Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Belfast storyteller Sam McAughtry mourned: Tributes flow for much-loved chronicler of working-class life

Belfast writer Sam McAughtry has died at the age of 91
Belfast writer Sam McAughtry has died at the age of 91

Tributes have been paid to Belfast writer, broadcaster and peace campaigner Sam McAughtry, who has died at the age of 91 following a long illness.

The author behind Play It Again Sam, Blind Spot, Sam McAughtry's Belfast, McAughtry's War and Belfast Stories was from the loyalist Tigers Bay area of north Belfast.

A Protestant who was known for his wry wit and storytelling, he served as a member of the Irish Seanad and was chairman of the Peace Train between Belfast and Dublin. His first book, The Sinking Of The Kenbane Head, was published in 1977 and his memoir, On The Outside Looking In, was published in 2003.

A trade unionist and a member of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, upon his election to the Irish Seanad in 1996 he described himself as a "hybrid unionist" who was happy to live in the UK but "happier still to be Irish and to proclaim my Irishness".

Dr Brigitte Anton from the NI Labour Party 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."

Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said he was a life member. He added: "He was a passionate trade unionist and was deeply committed to fighting sectarianism."

Lord Mayor of Belfast Mairtin O Muilleoir said on Twitter: "Saddened 2 hear of the passing of Belfast scribe & raconteur Sam McAughtry, a son of Tigers Bay & of Belfast who loved the land of his birth." UUP culture spokesman Michael McGimpsey MLA, a friend of Mr McAughtry's, added: "He was a proud son of Tigers Bay and never lost touch with his roots."

Damian Smyth, head of literature and drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: "To describe McAughtry as a much-loved chronicler of Belfast working-class life is to state an obvious truth – he was among the most rigorous, charming, eloquent and visible champions of the old Belfast of two-up/two-down values and the solidarity of the poor.

"But it is important to record also his skill as a storyteller across several books which have already passed into the character of his native city – Sam McAughtry's Belfast, Play It Again Sam, Belfast Stories, his novel Touch And Go. But perhaps his most enduring legacy will be the memoirs McAughtry's War and the tremendous The Sinking Of The Kenbane Head – two volumes indispensable for an understanding of the working-class Protestant experience in the city and beyond."

Mr Smyth also said that, as a public figure, Sam McAughtry "led the way in articulating the concerns of his 'constituency' – the ordinary people of the city across the divide".

"The Arts Council can attest to the pungency of his style, the vigour of his social commitment both to creativity and justice, and to the beautiful register of Belfast humour which he rendered with such conviction and glee: 'He ordered a bottle of stout, took a sip out of it, and then turned to us: "Who played in six Irish Cup Finals and never kicked a ball?", he asked. "Agnes Street Temperance Band", we shouted, as we threw him into the street.' "

A statement from his publisher Blackstaff Press said: "He was a great friend to Blackstaff, a great ambassador for Belfast, and a brilliant storyteller. We will miss his wit, honesty and integrity."

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