Sam Hanna Bell Samuel Beckett John Hewitt Bernard (Barney) Hughes James Joseph Magennis VC Frances Elizabeth Clarke Stewart Parker William Carleton Rosamond Praegar

Roy McFadden (1921 - 1999):
Poet and lawyer

Roy McFadden
© Leon McAuley

Roy McFadden combined a long and successful legal career with a passion for poetry, both as an editor and promoter of new writing, and as a poet himself, whose work and contribution to Irish and specifically Northern Irish poetry was, many feel, unjustly neglected, perhaps in the shadow of his contemporaries, John Hewitt (born 1907), Michael McLaverty (1904), Robert Greacen (1920), W.R. Rodgers (1909), Sam Hanna Bell (1909) and Joseph Tomelty (1911), though McFadden was not one for whom fame was a spur.

McFadden was born in Belfast, son of a bank official father and a keenly pacifist mother. His maternal grandfather worked in a Belfast shipyard and was a Unitarian lay preacher fond of painting and books, with a particular interest in the poetry and painting of William Blake. Roy was educated at Regent House Grammar School, Newtownards, County Down and Queen's University, Belfast where he graduated in Law in 1944. The family suffered the destruction of their home in east Belfast in an air raid in 1941, and evacuated temporarily to Downpatrick, where they had strong family and business connections going back two centuries (though they had been forced out of the town in 1921 during the Troubles of that time, for sectarian reasons).

While at Queen's University he became friends with his almost exact contemporary Graecen, with whom he co-edited a literary quarterly, Ulster Voices, which they launched in 1943, publishing their own and others' poetry (not everyone's: a keen young English poet, Drummond Allison, stationed as a soldier in Belfast, sought them out, became good friends with the editors who were happy to introduce him to the Belfast literary scene they well knew; but they declined to publish a line of his poetry, which decision he attributed to his being English, a solder or both). McFadden's own poetry was first published in Dublin in 1941, in a pamphlet, Russian Summer. The following year he was one of the Three New Poets brought out by Grey Walls Press, Essex - the others being Alex Comfort, later famous for his book The Joy of Sex, and Ian Seraillier, probably most famous for his story of three Polish children in the Second World War, The Silver Sword.

Comfort described himself as an "aggressive anti-militarist" and was a pacifist campaigner; Seraillier was a Quaker and conscientious objector; McFadden's mother was active in the Peace Pledge Union. McFadden himself was of pacifistic leanings and was drawn to the thought of Herbert Read, the anarchistic poet and art critic, who persuaded Routledge to publish McFadden's first "proper" collection of poems, Swords and Ploughshares, in 1943, followed by Flowers for a Lady in 1945 and The Heart's Townland in 1947. McFadden was still busy as an editor, with Irish Voices, the short-lived Lagan (1945-6), and the leading literary journal Rann (1948-1953). Concurrently, he was getting married and starting a family (eventually consisting of five children) and overseeing his law firm, of which he was the director by 1954.

There would be a long gap before McFadden would produce a further anthology, though he was far from inactive artistically: he contributed shorter pieces to various publications, and he was perhaps better known as a broadcaster, frequently to be heard on BBC Radio, as a contributor to The Arts in Ulster, presenting Poetry Notebooks, and 1952 he produced came a verse play for radio, The Angry Hound. He published a single piece, Elegy for the Dead of the Princess Victoria, to commemorate the loss of the ship of that name, a Northern Ireland-Scotland cross-channel ferry, in 1953.

In 1971 McFadden began to publish more of his own poetry, in that year issuing an anthology, The Garryowen, followed in 1977 by Verifications and in 1979 by A Watching Brief. Then came The Selected Roy McFadden (1983), Letters to the Hinterland (1986), and After Seymour's Funeral (1990). An edition of his Collected Poems was published in 1996, which included some material previously unpublished, albeit recast. The volume included a preface and extensive notes by the author, as well as a portrait drawing by Rowel Friers. A volume Last Poems was published in 2002, overseen by Sarah Ferris.

On his death in 1996, The Independent obituarised: "In a particularly creative period of Irish writing, Roy McFadden was one of his country's true masters."

Born: 14 November 1921
Died: 15 September 1999
Richard Froggatt

Wesley McCann


The Guardian 25.9.99 (Michael Parker); Dictionary of Irish Biography; The Independent 17.9.99 (Peter Hobsbaum); The Times 26.10.99 (Sarah Ferris)