John Boyd (1912-2002)


Life
playwright; b. 19 July, Belfast; son of train-driver; ed. Mountpottinger National School, RBAI, QUB, and TCD after which he became a teacher; with Sam Hanna Bell and Bob Davidson, co-founded and edited Lagan: A Collection [Miscellany in No. 3] of Ulster Writing, which ran to 3 [var. 4] issues before ceasing publication, 1943-46; became BBC Northern Ireland producer, 1947; contrib. to Dublin-based Irish Writing (ed., David Marcus, et al.);
 
appt. hon. director at the Lyric Theatre and editor of its journal, Threshold from 1971; after retirement he wrote plays dealing roots of sectarian conflict; wrote The Assassin (Dublin Gaiety 1969) and The Flats (1971) deals with the contemporary Troubles; also The Farm (Lyric 1972), Guests (Lyric 1974), and The Street (1977), which is autobiographical; issued Out of My Class (1985) a first volume of autobiography, dealing with his early life;
 
issued The Middle of My Journey (1990), a second vol., dealing with Belfast in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s; other plays incl. Speranza’s Boy [on Oscar Wilde]; an adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and a joint-translation of Ibsen’s Ghosts made with Louis Muinzer; The Flats was filmed for RTÉ by Shelah Richards in 1975; a commemorative gathering was held at the Lyric Theatre, 23 Feb. 2003. DIW DIL FDA OCIL

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Works
Plays
, The Flats ([1974] new edn. (Belfast: Blackstaff 1993); Collected Plays, 2 vols. (Belfast: Blackstaff 1981, 1982) [Vol 1, intro. Daniel Casey, contains The Flats, The Farm, and Guests, all 240pp; Vol. 2, intro. by Boyd, contains The Street, Facing North, all 208pp.]

Autobiography, Out of My Class (Belfast: Blackstaff 1985) 192pp.; The Middle of my Journey (Belfast: Blackstaff 1990), 221pp. [var. 1991].

Miscellaneous, Lagan, A Miscellany of Ulster Writing, ed. John Boyd (Lagan Publ. 1945); also ‘Ulster Prose’, in Sam Hanna Bell, Nesca Robb & John Hewitt, eds., The Arts in Ulster: A Symposium (London: George G. Harrap 1951), pp.99-130; See also Boyd by Stephen Gilbert in Robert Hogan, ed., Dictionary of Irish Literature (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1979). Threshold, ed. by John Boyd from 1971; contribs. incl. ‘Notes from a Journal’, Threshold, 28 (?1978).

Lagan Issues: Lagan: A collection of Ulster writings [n.p. [1943]), 99pp. 8vo.; Lagan: A Collection of Ulster Writing [No. 2] (Belfast: Lagan Publications [1944]), 106pp. [8vo.]; Lagan, No. 3: A Miscellany of Ulster Writing, ed. by John Boyd (Belfast: Lagan Publications 1945), 136pp. [8vo.]. Note: In Trench [St. Joseph's TTC, Belfast] (April 1964), ‘Our Own Dour Way’, Seamus Heaney cites Lagan: A Collection of Ulster Writing (1962), pp.4-6, quoting from the Editorial, 1943, reprinted therein. [Qry, facs. rep. of 1945 Miscellany with new title?]

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Criticism
Lionel Pilkington, ‘Theatre and Cultural Politics in Northern Ireland: The Over the Bridge Controversy, 1959’, in Éire-Ireland, XXX, 4 (Winter 1996), pp.76-93, espec. p.89ff. [on The Flats]; Louis Muinzer, ‘Between the World & the Stage: A Tribute to John Boyd’, in Fortnight (April 2003), p.19 [infra].

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Commentary
Louis Muinzer, ‘Between the World & the Stage: A Tribute to John Boyd’, in Fortnight (April 2003), p.19: ‘[...] In a series of plays begun with The Assassin in 1969 and extending onwards through the years, John Boyd brought Northern Ireland onto the stage in all its variety. Here, among other presences, were our troubles, our poor neighbourhoods, the people of our countryside and the milieu of the local artist. I am convinced that a century from now those who wish to evoke the presence of our brave but tragic Northern world will turn to these plays and will find in them the humanity that has kept us going and that is the hallmark of our times. Better than a history book, the panorama of john's plays enact a life that is already fading from our streets, our roads and our parlours. [...]’ Muinzer reminisces about meeting Boyd at a production of The Flats in 1970 [sic], when similar events were happening in Belfast, and later when their collaborative translation of Ibsen’s Ghosts was brought to Oslo in the 1980s.

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Frank Shovlin, in  "The Irish Literary Periodical 1923-1958 (OUP 2003), esp. pp.61-66, quoting ‘a few flirted for a brief period with so-called [165] regionalism, for which John Hewitt’s persuaive voice was in search of recruits, until finally with the publication of Lagan and Rann each of us took his own way.’ Remarks: ‘Boyd himself found it too restricting as an aesthetic. While he disliked the conservative politics of de Valera south of the border he was equally dismayed by the institutionally sectarian Stormont government, and he was uncomfortable with the new regionalism championed by Hewitt and others.’ Quotes Boyd on BBC NI in the early 1950s: ‘'Broadcasting House in Belfast was a part of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the ethos was definitely non-Irish. The emphasis was almost entirely on the “Ulster” way of life, and “Ulster” was defined as the Six Counties only, and the Six Counties were predominantly Protestant. The staff in Broadcasting House contained only a few Catholics, of whom none held senior posts, and none were producers. This was no accident but a deliberate policy of exclusion.’ (The Middle of My Journey, 1990, p.24.)

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Quotations
Lagan: Collection of Ulster Writings (1943), Editorial [first issue]: ‘In the past there has been a tendency for writers to leave Ulster … An Ulsterman is not an Englishman, no matter how hard he tries to be … I believe that none of the Ulster writers who have tried this grafting process has succeeded in producing a great body of work, a consistent and integrated oeuvre. … what about such a deraciné as St. John Ervine? (p.4.) Further: ‘An Ulster literary tradition that is capable of developing and enriching itself must spring out of the life and speech of the province; and an Ulster writer cannot evade his problems by adopting either a super-imposed English or a sentimental Gaelic outlook. His outlook must be that of an Ulster man. He must, therefore, train his ears to catch the unique swing of our speech; train his eyes to note the natural beauty of our towns: above all, he must study the psychology of our people.’ (p.6). [Copy in Hewitt Collection, University of Ulster Central Library.)

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Ulster in Prose’, in The Arts in Ulster, ed. Sam Hanna Bell, Nesca A. Robb & John Hewitt (London: Harrap 1951), pp.99-130: ‘[...] As the regional idea is fashionable again I should like to comment on it. Regionalism stresses the fact that a writer should be a “rooted” man; he should feel that he “belongs”, should recognise ancestors of blood and mind. This idea has been applied to cultural activities in Ulster, and it has been asserted that we can contribute to modern regionalist movements in literature, painting, and the other arts and crafts. This theorising on regionalism is merely a restatement of the obvious. A serious writer writes about what he knows best. And sure it is natural for a writer to write about his native countryside and people. It is also natural for a writer to wish to experiment, to enlarge the range of his art so that it may be consonant with his changing experience of his.’

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Ulster in Prose’ (1951) - cont.: ‘This question of deracination has been thrashed out more than once before. For instance there was a vigorous controversy between Gide and Barrès over les déracinés in 1897 - a controversy in which Gide took up the position that instruction, dépaysement, déracinement were essential for the vitality of literature. He argued that a writer should [116] eagerly seek new experiences, both physical and mental, and should be able to adapt himself to new environments. In other words, a writer should be eager to master new subject matter if he is to become artistically stale and repetitive. If he remains at home there is always the danger of his art becoming “crusted” —l’encrôutement.’ [Cont.]

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Ulster in Prose’ (1951) - cont.: ‘I am of the opinion that the whole argument both for and against “rootedness” or “uprootedness” is academic, because a writer follows the course that he himself dictates or that is dictated by circumstances. St John Ervine, Helen Waddell and Joyce Cary are three examples of our older writers who have transplanted themselves and all of them are writers of great vitality and adaptability. To wonder what creative work they would have done if they had remained in Northern Ireland is hardly a useful pursuit. Better accept the fact that a certain number of writers - as of other people - successfully transplant themselves, and their work is done in two or more contexts. (p.116-17) [See also under John Ervine, q.v.]

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Another faith: ‘A lone narrow room with four blue statues of the virgin, and a silence / and school boys of another faith and tradition / sit at desks, with solemn faces, / And I expressionless, stare at each / Conscious of the bond and break between us.’ ([1969] ‘Poems Reprinted’, in Community Forum, Vol. 4, No. 1; quoted in Dominic Murray, Worlds Apart: Segregated Schools in Northern Ireland, Appletree Press 1985, p.8.)

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References
D. E. S. Maxwell, A Critical History of Modern Irish Drama (Cambridge UP 1984), p.180, lists Collected Plays, 2 vols (Blackstaff, 1981, 1982); Vol. 1, intro. by Daniel J. Casey, The Flats, The Farm, and Guests; Vol. 2, The Street, Facing North, intro. John Boyd; Also bibl., E. Lehmann, ‘England’s Ireland, An Analysis of Some Contemporary Plays’, in H[einz] Kosok, ed., Studies in Anglo-Irish Literature (Bonn: Bouvier 1982); Linda Henderson, ‘The Green Shoot; Transcendence and the Imagination in Contemporary Ulster Drama’, in Ulster Drama’ in Gerald Dawe and Edna Longley, eds., Across the Roaring Hill, The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland (Blackstaff 1985), pp.205-07.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3 gives extract from selects The Flats [1195-1200]; bio-note, b. Belfast, ed. QUB and TCD; BBC producer, Belfast 1947; ed. Lagan, 1942-46 [sic]; literary advisor to Lyric Theatre, and ed. Threshold, 1971; Assassin, prod. Gaiety Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival, 1969; The Flats, Lyric 1971, both tracing origins of violence in religious and political fanaticism; The Collected Plays (Blackstaff 1981-82), intro. John Boyd [Vol. I, The Flats, The Farm, Guests; Vol. 2, The Street, Facing North]; Out of My Class, autobiography (Belfast: Blackstaff 1985); also The Flats (Belfast: Blackstaff 1974), sep. edn.; also rem. at 1139 [Christopher Murray, ed.: ‘Thompson’s influence in dialogue of John Boyd’s The Flats (1971), idiom of same factional enmities ... an apartment in an angular city blocked [...] images of repressions and divisions that issued in riotous 1970s; Protestant mobs attack the flats; comic rag-and-bone man [...] smuggles weapons to the Donnellans [...] sheer intransigence of circumstances frustrates socialist exposition, armed resistance, young love, jibing backchat, ill-informed British army ‘peace-keepers’ [...] closes with a chance killing and riot unabated’].

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Helena Sheehan, Irish Television Drama (1987), lists The Flats, dir. Shelah Richards (1975).

Frank Ormsby, ed., Northern Windows, an Anthology of Ulster Autobiography (Blackstaff 1987), pp.138-45, gives extract from Extract from Out of My Class (1985 edn.). Bio-notes: son of locomotive train drive; ed. Mountpottinger Nat. School, Royal Belfast Acad. Inst., QUB, and TCD; teacher, lecturer, and producer for BBC radio and TV.; Hon. Director Lyric; ed. Threshold; Collected Plays, vols. I & II, 1981 and 1982.

Books in Print (1994): Collected Plays, 2 vols. (Belfast: Blackstaff 1981, 1982), 240pp; 208pp. [vol. 1 0856 4025 0 8; vol. 2 0865 4025 1 6]; Out of My Class (Blackstaff 1985) 192pp. [0856 403 377]; The Middle of My Journey (Blackstaff 1990) 221pp. [0865 404 381]; Lagan, A Miscellany of Ulster Writing, ed. John Boyd (Lagan Publ. 1945); The Flats, A Play by John Boyd (Blackstaff 2nd imp. 1993) [85640 078 5] None in print (Whitaker 1994).

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Notes
Portrait: There is a photograph of Boyd with Frank O’Connor and Tyrone Guthrie in Belfast Linenhall, cuttings; photo, 56 10(e).

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