TRIBUTES have been paid to the Belfast writer Sam McAughtry who has passed away at the age of 91.
Mr. McAughtry had been brought up in the loyalist Tiger’s Bay area of Belfast and remained immensely proud of his roots. The young Protestant working class lad would go on to become not only one the city’s best loved writers but also a prominent peace campaigner, trade unionist and Northern Ireland Labour Party member.
His formal education had ended when he was 14 when he left school to work as a labourer. After service in the Royal Air Force, he went on to work in the civil service. A born storyteller and raconteur, it was perhaps inevitable that he should turn to writing.
His first book, The Sinking Of The Kenbane Head, was published by Blackstaff Press in 1977. The memoir was a moving tribute to his brother Mart who had been a merchant seaman who was killed in 1940 when his ship was attacked by the German battleship Admiral Scheer in the North Atlantic.
One reviewer remarked: “If Hemingway were Irish, he would have written this novel, which is both a thriller and a literary masterpiece”.
He went on to write a string of critically acclaimed books including Play It Again Sam, Blind Spot, Sam McAughtry’s Belfast, McAughtry’s War and Belfast Stories.
Mr. McAughtry also became a popular broadcaster appearing regularly on the BBC.
His peace campaigning included helping to establish the Peace Train initiative which involved activists travelling between Belfast and Dublin.
In 1996, he was elected to the Irish Seanad, the upper house of the Irish Parliament in Dublin. In his first address to the house he declared: “I am a hybrid unionist in that I am happy to live in the United Kingdom but I am happier still to be Irish and to proclaim my Irishness”.
Among the many tributes was one from his publisher, Blackstaff Press, which had published all of Mr. Aughtry’s work including his his final memoir, On The Outside Looking In, which came out in 2003.
In a statement, the company said: “His great talent as a writer was his ability to write in a voice that immediately connected with people, because it was direct and sincere and full of emotion, whether it was telling Belfast stories, talking about his life in Tiger’s Bay or writing about the death of his brother.”
Dr. Brigitte Anton from the Northern Ireland Labour Party also paid tribute. She said: “Sam McAughtry’s contribution to both arts and the development of non-sectarian labour politics in Northern Ireland was immeasurable and he will be sadly missed by all of us in the Labour Party”.
Mr. Aughtry passed away following a long illness. He is survived by his wife Phyllis and daughters Marion, Elaine and Angela. His Funeral will be private.
To hear Mr. McAughtry telling a story, click here.
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