Michael McLaverty (1904-92)

[Michael Francis McLaverty] b. 5 July, Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan; raised in Belfast where his f. was a waiter, living at moved to Clowney St., W. Belfast [Falls Rd.]; ed. St. Gall’s Primary Sch., and then St. Malachy’s College Secondary, Antrim Rd., Belfast; grad. from Queen’s University, Belfast, BSc., 1927; took PG Dip Ed., at St. Mary’s, TTC [University Coll.], Strawberry Hill, London, grad. 1928; worked as a mathematics teacher at St John’s Primary School [PES], West Belfast, 1929-57; grad. MSc. (QUB), in 1933; issued Call My Brother Back (1939), semi-autobiographical novel developed from based on the Rathlin-based story ‘Leavetaking’; issued Lost Fields (1941), a novel based on childhood experiences in Toome, nr. Lough Neagh, and afterwards in Belfast and called ‘a born artist’ in review by Edwin Muir; appt. headmaster at St Thomas’ Secondary School, Ballymurphy (West Belfast), 1957-64;
wrote story-collections The White Mare (1943) and The Game Cock (1947); also eight novels novels incl. The Three Brothers (1948); Truth in the Night (1952); School For Hope (1954), The Choice (1958), and The Brightening Day (1965); he left St John's to take up post as headmaster at the newly-founded St. Thomas’s Secondary School, Whiterock Rd., 1957; m. Mary (‘Mollie’) Conroy, living and entertaining writers at their home in, Deramore Drive off Malone Rd.; issued further stories in The Road to the Shore (1976) and Collected Stories (1978), ed. David Marcus; made strong impression on Heaney while headmaster while the latter was a student teacher at St. Thomas’s, and lent him Kavanagh’s Soul for Sale, 1962; MacLaverty retired to concentrate on fiction-writing, 1964, but found himself unable to write and plunged into depression;
d. 23 March [var. 20], at Ardglass, Co. Down; he is the dedicatee of ‘‘Fosterage’’ by Seamus Heaney (who worked under him at St. Malachy’s), of ‘‘North Man’’ by Padraic Fiacc and also work by Roy McFadden; correspondences with, among others, Jonathan Cape, Fr. Joe Conboy, Daniel Corkery, Cathal B. Daly, Padraic Fiacc, Brian Friel, D. A. Garrity, Julie Kernan, John McGahern, David Marcus, John O’Connor, Horace Reynolds, Elizabeth Schnack [trans.], and Cecil Scott; called the “northern laureate” by Sean O’Faolain, 1976; stories reissued by Sophia Hillan [King], 2002; Maura Cregan holds the literary executor, together with Sophia Hillan; his literary settings feature Carrickmacross, Rathlin Island, Toomebridge, Belfast, the Lecale area of County Down. IF DIW DIL DUB OCIL


Michael MacLaverty

[...] One of Ireland’s finest writers, McLaverty’s stories draw on the people and places where he lived, visited and worked, and they feature in his writing - Carrickmacross, Rathlin Island, Toomebridge, Belfast, the Lecale area of County Down where he spent his family holidays and finally lived permanently after his retirement. His short stories, regarded by many as his best work, are lyrical evocations of human emotions and moral choices and their attention to detail of place and mood paint a vivid portrait of the lives and ethical dilemmas of ordinary people. His writing was increasingly influenced by his strong moral sense and his finely drawn characters display the conflicting themes of the human condition, reflecting their uniquely Irish Catholic perspectives, played out often to their logical, and sometimes stark, conclusion. In his introduction to Collected Short Stories Seamus Heaney, who had been a student teacher in St. Thomas’s in McLaverty’s last years there, wrote that his work showed ‘a comprehension of the central place of suffering and sacrifice in the life of the spirit’.

See The Devlin Family - online; accessed 02.05.2017.

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  • Call My Brother Back (London & NY: Longmans, Green 1939), and Do. (Dublin: Allen Figgis 1970; Dublin: Poolbeg 1979).
  • Lost Fields (NY & Toronto: Longmans, Green 1941), and Do. (London: Cape 1942; Dublin: Poolbeg 1980).
  • In This Thy Day (London: Cape; NY: Macmillan 1945; Dublin: Poolbeg 1981) [IF err. NY 1947].
  • The Three Brothers (London: Cape 1948), and Do. (Dublin: Poolbeg 1982).
  • Truth in the Night (NY: Macmillan 1951), and Do. (London: Cape 1952; Dublin: Poolbeg 1986).
  • School For Hope (London: Cape 1954), and Do. (Dublin: Poolbeg 1992).
  • The Choice (London: Cape 1958), and Do. (Dublin: Poolbeg 1991), 239pp.
  • The Brightening Day (NY: Macmillan 1965), and Do. (Dublin: Poolbeg 1987), 278pp.
  • In Quiet Places ([Dublin]: Poolbeg [1989]).
For children
  • Billy Boogles and the Brown Cow (Dublin: Poolbeg 1982).
Short Stories
  • The White Mare and Other Stories (NY: Devin-Adair 1947).
  • The Game Cock and Other Stories [ill. Sr. Uptergrove] (London: Cape; NY: Devin-Adair 1947; 3rd imp. 1949).
  • The Road to the Shore and Other Sotries (Dublin: Poolbeg [1976]).
Edited collections
  • David Marcus, ed., Collected Short Stories (Dublin: Poolbeg [1979]).
  • Sophia Hillan, ed. & afterword, Collected Short Stories, intro. by Seamus Heaney (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2002), 307pp., il. wood engrav. by Barbara Childs.
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Journal contributions
  • ‘The Green Field’, in in Irish Monthly, 60 (August 1932), pp.497-504.
  • ‘The Turf Stack’, in Irish Monthly, 60 (December 1932), pp.751-55.
  • ‘The Boots’, in Irish Monthly, 61 (May 1933), pp.309-13.
  • ‘The Grey Goat’, in Irish Monthly, 61 (August 1933), pp.516-20.
  • ‘The Letter’, in Irish Monthly, 61 (December 1933), pp.750-53.
  • ‘The Wild Duck’s Nest’ [orig. vers.], in Irish Monthly, 62 (April 1934), pp.236-40.
  • ‘The Trout’, in Irish Monthly, 63 (January 1935), pp.47-53.
  • ‘The Return’, in Catholic World (Spring 1935), pp.657-63.
  • ‘Evening in Winter’, in Irish Monthly, 63 (May 1935), pp.314-18.
  • ‘The Prophet’, in Irish Monthly, 64 (February 1936), pp.95-101.
  • ‘Pigeons’, in New Stories (April/May 1936) [q.pp.].
  • ‘Aunt Suzanne’, in Ireland Today, II, 3 (March 1937), pp.48-57.
  • ‘Leavetaking’, in Ireland Today, II, 7 (July 1937), pp.45-51.
  • ‘A Game Cock’, in Ireland Today, II, 10 (October 1937), pp.51-58.
  • ‘The Race’, in Capuchin Annual (1937), pp.223-24.
  • ‘Stone’, ‘The White Mare’, and ‘The Sea’, in Capuchin Annual (1939), 150-75.
  • ‘Becalmed’, in Capuchin Annual, (1940), 200-18.
  • ‘Moonshine’, in The Bell, II, 4 (July 1941), pp.34-9.
  • ‘Sea Road’ [extract from In This Thy Day], in Capuchin Annual (1943), 486-90.
  • ‘Vigil’, in Northern Harvest: An Anthology of Ulster Writing, ed. Robert Greacen (Belfast 1944), pp.34-39.
  • ‘The Passing Generation’, extract from In This Thy Day, in Lagan, 2 (1944), pp.13-17.
  • ‘The Road to the Shore’, in Selected Writings, ed. Reginald Moore, 5 (London 1944), pp.19-26.
  • ‘The Mother’, in Irish Harvest: A Collection of Stories, Essays and Poems, ed., Robert Greacen, Dublin 1946, 99-116.
  • ‘Six Weeks On and Two Ashore’, in Irish Writing, 4 (April 1948), pp.36-45.
  • ‘A Half Crown’, in The Bell, XVII, 5 (August 1951), pp.25-33.
  • ‘The Miss Devlins’ [extract from School For Hope], The Bell, XVIII, 9 (February 1953), 529-543.
  • ‘Uprooted’, in Dublin Magazine, XXXI, 3 (July/September 1956), pp.22-35.
  • ‘The Circus Pony’, in Dublin Magazine, XXXII, 4 (October/December 1957), pp. 23-35.
  • ‘Mother and Daughter’, in Kilkenny Magazine (Spring 1965), pp.47.
  • ‘Steeplejacks’, in Irish Press, 10 Aug. 1968.
  • ‘The Priest’s Housekeeper’, in Aquarius (1972) [q.pp.].
  • ‘After Forty Years’, in “New Irish Writing”, Irish Press (13 March 1976).

Note: The above and much other bibliographical information given here has been kindly supplied by Michael Crowley (25 April 1997).

  • ‘The Young Poets’, in PEN in Ulster (Belfast 1942) [q.p.].
  • ‘Michael McLaverty Explains His Methods in Writing as He Sketches Background of The Three Brothers’, in Forecast [Wisconsin] (August 1948), pp.6-7.
  • ‘Letter to a Young Novelist’, in The Key (London 1948), [q.p.].
  • ‘Commentary on Short Story Competition’, in Q (QUB 1952), [q.p.].
  • ‘A Note on Katherine Mansfield’, Belfast Telegraph (15 January 1955).
  • ‘Anton Chekov: A Man of Sympathy and a Gentle, Ironic Humour’, in Belfast Telegraph (5 November 1955), [q.p.]
Works in translation
  • Nouvelles: traduction intégrale, dir. Jacqueline Genet and Élisabeth Hellegouarc’h. with a preface by Seamus Heaney [Groupe de Recherche Anglo-Irlandaises, Univ. de Caen] (Presse Univ. de Caen 1996), 331pp. [see contents].
  • Sophia Hillan King, ed., In Quiet Places: Uncollected Stories, Letters, and Critical Prose (Dublin: Poolbeg 1989). [correspondents incl. Cape; Fr. Joe Conboy; Daniel Corkery; Cathal B. Daly; Padraic Fiacc; Brian Friel; D.A. Garrity; Julie Kernan; John McGahern; David Marcus; John O’Connor; Horace Reynolds; Elizabeth Schnack (trans.); Cecil Scott, et al.]
  • Michael Crowley, ‘A Michael McLaverty Bibliography’, in Honest Ulsterman (Spring 1999), pp.75-84.
  • Sophia Hillan King, ed., In Quiet Places: Uncollected Stories, Letters, and Critical Prose of Michael McLaverty (Dublin: Poolbeg 1989) - Supplementary Bibliography [arranged by type - e.g., “letters”, “Articles”, &c. - and reviews of individual works, attached].

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Bibliographical details
The White Mare and Other Stories ( Newcastle, Co. Down: Mourne Press 1943), Contents: ‘’The Game Cock’; ‘The White Mare’; ‘Moonshine’; ‘The Prophet’; ‘Look at the Boats’; ‘A Schoolmaster’.

The Game Cock and Other Stories (NY: Devin-Adair 1947; London: Jonathan Cape 1949), 190pp. CONTENTS: 1. “The Game Cock”, on cock-fighting; 2. “The Wild Duck”s Nest”, set on Rathlin; 3. “The Road to the Shore, five nuns on annual excursion; 4. “Father Christmas”, set in the department store; 5. “The White Mare” - three old people, and then the old plouging mare is sold; 6. “The Mother”, a widow with boys and her father in the workhouse considers a second marriage; 7. “The Prophet”, Brendan, a Rathlin boy, forecasts the weather; 8. “Aunt Suzanne”, with an iron foot and addicted to the bottle. 9. “The Poteen Maker”, Master Craig experiments with poteen-stilling; 10, ‘The Schooner’, set on Rathlin; 11, ‘The Pigeons’, a young man who died for Ireland c.1920; 12. ‘Look at the Boats’, orphan Peter hired by two old folk on Co. Down farm. The London edition incls. [13.] ‘Six Weeks On and Two Ashore”, A lighthouse keeper and wife squabble on his leave. (Summaries taken from Desmond Clarke, Ireland in Fiction [Pt II] (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985 - infra.)

The Road to the Shore (Dublin: Poolbeg 1976), Contents: ‘The Road to the Shore’; ‘The Poteen Maker’; ‘Uprooted’; ‘Six Weeks On and Two Ashore’; ‘The Wild Duck’s Nest’; ‘The Circus Pony’; ‘Mother and Daughter’; ‘The Schooner’; ‘After Forty Years’; ‘Stone’; ‘Steeplejacks’: ‘Evening in Winter’; ‘The White Mare’.

Collected Short Stories of Michael MacLaverty, introduced by Seamus Heaney (Dublin: Poolbeg 1978), Contents: ‘The Prophet’; ‘Pigeons’; ‘Aunt Suzanne’; ‘Stone’; ‘The Priest’s Housekeeper’; ‘Uprooted’; ‘The Game Cock’; ‘After Forty Years’; ‘The White Mare’; ‘A Half Crown’; ‘Evening in Winter’; ‘The Mother’; ‘The Poteen Maker’; ‘The Road to the Shore’; ‘A Schoolmaster’; ‘Six Weeks On and Two Ashore’; ‘The Wild Duck’s Nest’; ‘Look at the Boats’; ‘Father Christmas’; ‘Mother and Daughter’; ‘Steeplejacks’; ‘The Schooner’; ‘The Circus Pony’.

Sophia Hillan King, ed., In Quiet Places: Uncollected Stories, Letters, and Critical Prose (Dublin: Poolbeg 1989). SELECTED CONTENTS: ‘Gerard Manley Hopkins’, [talk before Belfast Group/P.E.N.] (May 1944), pp.93-99; ‘The Novel and the Short Story’ [unpubl., 1947]), pp.112-113; ‘Francois Mauriac’ [examining centrality of cross in French author’s fiction], 1949, p.133; ‘On Writing a Novel’, [unpubl., 1949], p.135; ‘Night and Day: A Note on Literature’ [talk before QUB English Soc., 2 Dec. 1949], pp.142-48; ‘Idea for a Novel’ [notes for The Brightening Day], pp.153-54; ‘Hemingway’ [unpubl.; incl. refs. to Forrest Reid, Chekhov, and Tolstoy, 1953], p.171; ‘On Writing’ [unpubl. 1953], p.172; ‘My Method in Writing Prose’ [unpubl. 1954], p.177; ‘The Short Story’ [unpubl. 1955],. p.187; ‘K. Mansfield and K. A. Porter’ [talk before Galway Literary Society, March 1965], pp.212-16; Notes for a Talk to a Young Writers’ Group, Monaghan, 24 July 1967]; pp.221-25; ‘Autobiographical Fragment’ [unpubl. 1978], pp.229-30; ‘Four Ducks on a Pond’, ‘Preliminary Notes for an Autobiography’ [unpubl. 1982], pp.230-231.

Nouvelles: traduction intégrale, dir. Jacqueline Genet and Élisabeth Hellegouarc’h, with a preface by Seamus Heaney [Groupe de Recherche Anglo-Irlandaises, Univ. de Caen] (Presse Univ. de Caen 1996), 331pp. CONTENTS: Introduction, Bernard Le Gros; Preface, Seamus Heaney, traduction de Ginette Emprin; Le Prophete (traduction de Margie Debelle); Les Pigeons (traduction d’Annette Goizet); Tante Suzanne (traduction d’Annette Goizet); La Pierre (traduction de Bernard Le Gros); La Gouvernante du prêtre (traduction de Bernard Le Gros); Deoracines (traduction de Joel Dupont); Le Coq de combat (traduction de Jean-Louis Chevalier); Quarante ans apres (traduction de Joel Dupont); La Jument blanche (traduction de Jacques Chuto); Une demi-couronne (traduction de Jacques Chuto); Soiree d’hiver (traduction de Jacqueline Genet); La Mère (traduction de Margie Debelle); Le Fabriquant de Poteen (traduction de Jacqueline Genet); En route vers le bord de mer (traduction d’Annie Meriaux); Un maltre d’école (traduction de Jacqueline Genet); Six semaines en mer et deux a terre (traduction d’Annie Meriaux); Le Nid de cane sauvage (traduction de Godeleine Carpentier); Oh, les beaux bateaux! (traduction de Godeleine Carpentier); Le Pere Noel (traduction d’Elisabeth Hellegouarc’h); Mere et fille (traduction d’Elisabeth Hellegouarc’h); Réparateurs de cheminées (traduction de Sylviane Troadec); La Goélette (traduction de Sylviane Troadec); Le Poney de cirque (traduction de Ginette Emprin).

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  • John Hewitt, [q. title], in The Bell, 4, 4 (July 1942), pp.303-04.
  • Joseph Tomelty, ‘The Best Books on Ulster’, in The Bell, 4, No. 4 (July 1942), [q.p.].
  • St John Ervine, ‘Mr. McLaverty’s Clocking Hen’, in Belfast Telegraph (10 August 1945), [q.p.].
  • Padraic Ervine, ‘Good and Evil: Prolegomenon to a Study of McLaverty’s Work’, in Irish Bookman, 1, 5 (December 1946), pp.37-41.
  • Roy McFadden, ‘A Note on Contemporary Ulster Writing’, Northman, XIV, 2 (Winter 1946), pp.20-26.
  • Rev Matthew Hoehn, OSB, Catholic Authors: Contemporary Biographical Sketches, 1930-1947 (NJ: 1947).
  • Abigail Q. McCarthy, ‘Catholic Literature-and Two Irishmen’, in Today (Christmas 1947), p.16.
  • Temple Lane, ‘The Silken Twine’, Irish Times (1948), [q.p.].
  • John Boyd, ‘Ulster Prose’, in Sam Hanna Bell, et al, eds., The Arts in Ulster: A Symposium (London: George G. Harrap 1951), pp.99-130.
  • H. A. McHugh, ‘Michael McLaverty: Novelist’, in Redemptorist Record, XV, 4 (July-August 1951), pp.98-100.
  • Blanche Mary Kelly, ‘Michael McLaverty’, in The Voice of the Irish (NY 1952), [q.p.].
  • David Marcus, ‘From Joyce to Joyce,’ in Irish Writing, 18 (March 1952), pp.44-49.
  • Kate O’Brien, review of The White Mare and Other Stories, in Spectator (7 January 1944), [q.p.].
  • Robert Greacen, review of The White Mare and Other Stories, in The Bell, VII, 5 (Feb. 1944), pp.449-50.
  • Teresa Deevy, [q. title], in Dublin Magazine, XXX, 4 (Oct.-Dec. 1954), pp.79-80.
  • Dennis Kennedy, ‘Is This Man as Good as O’Connor?’, in Belfast Telegraph (2 Sept. 1965), [q.p.].
  • Augustine Martin, ‘Inherited Dissent: The Dilemma of the Irish Writer’, in Studies, 54 (Spring 1965), pp.1-20.
  • Sean McMahon, ‘The Black North: Prose Writers and the North of Ireland’, in Eire-Ireland, 2 (1966), pp.63-74, rep. in Threshold, 21 (Summer 1967), pp.154-74.
  • John Cronin, ‘Ulster’s Alarming Novels’, in Éire-Ireland, 4, 4 (Winter 1969), pp.27-34 [see extract].
  • Benedict Kiely, ‘Michael McLaverty: The Thorn in the Water’, in Hibernia, 34 (17 July 1970), p.11, rep. as ‘The Thorn in the Water: The Stories of Michael McLaverty’, in Kiely, A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays (Cork UP 1999), pp.256-58.
  • John Wilson Foster, ‘McLaverty’s People’, in Éire-Ireland, 4 (Fall 1971), pp.92-105 [see extract].
  • Foster, Forces and Themes in Ulster Fiction (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1974), pp.36-47, and 59-63 [remarks on Call My Brother Back, The Choice, The Game Cock, In This Thy Day, Lost Fields, Truth in the Night].
  • Brian Donnelly, ‘Michael McLaverty: An Appraisal’, in Irish Press (2 March 1974), [q.p.].
  • Robert Greacen, ‘Writing in Wartime Belfast’, in Irish Times (16 March 1976), [q.p.].
  • Sean O’Faolain, ‘A Northern Laureate’, in Irish Press (13 Mar. 1976), [q.p.].
  • Richard Fallis, The Irish Renaissance (NY: Syracuse UP 1977), pp.204, 232, 273, 275-76.
  • Seamus Heaney, ‘Introduction,’ Collected Short Stories of Michael McLaverty (Dublin: Poolbeg 1978), pp.7-9.
  • Foster, ‘Private Worlds: The Stories of Michael McLaverty’, in Patrick Rafroidi & Terence Brown, eds., The Irish Short Story (NJ: Humanities Press 1979), pp.249-59.
  • Klaus Lubbers, ‘Irish Fiction: A Mirror for Specifics’, in Eire-Ireland, 20, 2 (Summer 1985), pp. 90-104.
  • James Cahalan, The Irish Novel (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1988), pp.194-96.
  • Sophia Hillan King, ‘Conscience and the Novelist: Michael McLaverty’s Journals and Critical Writings of the Forties’, in Studies, 78, 309 (Spring 1989), pp.58-71.
  • Hillan King, ed., Introduction to In Quiet Places: The Uncollected Stories, Letters and Critical Prose of Michael McLaverty (Dublin: Poolbeg Press 1989).
  • Hillan King, ‘Quiet Desperation: Variations on a Theme in the Writings of Daniel Corkery, Michael McLaverty and John McGahern,’ in Myrtle Hill & Sarah Barber, eds., Aspects of Irish Studies (Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies/QUB, 1990), pp.39-46.
  • Lubbers, ‘Michael McLaverty: Pigeons’, in Die Englische und Amerikanische Kurzeschichte (Darmstadt: Buchgeselleschaft 1990), pp.315-26.
  • John McGahern, ‘A Poet Who Worked in Prose’ [obituary], Irish Independent (21 March 1992), [q.p.].
  • Eileen Battersby, ‘Death of Michael McLaverty’ [obituary], in The Irish Times (21 March 1992), [q.p.].
  • Seamus Heaney, ‘Michael McLaverty’ [obituary], in Fortnight Supplement (2 May 1992), p.31.
  • Seamus Deane, tribute to MacLaverty, in Fortnight Review, 306 (May 1992), [q.p.].
  • Sophia Hillan King, ‘Michael McLaverty’, in Damian Smyth, ed., ‘Lost Fields: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Six Ulster Novelists’, a supplement to Fortnight Review 306 (May 1992), pp.2-3.
  • Robert Greacen, ‘Some Memories of Michael McLaverty’, in Martello Arts Review (Winter 1992), pp.16-20.
  • Hillan King, The Silken Twine: A Study of the Works of Michael McLaverty (Dublin: Poolbeg 1992), 269pp.
  • Jack Holland, review of The Silken Twine: A Study of the Works of Michael McLaverty by Sophia Hillan King, in Irish Times (3 October 1992), [q.p.].
  • James M. Cahalan, review of Hillan King’s The Silken Twine, in Éire-Ireland (Winter 1993), pp.152-54.
  • Hillan King, ‘The Millstone and the Star, Regionalism as Strength’, in Linenhall Review (Autumn 1994), [q.p.].
  • Michael Crowley, ‘A Michael McLaverty Bibliography’, in Honest Ulsterman (Spring 1999), pp.75-84.
  • Seamus Heaney, introduction to Collected Short Stories (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2002).
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John Cronin
John Wilson Foster
Seamus Heaney
Jack Holland
Peter Costello
Robert Greacen
Simon Conway

Michael McLaverty - Letter to John McGahern (letter of 1963): “There’s a chap on the staff I’d like you to meet. He has a first class hons in English, and though that may suggest to you that he hobbles through literature on borrowed crutches, it’s not so in this case. He is creative and is endowed with taste and discernment and has read and reread passages in your book with unstinted admiration for its style and quiet power.” (Quoted by Sophia Hillan, in ‘Michael McLaverty, Seamus Heaney and the writerly bond’, Irish Times, 20 Oct. 2017.)

John Cronin, ‘Ulster’s Alarming Novels’, Éire-Ireland, 4, 4 (Winter 1969), pp.27-34, writes ‘Michael McLaverty in his early novels sounded an effective warning from within the Catholic ghetto and depicted with great skill and tender sympathy groups of newly urbanised Catholics taking their unhappy second-class place in an ugly town. The people in his early novels all have a sense of being newly imprisoned in the mean streets where/ they have come to live. The sad contrast is with the clean, free island life they have left behind. The title Lost Fields (1942) makes the point’. (pp.28-29.)

John Wilson Foster, “McLaverty’s People”, Éire-Ireland, 6, 3 (Autumn 1971), pp.92-105, remarks that ‘Michael McLaverty dramatises in his novels the dilemma of an individual’s isolation from the comforting and necessary, though stifling, grasp of the community’. (p.92.)

Seamus Heaney, Introduction to Collected Short Stories of Michael McLaverty (Dublin: Poolbeg 1978), pp.7-9: ‘Michael McLaverty has been called a realist, and we can assent to that description. The precision with which he recreates the life of Belfast streets or Rathlin shores or Co. Down fields and the authenticity of the speech he heard in all those places - this affords us much pleasure. But realism is finally an unsatisfactory word when it is applied to a body of work as poetic as these stories. There is, of course, a regional basis to MacLaverty’s world and a documentary solidity to his observation, yet the region is contemplated with a gaze more loving and more lingering than any fieldworker or folklorist could ever manage. Those streets and shores and fields have been weathered in his affections and patient understanding until the contours of each landscape have become a moulded language, a prospect of the mind. […] A contemporary of Patrick Kavanagh and, like him a Monaghan man by birth, sharing the poet’s conviction that God is to be found in “bits and pieces of everyday”, that “naming these things is the love-act and the pledge”, but averse to the violence of Kavanagh’s invective and satire, McLaverty’s place in our literature is secure. It is time that it was vaunted’. [End.]

Fosterage” - for Michael McLaverty, in North (1979)

“Description is revelation!” Royal / Avenue, Belfast, 1962, / A Saturday afternoon, glad to meet / Me, newly cubbed in language, he gripped / My elbow. “Listen. Go your own way. / Do your own work. Remember Katherine Mansfield - I will tell / How the laundry basket squeaked ... that note of exile.” / But to hell with overstating it: / “Don’t have the veins bulging in your Biro.” and then, “Poor Hopkins!” I have his Journals / He gave me, underlined, his buckled self / Obeisant to their pain. He discerned / The lineaments of patience everywhere / And fostered me and sent me out, with words / Imposing on my tongue like obols.”

—from North (1979), p.71; rep. in Opened Ground, (1998), p.142.

See also ...

Writer and Teacher

A humble master of two trades
Who keeps to his own room, evades
The market-place and the headline;
Teaching each child to use his eyes,
To tell small truths instead of lies
In big words that sound fine.

He hatches talent with his own;
Can breed a tenderness in bone-
heads, always helping them to look
With love at movement in the street,
To celebrate each joy they meet.
Reads every boy like a new book.

A week’s a chapter in the tale
Where thirty boys drive towards the gale
Of living - once his lessons cease.
“His work says little that is new”
According to one slick review.
But the pupils are his masterpiece.


This poem, held in manuscript among Heaney’s papers at Emory University, appears to be a tribute to Michael McLaverty. See Workshop Poems by Seamus Heaney - online [accessed 18.03.2014].

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Seamus Heaney [obituary notice], Fortnight Supplement Fortnight 306 (2 May 1992), rates MacLaverty’s fiction as ‘among the verifying texts of modern Ulster writing ... for its fidelity and detail in the treatment of common experience,’ and remarks that he rated ‘John Clare’s attentive, passionate eye every bit as highly as the inner vision of Rilke’. (p.31.)

Note that Heaney later records in the Acknowledgement to his prose-essays Preoccupations (1980) that McLaverty lent him Patrick Kavanagh’s A Soul for Sale in ‘late in 1962’ (Preoccupations, Faber 1980, p.14.)

Jack Holland, review of Sophia Hillan King, The Silken Twine, A Study of the Works of Michael McLaverty (Dublin: Poolbeg Press 1992), in Irish Times (3 Oct 1992), writes ‘It was an Irish Catholic moral vision, where joy and fulfilment are born of renunciation and suffering, where purity and self-denial are among the highest virtues. By the time McLaverty consciously set out to become a Catholic novelist in the late 1940s, he was established as one of Ireland’s finest short-story writers [with] three novels to his credit (Call My Brother Back, Lost Fields, and In This Thy Day). ... The Silken Twine chronicles [his] struggle to become a good Catholic novelist ... at the expense of being a good novelist ... When his last novel, The Brightening Day, emerged in 1965, the world it described seemed as remote as Edwardian England. [A New York Times dismissive review, “the erotic revolution has evidently not yet touched Northern Ireland, of which McLaverty writes with the moral certainty of a Victorian novelist ..’. ... In School for Hope (1954), all the principal characters are virgins. ... McLaverty’s moral aversion to describing sexual passion renders his account of the love affair between Nora and Peter cold and insipid. The author is comfortable describing physical tenderness directly only when there is no overt sexual element. [However] McLaverty’s will remain a testimony to another, more enduring truth, good writing never dies’.

Peter Costello, feature-review of Sophia Hillan King, The Silken Twine (1992), in Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 1992), pp.15-16; remarks that ‘MacLaverty really wanted to be a Catholic novelist […] writing in the heydey of Mauriac and de Montherlant, of Waugh and Green, of J. F. Powers and Flannery O’Connor […] These writers had an overpowering sense of sin, degradation, salvation and the workings of God’s grace […] Though MacLaverty certainly had a moral viewpoint […] there was something lacking in his sense of sin […] reticence about sex […] drains his novels of emotional power.’ And finally, ‘The “lonely voice” in MacLaverty’s short stories will always haunt us.’ Costello considers that the King has passed over the questions of Catholic integration in Belfast in the same way that MacLaverty has passed over sex.

Robert Greacen, review of Collected Stories of Michael McLaverty, in Books Ireland (Nov. 2002), recalls meeting: ‘It was at the PEN club in Belfast, which used to meet for talks and discussion in the Union Hotel near the City Hall. Then in his early thirties, McLaverty, short and stocky, his hair receding and brushed flat over his head, could seem almost shy. He hd little in the way of social banter, but in a reach exchange of views I was struck by the aptness of his remarks and most of all by his evident sincereity [sic]. His well-chosen words came out in a slightly nasal tone. His accent had the touch of Monaghan, where he had been born.’ Further, ‘He lamented that Daniel Corkery had been neglected, and I think Corkery had a seminal influence on him. O ‘Connor and O ‘Faolain he could not fail to salute as contemporaries of distinction, but I had the impression that he viewed neither of them with warmth. Their anti-clericalism alone would not have been to his liking. It was to the Russians that he turned with affection, almost love. Tolstoy towered above all, closely followed by Chekhov.’ (p.277.) Also mentions his admiration for Katherine Mansfield, Isaac Rosenberg and D. H. Lawrence, whose stories impressed him though ‘I am sure Lawrence’s life and blood philosophy would have been anathema to ... the good, mass-attending Catholic in Michael.’ (idem.) Remarks of the story “Pigeons ”: ‘[…] written in 1936, is about a young man who loved his pet birds but who “died for Ireland”. How or why he died we are not told. It is all implication and it is difficult to know whether the author believed that his [277] death was necessary. We only know that he was a nice, simple young fellow who got caught up in the Republican cause. his young brother simply wonders what it is all about.’ (pp.277-28.)

Robert Greacen, review of Lost Fields [rep. edn.], in Books Ireland (Dec. 2004): McLaverty a pious Catholic but less nationalist than regionalist; the prose is spare and lyrical; central figure of Lost Fields (1941) is Mrs Griffin, based on the author’s grandmother; new edn. ded. to Seamus Heaney, prefaced by letter in which the author writes of the Toome area: ‘I’ve described it all in Lost Fields.’ Quotes: ‘I believe that intensity in literature is only achieved when prose is as bleak and sinewy as a winter oak’. Sophia Hillan notes in introduction that his writing influenced by George Duhamel’s Le Notaire de Havre (1933).

Simon Conway, reviewing Collected Stories of Michael McLaverty, ed. Sophia Hillan, in Times Literary Supplement (22 Nov. 2002), (Blackstaff), writes: ‘[…] With few exceptions, McLaverty works with children and the elderly. Narrative brevity makes his genre particularly fitting for what Roger Sharrock has called “the pre-social and the post-social”; concentrated times when continuous experience has not started, or has already tapered away. McLaverty’s perspective is always on moments of memory and wonder, situated at the edges of a world of Olympian decision-makers. When he abandons his themes of age, it is in favour of the hopelessly passive: a harassed husband in “Father Christmas”, an order of nuns in “The Road to the of Shore”. In lieu of controlling their surround ings, these characters all turn to a stately, ill quasi-religious environment McLaverty creates has a counterpoint. A shattered “carnage of stone” is left when man-made monuments attempt, Babel-like, to imitate the immortality of the hills in “Stone”; the black rocks of “Uprooted”, an agonizing and intricate story about relocated families, simply have “no change in them”; the natural inclination of McLaverty’s Ireland is towards a bulky stasis (which these thick stories, and their engraved pictorial epigraphs, seek to reproduce). Even his urban works, located in the back streets of small-town Ireland, create a tight, natural warmth (the streetlamp that creates a “pale blossom of light” in “The Mother”; the “slithering” trams of “Evening in Winter”), which is rescued from mawkish cosiness only by the grit of his sternly aware characters.’ [Cont.]

Simon Conway, reviewing Collected Stories (in TLS, 22 Nov. 2002) - cont.: ‘McLaverty’s recognition of the simple poetry of words (what Heaney calls, in his neat introduction, “the well-turned grain” of language) is striking. “Pigeons”, for example, maintains a metrical pulse with the repeated phrase “he died for Ireland” around the death of an idolised older brother (this constant repetition is meaningful). McLaverty’s poetry typically fans outwards to symbolism, as when the old man in “The White Mare” shouts to the boat carrying away his horse: “He waved and called again, his voice sounding strange and weak. The man in the stem waved back as he would to child.” The white mare becomes youth and surrogate child, clearly meaningful, like much of McLaverty’s writing, on a national scale. This edition has been carefully organised to illuminate the stories’ connections (loss and hope are its major subjects), with supple threads linking apparently disparate tales (the wry “The Priest’s Housekeeper” is placed beside the tragic “Uprooted”, both about enforced removal, both ending with symbolic deaths. Image Image nods at image throughout the volume, giving the collection a sinuous thematic coherence. McLaverty’s greatest stories are those that are most tightly focused. When he pads the temporal sequence or makes the action more deliberately stirring (in, for example, the melodramatic “Look at the Boats”), the tone sounds crude, ungainly and blatant. For the majority of the volume, though, a cleaner realism meets with such dense and graceful meaning that the scope of a story can expand and contract for a reader several times in the space of a sentence. This quality, combined with the frugal poetic elegance of his language, is Michael McLaverty’s greatest strength.’ (p.25.) Conway also remarks that the story “Forty Years On” has been compared to Joyce’s “The Dead”.

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Call My Brother Back
(1939): ‘The day passed in peace but the fire of the leaders’ speechess smouldered for days in the minds of the common people, and towards the end of the month a mob of them, armed with sticks, invaded the shipyards and chased out the Catholic workers. The riots began in the poorer parts of the city. Snipers hid on the roofs of houses and factories and swept the streets with bullets. The military were called out, and the lovelysummer evenings were perforated by the rattle of rifles and machine guns (Quoted in Sophia Hillen King, ‘The Millstone and the Star, Regionalism as Strength’, in Linenhall Review (Autumn 1994), pp.11]; also quoted in this essay, a passage from In This Thy Day (1945), dealing with the repudiation of a son’s claim to his father’s legacy by his mother.

The Game Cock” [Opening]: ‘When I was young we came to Belfast and my father kept a game cock and a few hens. […] We called him Dick, but he was none of your ordinary cocks, for he had a pedigree as long as your arm, and his grandfather and grandmother were of Indian breed.’ (Quoted in Robert Greacen, review of Collected Stories of Michael McLaverty, in Books Ireland, Nov. 2002, p.277.)

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Desmond Clarke, Ireland in Fiction [Pt II] (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985), lists Call My Brother Back (London: Cape/Devin Adair 1947), 200pp. [six chps. on Rathlin; centres on Colm, who is at school in St. Malachy’s; Alec, the eldest, joins the IRA and dies in midnight murder campaign, 1921]; Lost Fields (London: Cape 1941), 252pp. [impoverished family life in Belfast, the grandmother abandons her beloved countryside to come to aid; In this thy Day (London: Cape/NY: Macmillan), 200pp. [ill feeling between Devlins and Masons prevent marriage in small parish on sea nr. Downpatrick]; Three Brothers (Cape 1948), 239pp. [John and Bob, shopkeepers, and and D.J., the wastrel; and their families]; The Game Cock and Other Stories (Cape/NY: Devin-Adair 1947), 190pp. [see supra]; The White Mare and Other Stories (London: Cape; NY: Devin-Adair 1947), 103pp. [6 stories, four through children’s eyes, Rathlin, ill. Mercy Hunter; with portrait of author in outline-sketch by Sydney Smith; 4 other stories prev. in Game Cock]; Truth in the Night (London: Cape 1952), 255pp. [Rathlin Island, a stranger marries into the island families; School for Hope (London: Cape 1954) [Nora Burne, 25-yr. old teacher, school nr. Belfast, falls in love with principal Peter Lynch]; The Choice (London: Cape 1958), 239pp. [Tom Magee assistant station-master, choses to moves back to Monabeg after the death of his wife, and meets misunderstanding and tragedy.]

Patricia Craig, ed., The Rattle of the North: An Anthology of Ulster Prose (Belfast: Blackstaff, 1992), contains extract from excerpt from Call My Brother Back (here pp.296-301). Note that McLaverty is dismissed prefatorially as ‘a purveyor of Catholic family romances of very little interest’ in works subsequent to the novel selected.

Irish Independent (UK), Obituary: Michael McLaverty, d. aetat. 87 [20 March 1992]; influenced by Liam O’Flaherty, Daniel Corkery, and most of all by Chekhov; his realism influenced John McGahern; maths and physics teacher, grad. QUB; principal St. Thomas’s Boys Secondary Sch., Falls Rd., 1957-64 (retired); his last novel, The Brightening Day (1965); The Road to the Shore and Collected Stories, ed. David Marcus (Poolbeg 1978). Note also obit. noticed by Eileen Battersby in The Irish Times (21 March 1992), with photo port.

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John McGahern
first wrote to Michael McLaverty on reading “The Circus Pony”: ‘I believe that it is a great achievement for any man to state, even once, a measure of experience truthfully.’ (13 Jan. 1959). MacLaverty advised him to read stories of Mary Lavin [The Sand Castle”], Frank O’Connor [“Uprooted”], Chekhov [“The Runaway”], Katherine Mansfield [“The Doll’s House”], and Tolstoy [“Death of Ivan Ilyich”]. (Letter of 23 Jan. 1959.) MacLaverty later wrote to McGahern: ‘To read your work and Cheknov’s and Tolstoy’s is to convince me that simplicity is the finest ornament of any style: the few words, the right words, chosen for point and propinquity. It is this fine control which fascinated me. And then those vivid touches you evoke . a moonlit night [by] saying simply, “a star-point flashed from the neck of a bottle floating on the milldam.”’ (23 March 1961.) Further [on reading The Dark]: ‘I have read your new novel and was greatly impressed by its painful sincerity and its pared-to-the-bone style, a style that has caught the essential and has left the verbal flotsam and jetsam to the best-selling novelists. The book rings with truth at every turn.’ He nevertheless recoiled against the parts dealing with the priest’s thoughts and wished they had never been written. (23 May 1965.) See John Killen, ed., Dear Mr McLaverty: The Literary Correspondence of John McGahern and Michael McLaverty (Linen Hall Library 2006). (All the foregoing cited in Ivor Faulkner, UU MA Diss, 2007.)

Elephant (2003), a film by Alan Clarke dealing with the Columbine High School massacre, was inspired by a Bernard McLaverty story that speaks of the Troubles as ‘the elephant in your living-room’. Clarke’s film itself inspired another by Gus Van Sant which was shown with it in the Irish Film Centre during Winter 2003.

Sins of omission: McLaverty is omitted from The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, ed. Seamus Deane (Derry: Field Day Co. 1991) - but see Deane’s commentary on John McGahern, infra.

Laundry-basket: ‘In his poems “Fosterage”, Seamus Heaney recalls the story writer Michael McLaverty advising him by quoting Katherine Mansfield, “I will tell how the laundry basket squeaks”.’ (See Bridget O’Toole, review of Rebecca O’Connor, Scéalta: Short Stories by Irish Women, in Books Ireland, April 2007, p.76.)

St Malachy’s School, on the Antrim Rd., is sometimes located by way of address in Ballymurphy - a detail contradicted by Stephen O’Neill an correspondence with Ricorso [02.;1.2013].

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