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Richard Hayward (1892 - 1964):
Actor; writer

Richard Hayward played a significant role in the cultural landscape of Ireland in the middle decades of the 20th century. For forty years he was a pivotal figure as a travel writer, singer and actor, and was well-known all over the country. He moved easily between the parallel worlds of filmmaking, the theatre, singing, broadcasting and writing, and his life touched many people.

Although born in Southport, Lancashire, Hayward grew up in Larne, Co. Antrim and tried to disguise his English background. His father, Walter Scott Hayward, was a boat designer and renowned yachting celebrity in the northwest of England. In the mid-1890s the family moved to Ireland, living firstly in Omeath, Co. Louth before settling on the Antrim coast. Scott Hayward ran an engineering works in Waring Street in Belfast and in the early years of the twentieth century worked for the Congested Districts Board in the west of Ireland helping fishermen modernise their boats.

The Larne in which Richard Hayward grew up was a busy place, especially on fair days when the town was packed with people from the countryside and with stalls and sellers. On the main street, McNeill’s Hotel was a popular place for visitors. Henry McNeill, a pioneer of tourism in Larne, set up a business in 1853 and owned a fleet of horsedrawn cars and wagonettes for excursions into the countryside. As a boy Hayward met him and recalled that “many a shilling he gave me, all unknown to my elders, and I should blush to say that I was unmannerly enough to accept his gifts”.

At the age of seven Hayward developed an interest in music, not just from the singers he heard on the streets, but also in the household. The family employed a maid who came from Ballybay in Co. Monaghan and taught him his first songs. From her he learnt Irish ballads that led to a lifetime’s interest in traditional songs and an abiding passion for playing the harp. The surrounding area was an exhilarating place for his youth. He became familiar with hidden coves and coastal beaches. Frequently he wandered the country lanes and meadows of Islandmagee, a serene part of east Antrim, and was intrigued by the “Druid’s Altar”, a dolmen at Ballylumford, and the Gobbins cliff path – a stretch of coast with caves and colourful basaltic cliffs. Along with his brothers, he was educated at Larne Grammar School which inspired in him a love of poetry and drama.  In 1904, when he was 12, the family moved to live in Greenisland overlooking Belfast Lough.

In July 1915 he married Elma Nelson, an actress. They had two sons, Dion Nelson, and Richard Scott. For most of his adult life Hayward lived in Belfast but his first job took him across the Irish Sea to Liverpool where he worked in naval architecture in Cammell Laird shipyard during World War I. The yard had adapted to the needs of the British war effort and his work was confined to ship repair and maintenance.

After his return to Belfast in 1917, Hayward secured employment as a confectionery sales agent, working part-time for Fox’s Glacier Mints and Needler’s Chocolates which brought him around many small towns. At the end of the war he developed an interest in artistic pursuits, began writing poetry and collecting Irish ballads. His first volume of poetry was published in 1917 followed by two further collections in 1920 and 1922. There is little critical reaction to them but after his death, the writer William Newman, in a newspaper tribute praised his travel books but said he was “a damn bad poet”.

Frequently, on his travels around Ulster, he came across impromptu concerts and kitchen house ceilidhs, observing performers and paying particular attention to the lyrics and melodies of rare ballads or mournful laments. Painstaking in his efforts to preserve them, Hayward felt strongly that it was important to rescue them from obscurity and record the oral tradition for posterity. This resulted in the publication in 1925 of his anthology Ulster songs and ballads of the town and the country, a collection of fifty-five songs with an introduction by his friend St John Ervine.

In a busy singing career he went on to record 156 records for major labels such as Decca and HMV. As he travelled around Ireland, he sang to packed houses at concerts and festivals, and performed radio recitals, singing Orange ballads as well as traditional Irish songs. In 1956 his “Orange and Blue” was chosen by a UK music panel as one of the six outstanding recordings of the year.

It was at a meeting of the Irish PEN writers’ organisation in Jurys Hotel, Dublin in 1937 that he was first introduced to Delia Murphy who became known as “The Queen of Connemara”. She sang along with him providing the evening’s entertainment. Hayward recognised her star quality and realised he had found a musical soulmate. That night marked the start of what was to be a fruitful four-year partnership, performing on stage together and recording duets for HMV. Murphy went on to become Ireland’s first celebrity woman singer.  Hayward’s name was well known on Radio Éireann and the BBC. Apart from Delia Murphy, he also sang with Anna Meakin at the Theatre Royal in Dublin, flitting between it and the Olympia in Dame Street.

Apart from songs, he recorded humorous comedy skits with Elma. He also recorded sketches for Decca with two well-known Dublin actors Jimmy O’Dea and Harry O’Donovan. His arrangement of “The Humour is on Me Now” was used inThe Quiet Man. Maurice Walsh, who wrote the story on which the film is based, championed Hayward’s name and contributed forewords to four of his travel books.

There were many other sides to the hectic pace of Hayward’s life. His early acting career was with the Ulster Players which he managed in the 1920s. Many of his plays were performed in the Gaiety and Abbey theatres in Dublin as well as the Empire in Belfast. Along with Tyrone Guthrie, he formed the Belfast Radio Players who broadcast regularly on the BBC from 1925. Elma appeared alongside her husband in many plays and some of his later films. Hayward wrote more than 40 plays and sketches for broadcast, acting in all of them. These were broadcast by the BBC in Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, and at the Dublin broadcasting station. He also scripted a series of innovative dialogues in Belfast dialect called “Double-Sided Records’ made up of two vignettes. They depicted city life in titles such as ‘At the cinema”, “In the Tram”, and “Seeing them off at the Liverpool Boat”.

Along with fellow-actor Jimmy Mageean, Hayward set up the Belfast Repertory Company in 1929. As a theatrical impresario, he helped shape and develop the world of Ulster drama. This included staging several plays of gritty realism written by the unemployed shipyard worker Thomas Carnduff at the Empire Theatre and the Abbey Theatre in the 1930s where the Dublin audiences were particularly receptive. Carnduff was described by the Dublin press as ‘the Sean O’Casey of the North.’ Hayward appeared in Carnduff’s three plays about inner city life, written in the Belfast idiom: WorkersMachinery and Traitors. A fourth play, Castlereagh, a historical drama was set in the turbulent summer of the 1798 Uprising. Richard and Elma Hayward played the parts of Lord and Lady Castlereagh.

In the 1930s Hayward laid the foundations of the Irish film industry and was acknowledged as a talented character actor. His first major film and the first Ulster “talkie”, The Luck of the Irish, was filmed at Glynn in County Antrim in September 1935. Crowds gathered to watch the actors and it led to much curiosity amongst local people. Eyewitness accounts of the filming describe extra police being called in from Larne to control the crowds.  Two other major feature films, The Early Bird(1936) a country comedy, was filmed in Glenarm and Carnlough, while Devil’s Rock, a romantic drama, was shot in Cushendun in 1937. Large crowds queued to see The Early Bird which broke box-office records in Galway, Dingle and Carlow. In Irish and Proud of It (1936) – filmed at Clogher Head in Co. Louth – a young actress, Dinah Sheridan, appeared alongside Hayward in the lead role. Years later she went on to play the part of Mrs Waterbury in The Railway Children. Apart from a brief appearance in the Titanic film A Night to Remember (1957) Hayward gave up the film world and concentrated on developing his writing career.

He turned his hand to writing a novel and in 1936 published Sugarhouse Entry, the story of a farming community at Gortloughan in the Co. Down countryside. It was well received by the critics and endorsed by Sean O’Faolain in The Spectator who said the book had “a homely air … Mr Hayward evokes the old, loving atmosphere of hearth and home.”

But it was his first travel book, In Praise of Ulster, published two years later, which brought him to literary prominence. The book covered all nine counties of Ulster and was illustrated with forty-eight wash drawings by the landscape artist James Humbert Craig. The sketches included coastal scenes, mountains, green roads and wheel-less carts, and covered a diverse range of cultural experiences and traditional pastimes.  A wide-ranging book, In Praise of Ulster bristles with topography, geology, archaeology, cultural history, and reflects the author’s interest in music. Hayward laced his work with humour and whimsy. “Ballyshannon looks better,” he wrote in the Donegal chapter, “from a distance than it does on closer inspection.”

The book was an immediate success and was reprinted four times during the Second World War. This led to his decision to explore and write about other parts of Ireland, spreading his wings to the midlands, the west and the southwest. Hayward was a lover of the Shannon region and his second travel book Where the River Shannon flows (1940) recounts the story of a journey by caravan following the course of the river from the Shannon Pot in Cavan to Ballybunnion in Kerry. He also made a film to accompany the book which was screened at cinemas in Ireland. He had a particular fondness for Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, and in 1945 was made a ‘freeman’ of the town for his work promoting inland waterways.

He followed his Shannon book by writing about the Corrib region in the west of Ireland. The Corrib Country came out in spring 1943 and covered the area stretching from Lough Mask through Corrib to Galway Bay. He again collaborated with Humbert Craig whose thirty-eight sketches included the Maumturk Mountains, turf cutters and the built heritage of Galway city. Towards the end of the war Hayward took off to Co. Kerry for five weeks with the artist Theo Gracey and the result was In the Kingdom of Kerry (1946).

In the late 1940s Hayward teamed up with the Belfast artist Raymond Piper and together, over a period of 17 years, they explored every county and produced five regional topographical books in a series called ‘This is Ireland.’ The first, Leinster and the City of Dublin (1949) covers twelve counties with the lion’s share going to Dublin. It was followed by four other regional books: Ulster and the City of Belfast(1950), Connacht and the City of Galway (1952), Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim & Roscommon (1955), and in 1964, Munster and the City of Cork was published to critical acclaim just a few weeks before his death.

During this period, Hayward was busy in journalism and broadcasting but managed to find time to write three other books in the 1950s. Belfast through the Ages (1952), an anthology of historical essays, was illustrated by Raymond Piper;Border Foray (1957) recounted a 200-mile “leisurely examination” along the Irish border featuring folklore, legend and history. Piper’s cover artwork for the book included a collection of mythological characters of Irish history and shows an image of St Patrick playing the harp, his face a caricature of Hayward’s. One of his abiding loves was playing the harp, and in 1954 Hayward’s book, The Story of the Irish Harp, reflected his love of the instrument. He had been taught to play it by two nuns at a convent in Lisburn, Coounty Antrim; later he presented one of his historic harps to the National Museum of Ireland.    

In the post-war years Hayward had resumed his broadcasting with renewed vigour taking part in humorous conversation programmes and song recitals in the BBC, both for the local service and the overseas services. By the mid-fifties he was back on a regular basis in Broadcasting House, the BBC’s regional headquarters in Ormeau Avenue in Belfast where he was a familiar figure. During this period he recorded a series of short musical programmes for the BBC Northern Ireland Home Service.  For more than five years he contributed to a wide range of programmes and was now a household name. The titles of some of these included "Ulster Songs and Ballads", “Ulster Magazine”, “Sounds of Ulster”, “Ballads, Songs and Snatches”, and “Ulster Edition”.

On the opening night of Ulster Television, 31 October, 1959, Sir Laurence Olivier introduced Richard Hayward as “Ireland’s son with the minstrel hand.” He handed over to him to present the first programme ‘Talks of Ulster’, and Hayward sang and played one of his own songs. He also recorded a series in 1964 for UTV called “Looking Back”.

In his twenties, Hayward had joined the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club, but left in the 1930s, re-joining again in 1944. He was appointed club President on 10 April, 1951, serving for 1951-2. One of the most colourful sides to his membership was his tour guiding. The 1950s was considered a golden era in the history of the club with membership rising to more than 700. During the 1950s and early ’60s Hayward conducted popular excursions with club members hungry for information about remote parts of Ireland and at the same time enjoying the charisma of his company. These trips ranged from local outings to long Easter weekends excursions to the far west, southwest, or southeast of Ireland.

In 1951 the Field Club set up a new folklore and dialect section. The driving force behind it was Hayward and his nephew Brendan Adams who succeeded him as President the following year. They embarked on a huge project to compile a dictionary of Ulster dialect words sending out 900 questionnaires to a wide variety of people including teachers, retired civil servants, lighthouse keepers, fishermen and organizations such as the Women’s Institute and Young Farmers’ Clubs. The research was fruitful, bringing in replies and resulting in many long-forgotten words being preserved. No dictionary was published in Hayward’s lifetime but the results ultimately helped provide the basis for theConcise Ulster Dictionary published by Oxford University Press in 1996. The book editors acknowledge that the origins of the archive date to 1951 when Hayward and Adams began their survey.

For many years Hayward had been a renowned singer of Orange ballads and was known as ‘the original Orange ballader’. In 1957 he joined the Orange Order, becoming a member of Eldon LOL, a Belfast lodge made up of the business and professional classes. He was appointed to a newly formed Lodge of Research and at the time of this death was preparing a history of the institution to be produced on an LP.  

The affairs of local government claimed his attention in the 1950s. Hayward was a member of the libraries committee of Belfast Corporation and sat on an association  committee in the early days of the establishment of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. He took on civic responsibilities, including a position as Justice of the Peace, and served on a Ministry of Home Affairs Stormont Committee looking into the treatment of gypsies in Northern Ireland. He was closely involved with the Irish branch of PEN, serving as Belfast chairman on three occasions and representing the organisation in 1963 at its International Congress in Norway.

In the final years of his life, Hayward received awards including an honorary degree which was conferred on him by Lafayette College, Pennsylvania in June 1959. The citation stated that his doctorate was awarded for ‘distinguished services to Irish literature’ and in recognition of his contribution to the development and spread of Irish literature. It recognised his ‘love of Ireland and Irish lore’ and that he ‘had conveyed the joy in beauty and the love of the country to many.’ In 1963, he was elected Honorary Life Associate of the British Institute of Recorded Sound. The following year, in February 1964, he was re-elected to the position of President of the Ulster Folksong Society and in June 1964 was appointed Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to art and literature.

His death in a car accident near Ballymena, Co. Antrim, on 13 October 1964, in which two other people were also killed, was widely reported in the press. He had been on his way to give a talk on folklore to Ballymena Rotary Club, apparently suffering a heart attack while driving. The Irish Times described his death as "a great loss to Ireland" and said he enjoyed an international reputation. The Times called him ‘one of Ulster’s most colourful and versatile characters’. He was cremated at Roselawn, near Belfast on 16 October; on 4 November a memorial service was attended by more than 300 people in St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.

Richard Hayward was a man of boundless energy, fierce ambition, and infectious enthusiasm. Through his books and writing, his tour guiding and films, he opened up the country to thousands of people. His travel books capture an Ireland long gone. They are a remarkable record of a country going through dramatic social and political change before the modern era. 

In May 2013, in a gesture of recognition, the Ulster History Circle unveiled a blue plaque at his house at 352 Antrim Road in Belfast where he lived for more than twenty years, commemorating him as "Writer, Actor, Singer".This was followed by a series of events coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of his death and has led to a process of rediscovery. For the first time his extraordinary life story has been told in a biography and in a television documentary.In Search of Richard Hayward was shown on BBC Northern Ireland which also screened the first ever showing on television of his feature film The Luck of the Irish. The Linen Hall Library in Belfast, in conjunction with the Public Record Office, held a series of talks culminating in a symposium on Hayward on 24 October 2014. A BBC Writers Exhibition, In Praise of Ulster: Scenes from the life of Richard Hayward, toured libraries in Northern Ireland. Two low-relief bronze-cast portraits of Hayward by the sculptor Charles Ludlow were commissioned in 2015. Mounted on speckled marble, sand cast and patinated, they were presented for permanent display to the Linen Hall Library, and the Orange Heritage Museum, Belfast. 

Born: 24 October 1892
Died: 13 October 1964
Paul Clements

Richard Clarke, Peter Cavan, Richard Scott Hayward, Richard Froggatt

Dictionary of National Biography ( entry by Professor RSJ Clarke); Dictionary of Irish Biography( entry by Linde Lunney; Citizen Science: 150 years of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club, (Ulster Museum Exhibition, spring 2013, Peter Crowther; Romancing Ireland: Richard Hayward 1892-1964 (Lilliput Press, 2014) Paul Clements; In Praise of Ulster: Scenes from the Life of Richard Hayward (BBC Writers Series and BBC Touring Exhibition, 2014) by Mark Adair and Paul Clements; ‘An Irishman’s Diary’, The Irish Times, 4 August 2007 and 24 May 2014 (Paul Clements); presentation and lecture by Paul Clements to the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, 6 January 2016