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Louis MacNeice (1907 - 1963):
Poet and playwright

Louis MacNeice

Frederick Louis MacNeice was born in Belfast on 12 September 19o7, the son of John Frederick MacNeice, Church of Ireland clergyman who was at the time rector of Holy Trinity, Belfast. The year after Louis's birth his father became rector of St Nicholas's Carrickfergus and was later made bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore. Louis was educated in England at Marlborough College and at Merton College Oxford. Among his contemporaries at school were John Betjeman and Anthony Blunt, the latter remaining a lifelong friend. After graduation he became a lecturer in Classics at Birmingham University where his head of department was fellow Ulsterman E R Dodds. He married in 1930 but the marriage did not last and following the split with his wife he moved to Bedford College of the University of London. Rejected for military service because of his poor eyesight, in 1941 he joined the BBC Features Department and was responsible for many classic productions, including his own radio play The Dark Tower (with music by Benjamin Britten). Among his colleagues were W R Rodgers and Dylan Thomas.

Along with Auden, Spender and Day Lewis, MacNeice formed the leading group of poets of the 1930s. His work is colloquial and ironic, but intellectually distinguished and informed by a real tragic sense. He casts an ironic eye on the politics of Ireland ("I was born in Belfast to the banging of Orange drums") but his love for the country always shines through. His most considerable work is Autumn Journal (1939), a meditation on Munich and the approach of war; but he is also the author of many notable short poems e.g. The Sunlight In the Garden, Bagpipe Music. He married for a second time in 1942 but this marriage too did not last. In 1957 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Queen's University and in the following year was created CBE.

MacNeice died in London on 3 September 1963 from viral pneumonia, reputedly caught while he was exploring a cave for a projected radio programme. His ashes are interred at the Christ Church, Carrowdore, Co Down.

The poet is also associated with St Nicholas's Church, Carrickfergus, where his father was rector from 1908 to 1931.

Born: 12 September 1907
Died: 3 September 1963
Wesley McCann