period of Irish writing, Roy McFadden was one of his country’s true masters. His biography is being written by Sarah Ferris.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or as attached.)

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Frank Ormsby, ed., Poets of the Northern of Ireland (1979; new. edn. 1990), pp.77-89, selects “Epithalamium” [‘I, wed to history, pray for your peace ; / That the smile be never twisted in your mouth, / and the pond of your mind never be rippled with sorrow: / That you may sleep your sleep as the world quakes, / and never see the chasms at your feet.’]; from “Memoirs of Chinatown, Bigamy”; “Contemplations of Mary”; “First letter to an Irish novelist” (to Michael MacLaverty)’ [... local hatreds fail / to churn your vistas into stony grass, / Or drown you in a puddle’s politics ... being Irish means a maudlin song ... those who have lost a country, with a wound / In pace of patria ... sceptical of harbours, fortunate, / In being themselves, each with his personal war ... agnostic salt in a nostalgic wound ... we shall be wary [of] too much loneliness on the world’s edge ... In time the navigator holds a course, / And heads for landfall ...’]; “Stringer’s Field” [;this is no proper route for middle age / Seeking the stirrups of a rocking horse ...’]; “The Grand Central Hotel” (for Robert Greacen) [‘elocution-anglicised / Provincials to pout London vowel-sounds’ (goes on to document his and Greacen’s associations with the hotel and its current barricaded condition)]; “My Mother’s Younger Sister” [‘You were a girl who hurried past / My childhood, with a dream’s / Inconstancy; as if forewarned, / Time being short, you had to travel fast’]; “For the record” [‘... Identity; degree / Of Irishness; the label on the jar, / Backed by his books, the old man underlined / I am of Planter stock. / A ring of smoke endorsed his nodding hand’] (appears to concern a Hewitt interview)].

Donagh MacDonagh, ed., and intro., Poems from Ireland (The Irish Times 1944), incl. bio-note: ‘A solicitor with a sense of humour and a feeling for poetry; has contributed to English and American magazines and anthologies and has published one volume of verse, Swords and Ploughshares, with Routledge; hopes to publish another soon.’

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A population resigned / to follow the ruts that tumbrils / have totted like debts in the streets.’ (Fom After Seymour’s Funeral, 1990; cited in Maurice Harmon’s review, Linenhall Review, April. 1990.).

Ulster Regionalism: ‘I suspected that the Ulster Regionalism idea could be used to provide a cultural mask for political Unionism or a kind of local counter-nationalism’ (in Gerald Dawe and John Wilson Foster, eds., The Poet’s Place (1991), p.176; cited in Patrick Walsh, DPhil., UUC, [1996]).

Debating poetry: ‘[We] who know the work of Comfort, Treece and Wells, will have seen the white flame of conviction behind their lines, a conviction of the stomach, and not of the intellect, as Lawrence might have said’; ‘The past, as we have realised in the North, has no virtue except in so far as it may point a moral for the present. There are no mists on our bogs, but there have been bombs on our cities; and I think it natural that we should be more concerned with a society that produces and tolerates such enormities than with the silk of the kine; ‘I cannot help feeling that literature should be the expression of new experience. I would like to see a sincere interpretation of life in the drab city of Belfast, with its dogma and its patient hates; for our industrialism differs in many ways from English industrialism and offers something new to the imaginative writer.’ (McFadden, in Roy McFadden & Geoffrey Taylor, ‘Poetry in Ireland’, The Bell, Vol. VI, No. 4, July 1943, p.342; printed Terence Brown, Northern Voices, 1975, p.132).

Rann (Editorial): ‘We shall not find a unified movement in our poetry until we have achieved a pattern of living which we can call our own (something very different from a political programme); and the achievement of that pattern is as much the responsibility of the poet as of anyone else.’ (Rann, No. 4, Spring 1949, pp.1-2; quoted by Terence Brown in Northern Voices 1975, p.221; see also Mark Storey, Poetry and Ireland since 1800, A Source Book, 1988, p.29.)

Louis MacNeice: Reviewing Jon Stallworthy, Louis MacNeice (Faber & Faber 1995), in Fortnight (March 1995), pp.41-2, McFadden writes a journey made to MacNeice’s gave in Carrowdore, and memory of kneeling before MacNiece’s father, Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore, at confirmation; complains that the ‘next generation’ of Ulster poets are not Mahon, Muldoon, Paulin, MacDonald, Heaney’, et al., but Craig, Greacen, McFadden, Fiacc, and Montague; speaks of broadcasting a tribute to him with W. R. Rodgers while Mercy Hunter (wife of George MacCann) stood in tears at the studio door; ‘I was able to tell him that the first book of modern verse I bought out of my pocket-money was his Selected Poems [1940]’; quotes E. R. Dodds, ‘that outward air of being clever ... a live core which is the personality of [the] author, and a music and a dignity which grow naturally out of the core and aren’t just a gummed-on decoration’; finds that Stallworthy has trouble with local connections; refers to the Titanic, and ‘how hugely that ill-fated ship looms in our mythology’; reports that MacNeice invited him to write for radio shortly after his appointment, saying, ‘Writing for radio helps to keep open the channels for poetry’, but considers that MacNeice would have written more memorably away from the BBC; finds Stallworthy does not warm to his subject, remains diffident, did not consult friends and colleagues of the poet in Belfast such as John Boyd and Sam Bell; notes ‘untitled snapshot of Maurice Craig looking like Lennox Robinson’.

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Sins of omission: McFadden was not included in anthologies of Irish poetry by Brendan Kennelly (1970), John Montague (1974), Thomas Kinsella (1986), or Derek Mahon & Peter Fallon (1990).

Michael McLaverty was the dedicatee of several McFadden poems, viz., ‘Letter to an Irish Novelist’, in Flowers For a Lady (1945), p.45; ‘Second Letter to an Irish Novelist’, Threshold, 21 (Summer 1967), pp.82-83; ‘D-Day, ’ A Watching Brief (Belfast 1979), pp.33-4; ‘Reunion’, Letters to the Hinterland (Dublin 1986). [Supplied by Michael Crowley, April 1997].

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