‘Blacklisted’ poet deserves recognition

By Scott Jamison

A campaign has begun to recognise a South Belfast poet – described as Ireland’s greatest – who was “ostracised” from the local arts scene after writing a series of poems critical of the authorities during the Troubles.

Pádraic Fiacc, who currently lives in Whitehall Parade off the Ormeau Road, has been called ‘the big daddy’ of the local poetry scene. However, after a series of pieces criticising the British and their involvement in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, Fiacc was effectively “blacklisted” and has subsequently not appeared in many official literary accounts of Belfast.

Now Michael McKernon, of cultural group Multimedia Heritage, has called on Fiacc to be brought “front and centre to receive the recognition he deserves”.

“Fiacc is now 87, blind and lives in a fold but I speak to him regularly and his mind is still as sharp as a tack. His health is failing so it is time he was put on the literary map once and for all before it’s too late.

“He lives a very simple life and has few worldly possessions but he still craves that official recognition that he was denied for so many years. For years he was almost forgotten about but I collected his works and published it under the title Sea – Sixty Years of Poetry in 2006.

“Following that, Radio Bristol contacted us to do a show on him called Lost Voices. After that we had people contacting us to ask why they had never heard of him. But that’s because in Belfast he is nowhere to be seen.”

Born Joe O’Connor in Elizabeth Street off the Grosvenor Road in 1924, Fiacc’s family  moved to Eliza Street in the Markets but sectarian strife in Belfast led the family to cross the Atlantic and establish a grocery business in New York, settling in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan.

However, it was once he returned here in 1946 – living in Farmley in Glengormley on the outskirts of North Belfast – that Fiacc came to prominence, composing a series of poems railing against the British army and several incidents of the Troubles.

“He sensed the conflict brewing and in the early 70s met a poet from Glengormley called Gerry McLaughlin, who he took under his wing. McLaughlin was murdered in April 1975 and Fiacc never really came to terms with it.

“He wrote about his anguish in poems such as Ditch of Dawn and Panis Angelicus, which showed how distraught he was. But the establishment was not impressed and the rest of the poetry community was encouraged to ostracise him. He has been buried ever since.”

Michael insists now is the time for a re-evaluation of Fiacc’s work, which can hopefully lead to his acceptance by the artistic community.

“Without thinking of the consequences, he reacted like all great artists by responding about the war and he was subsequently placed into a box by officialdom.

“That’s why people know so little of him.

“When you see literary histories of Belfast there’s no mention of him, but you can see his influence in works by Heaney and Hewitt among others. He was streets ahead of all of them despite only producing about 12 anthologies.

“That’s a shame but now is the time that we can change all that.”

 

 

 

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