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Tributes as top children's author passes Robert Dunbar away

Irish literary community unites to hail works of 'irreplaceable' writer Dunbar

By Cate McCurry

Published 05/08/2016

Robert Dunbar went to Queen’s University alongside Seamus Heaney
Robert Dunbar went to Queen’s University alongside Seamus Heaney
Oliver Jeffers, an award-winning writer and illustrator from Belfast who now lives and works in New York

A leading author who died after battling a long illness has been hailed as a "champion" of children's books by literary figures.

Robert Dunbar (76), who was head of English at a Co Londonderry grammar school for several years after graduating from Queen's University, Belfast, was dubbed the 'Father Christmas' of children's literature.

The Co Antrim man was a leading critic, editor and educator and was credited for launching the careers of many writers.

He was a native of Dunseverick and attended Bushmills Grammar School. It was here where he attained the highest mark in English A-level in Northern Ireland, before studying the subject at Queen's University, where he was a contemporary of Seamus Heaney.

After teaching at Coleraine Tech and Rainey Endowed School in Magherafelt, Co Derry, he was awarded an MA in English and Education at Ulster University. He then lectured in children's literature at the Church of Ireland College of Education in Rathmines, Trinity College Dublin and St Patrick's College, Dublin.

He was also the first to offer a graduate diploma in children's literature.

Oliver Jeffers, an award-winning writer and illustrator from Belfast who now lives and works in New York, said that Dunbar had a passion for books.

Jeffers, who is the creator behind The Day the Crayons Quit, said: "Robert Dunbar loved stories. I have yet to meet an individual, anywhere in the world, who cared as much about books as he did.

"It was his keen eye for good literature that won him such respect by all of us in the picture book community.

"Robert especially embraced Irish stories. Not only those from our rich archives, but also the remarkable work being created today.

"He leaves behind him a hole in children's literature in Ireland. We should not attempt to fill this hole, because there will never be another Robert Dunbar. Rather let's remember what he gave us."

Eoin Colfer, the author behind the science fiction fantasy series, Artemis Fowl, described Dunbar as a champion of children's books.

He said: "Without his support there are many of us who would never have managed to sustain a career. He was literate, supportive, always fair but never mean.

"It is common to say at such times that so and so was irreplaceable. But Robert was that rare individual who actually can never be replaced. Nor would we want to."

Patrick Ness, the best-selling author of A Monster Calls, said: "Robert was right there at the very start of my career, reviewing the books with such brilliant, emotional intelligence and sympathy.

"At the launch of A Monster Calls in Ireland, he gave it a completely unexpected speech that took my breath away, not only just about the book, but about what he believed that books for young readers could accomplish: making the world larger, safer, better."

Robert Dunbar is survived by his wife, Carole (nee Redfern), their children, Grainne and Dominic, grandchildren, Jack, Matthew, Edie and Astrid, son-in-law Derek and daughter-in-law Carol.

Belfast Telegraph

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