Sam McAughtry: Belfast writer and broadcaster dies

Sam McAughtry remembers his first time on BBC Radio Ulster

The writer and broadcaster Sam McAughtry has died after a long illness.

McAughtry, from the loyalist Tiger's Bay in north Belfast was known for his wry wit and his skills as a raconteur.

As well as being a talented writer and broadcaster, he worked for peace and understanding across Ireland.

He was a northern Protestant who served as a member of the Irish Senate. He helped set up the Peace Train between Belfast and Dublin.

Sam McAughtry was born in Belfast in 1923. He left school at the age of 14. He later joined the Royal Air Force and worked as a labourer and a civil servant before becoming a full-time writer and broadcaster.

His first published book was The Sinking of the Kenbane Head in 1977.

Start Quote

It is my dearest wish to see this island inhabited by five million Irish people, living in two jurisdictions with consent, but with institutions established to emphasise their Irishness”

End Quote Sam McAughtry

It was at a reading for that book, that he first attracted the attention of broadcasters and was invited to contribute to a radio programme.

In the Living Air for Radio Ulster, he later looked back on his early days and said it was "great fun".

"I was with Frank Delaney on Monday mornings. I wrote and presented a 10-minute tale, illustrating a theme. I used to end with a wink for effect," he said.

He went on to write a series of books, including novels and autobiographies.

His works included: Play It Again Sam; Blind Spot; Sam McAughtry's Belfast; McAughtry's War; Belfast Stories.

His memoir, On the Outside Looking In, was published in 2003.

As well as writing and broadcasting, he was a regular contributor for the Irish Times.

He was also a committed member of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and a strong trade unionist.

'Immense talent'

On his election to the Irish Senate in 1996, he was straightforward in declaring his feelings about his home.

In his first address to the senate on 28 February, he said: "I am a hybrid unionist in that I am happy to live in the United Kingdom but I am happier still to be Irish and to proclaim my Irishness.

Sam McAughtry Sam McAughtry was a writer from Tiger's Bay in north Belfast

"As I stated on the day of my election, it is my dearest wish to see this island inhabited by five million Irish people, living in two jurisdictions with consent, but with institutions established to emphasise their Irishness. I have urged for some time that we should negotiate as Irish people to Irish people.

"I am greatly saddened to see graffiti on walls in my area with references to the Irish as some sort of enemy. For people living in areas, such as Ballyhackamore, to discourage the Irish language seems a sad error of judgment."

He said that his background was Labour and the issues concerning Labour, both north and south, were of interest to him.

"I should advise the Seanad that the population of the town of Comber from where I come is almost entirely Protestant and they are just as glad as members seem to be to see me take my seat in the House. I bring that news from the North," he said.

Irish President Michael D Higgins said Mr McAughtry would be remembered as "a man of immense talent and integrity, who continually and courageously sought ways of making a positive and cross-community contribution to the discourse of peace in his native Northern Ireland".

"He will be especially remembered for his ongoing efforts, his writings and his personal example in the fight for a non-sectarian society, and maintaining a lifelong focus on the ultimate prize of peace and reconciliation; and also his efforts to unite trade union members in particular in that cause," he said.

Northern Ireland Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín paid tribute to Mr McAughtry.

"Sam's path took him from Tiger's Bay to the Irish Senate, through decades of historic events," she said.

"His artistic contribution served to enrich life, not only in the north, but across Ireland and beyond. He added a splash of colour with his wit and storytelling.

"My thoughts and sympathies are with his family and friends at this time."

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