Thomas Carnduff

1886-1956 [Tom Carnduff; sometimes ‘The Island Poet’; viz., Queen’s Island]; Presbyterian, socialist, Belfastman; son of Army corporal from Drumbow who was invalided, and Jane Bollard; shipyard worker, employed by Workman and Clark, north side of Lagan; printer during adolescence; saw service in WWI; returned to shipyards, and later worked as binman, Civil Defence worker (WWII), and finally as caretaker at Linen Hall Library; twice married; four sons by first wife (d.1939; remarried 1940); lived latterly on Hanover St.; member of Independent Orange Order, and Master of an Independent Lodge in the 1920s and 30s; fnd. Belfast Poetry Circle, 1926; writes to Belfast Telegraph lamening absence of first-class local literary man to assist our poetry circle, and is answered caustically by John Hewitt (30 July 1926); fnd. Ulster Society, 1936; Poverty Street (1921); Songs from the Shipyards, poems (1924); Workers, a major play premiered at the Abbey, 1932, and now extant in incomplete copy only; Songs of an Out of Work (1932), written when himself unemployed; Machinery (1933); Traitors (1934); Castlereagh (1934), historical drama, combining themes of Empire and ’98 Republicanism (the sole complete typescript); The Stars Foretell (1938), all played in Belfast and Abbey; collaborated with Denis Johnston on radio documentary, ‘Birth of a Giant (1937), on shipbuilding; contrib. to The Bell first Ulster issue on ‘Belfast’ (1942); to The Bell under ed. of his friend Peadar O’Donnell, ‘The Orange Society’ (July 1951); also ‘Belfast as an Irish City’ (Apr. 1952); an autobiography written for Richard Rowley’s Mourne Press. also incomplete, published in Life and Writings, ed. John Gray (1994), which also contains pieces of his journalism; Carnduff’s Songs from the Shipyards and Other Poems was the first book of poetry purchased by John Hewitt, in 1924. DUB

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Poverty Street and Other Poems [rep of 1921 edn.] (Belfast: Lapwing 1993), 25pp.; John Gray, ed., [pref. material 56pp.] Thomas Carnduff, Life and Writings (Lagan Press 1994), 191pp. Note, contribution to The Bell ‘Ulster Issue’ (July 1941) elicited by O’Faolain.


1995, Thomas Carnduff, Life and Writings (Lagan Press 1994), 191pp.

Belfast Public Library holds Castlereagh, a play of 1798 [typescript]; Poverty Street and Other Poems (Belfast: Lapwing 1993), 75pp.; Songs of an Out-of-Work (Belfast: Quota 1932), 55pp.; Songs from the Shipyard & Other Poems (Belfast: EH Thorton [n.d.]

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Brendan Hamill reviews Gray, ed., Life and Works of Thomas Carnduff (1994 Lagan Press), in Fortnight Review (April 1995), paradoxical affection for empire and 1798; incl. fine 3,000 word history and introduction, with virtual exposition of Belfast labour history 1930-91; refs. incl. Richard Rowley, Ruddick Miller, Peadar O’Donnell, Patrick MacGill, et al., up to John Hewitt.

Poverty St. [1921], includes ‘Ballad of the Hammer’; Cave Hill – Mac Art’s Fort’; ‘Poverty’ ‘Riots, 1921’; ‘Ships’; but also ‘Dear Little Shamrock’ [‘God bless our native land’, 24]; ‘Ypres’ [Tis sunset and the crimson glow/Spreads like a flaming fan/Across the sky, white clouds flow/Transparent in its span//Light breezes, scented with North Sea spray/Breathe murmurs of remorse/And leafless shell-scarred branches sway/Above each mangled corpose//The ancient towers of Ypres loom grim/Athwart the crimson sky//They silhouette their gaunt dark ruin/As if in mute reply//below the ramparts lies the plain/As far as eye can see/its beauty scarred with gory stain/Of Man’s artillery/’Neath Zillebeke’s green fossilled lake/pale ghostly faces gleam/And round its slimy bottom rake/The embers of their dream’ (p.70)].

Carnduff celebrated Thomas Andrews, the architect of the Titanic (as did Shan Bullock in a novel): ‘’A Queen’s Island Trojan he worked to the last;/Very proud we all feel of him here in Belfast’/Our working-men knew him as one of the best -/He stuck to his duty, and God gave the rest.’ (Cited in P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland, 1994, p.18.)

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