Belfast Telegraph

Anne Doughty, one of the true masters of Irish historical fiction

 

Anne Doughty at her home in south Belfast
Anne Doughty at her home in south Belfast
Anne Doughty

Tributes have been pouring in for Belfast novelist Anne Doughty, who passed away on Sunday aged 79.

Earlier this year she underwent heart surgery, but just three weeks ago Anne was diagnosed with advanced oesophageal cancer.

In what was typical of her strong personality she remained upbeat and focused on completing her latest novel, The Girl From Galloway.

However, she developed pneumonia over the weekend and her death just before 9am on Sunday came as a shock to all her friends.

A widow, she had been married to Peter for 44 years and was devastated when he died in her arms from a heart condition in 2013, also aged 79.

Anne, who grew up in Armagh, is renowned for her popular Hamilton series of historical Irish novels and in August she won her first international publishing deal with Harper Collins.

A geography teacher, she worked in Princess Gardens Grammar School and then Bloomfield Collegiate for 10 years before meeting Peter in 1970.

He was also a teacher and the couple settled in Hampstead close to his job in University College, London. They returned to live in Belfast in 1998 after the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

Anne had been writing since she was four years old and it was Peter who encouraged her to pursue her dream to become a novelist.

Even when the rejection letters kept coming he was her greatest motivator and Anne continued to write for 23 years before she finally got a publishing deal.

Much to their joy and surprise, her first novel A Few Late Roses was long-listed for the Irish Times Fiction Award.

This was quickly followed by her next two novels, Stranger In The Place and Summer Of The Hawthorn.

After returning home she started to write her series of stand-alone novels that make up the Hamilton sequence.

After losing her husband, she coped with her grief by throwing herself into her writing and finished her novel The Blacksmith’s Wife, which she and her husband had discussed before his death.

She told the Belfast Telegraph: “Peter and I had a very close relationship and I will never stop missing him.

“He gave me so many gifts. The reason for my supreme articulacy today comes from the fact that he and I talked and talked and talked.”

The couple had no children but were surrounded by the love of their adopted family of 12 godchildren.

One of them, Jason Diamond from Banbridge said: “Anne was a saint; she always put others before herself. She was very clever and popular and she never forgot her Armagh roots.

“She kept Peter’s ashes and she asked to be cremated and have her ashes scattered with Peter’s just off the Irish coast, so that’s what will happen.

“We have been heartened by the many tributes to her and she would have been delighted by all the kind words.”

Damian Smyth, head of literature at the Arts Council, said: “For all Anne Doughty’s undoubted charms as a gracious, intelligent, witty, self-deprecating and elegant elderly lady, when I came to make her acquaintance there is no doubt she was one of the masters of Irish historical fiction.

“The 10 novels of the Hamilton family series are a finely-wrought saga covering more than two centuries of history in Ulster, embracing all the major social and political upheavals on the island.

“As well as her sparkling personality, her death has robbed those who, like me, are fans of her rolling prose, of the promise of a series of prequels, tracing the Hamilton DNA to Galloway and the Scots hinterland.

“All the tales are told now, but the achievement of the novels remains with us and for good.”

A funeral service for Anne will be held on Friday at 2.30pm at Roselawn.

Belfast Telegraph

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