Robert Harbinson

Life
1928- ; [Robert Harbinson Bryans]; b. Dee St. (East Belfast); moved to Donegall Ave. at five months; son of window cleaner who was poête manqué, melodeon player, and was brain damaged in a window-cleaning accident; ed. Enniskillen, where he was evacuated during the war; became Belfast shipyard worker and cabinboy on dredger; quit to travel; entered Barry Religious College, Wales, and went to Canadan to convert Indians; became trapper and teacher in Canada; lives in Sussex; wrote several travel books as Robin Bryans, incl. Summer Saga (1960); Danish Episode (1961); Fanfare for Brazil (1962); Morocco (1965); Trinidad and Tobago (1967); autobiographical series, No Surrender (1960), somewhat inflated autobiography contain a glossary of Belfast terms; Song of Erne (1960); Up Spoke the Cabin Boy (1961), and Protégé (1963); other works include Tattoo Lily and Other Ulster Stories (1961); Lucio (1964), a novel; and Songs Out of Oriel (1974), poems. DIW FDA OCIL

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Works
Autobiography
  • No Surrender: An Ulster Childhood (London: Faber & Faber 1960; rep. Belfast: Blackstaff 1987), 220pp.;
  • Song of Erne (London: Faber & Faber 1960; rep. Belfast: Blackstaff 1987), 244pp.;
  • Up Spake the Cabin Boy (London: Faber & Faber 1961), 251pp., Do., rep. (Belfast: Blackstaff 1988), 256pp.;
  • The Protégé (London: Faber & Faber 1963; rep. Belfast: Blackstaff 1988);
  • The Dust Has not Settled: An Autobiography (Honeyford Press 1972) [var. 1994]; Checkmate, memoirs of a Political Prisoner (Honeyford Press 1974), 524pp., ill.; Let the Petals Fall ([Honeyford Press 1993).
Stories
  • Tattoo Lily and Other Ulster Stories (London: Faber & Faber 1961);
  • The Far World and Other Stories (London: Faber & Faber 1962); Selected Stories (Lagan Press 1996), 193pp.
Poetry
  • Songs Out of Oriel (London: G. H. & R Hart 1974), 3, 142pp. [xxiv pieces of varying length]
AS BRYANS

Gateway to the Khyber (London: Hales 1959); Summer Saga, A Journey to Iceland (London: Faber 1960); Danish Episode (London: Faber 1961); Fanfare for Brazil (London: Faber 1962); Crete (London: Faber 1967); The Azores (London: Faber 1968); Morocco, Land of the Farthest West (London: Faber 1965); Trinidad and Tobago, Isles of the Immortelles (London: Faber 1967).

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Commentary
John Keyes profiles Harbinson in Fortnight (Sept. 1994), p.45, his work is sharp with salty hulour and his characters celebrate an unregenerate eccentricity - an innocence and independence shared by Harbinson himself’ [biog. as supra]. ALSO Ivan Herbison reviews The Dust Has not Settled, An Autobiography (Honeyford Press 1994), and Let the Petals Fall (Honeyford Press 1994), Bryans is preoccupied with the power of secrets and feels compelled to reveal as much as he can about the people and events which concern him. These volumes contain many controversial allegations [...] innuendo and explicit; Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess [...] Blunt and Louis MacNeice (both their fathers were bishops; frequent claims of homosexual intrigue; comments on Kincora affair; understanding of Protestant evangelical temper; studied Gurdjieff and Ouspensky; writes of T. S. Eliot and others who entertained scruples about efficacy of Anglican ordination and engaged in sub conditione re-ordinations; exposes Black Mass and secret homosexual network; appreciates significance of Orangeaism though no longer sympathetic [...] reviewer refers to After Dark, a C4 programme in which author as Robert Harbinson discussed secrets and scandals with H Montgomery Hyde, Merlyn Rees, and others.

 

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Quotations
The Mickeys: ‘In terms of miles the mountain was not far, and I had always longed to explore it .. But the mountain was inaccessible because to reach it we had to cross territory of the Mickeys [Catholics]. Being children of the staunch Protestant quarter, to go near the Catholic idolators was more than we dared, for fear of having our members cut off.’ (No Surrender: An Ulster Childhood, 1960, p.16; cited in Neville Douglas, ‘Political Structures, Social Interaction and Identity Change in Northern Ireland’, in Brian Graham, ed., Geography Bibliogrpahy, In Search of Ireland: A Cultural Geography of Ireland, Routledge 1997, p.158.) [Note also foregoing reference to ‘low-lying Bog Meadows and west Belfast’ visible from the ‘Village’ area where he lives.

Up Spake the Cabin Boy, ‘We walked as though through a forest whose trees were made of steel, etched against the morning sky. Instead of leaf-laden branches stretching out to catch the sun’s rays, I saw a multitude of cranes, swinging poles and a phalanx of gantries [...] A rush of loneliness caught me and I felt dreadfully homesick for the farm.; after idyllic life as wartime evacuee in Fermanagh, Harbinson is back to city life as cabin boy on a dredger in Belfast Lough; jumps ship; turbulent adolescence, falling in love with ‘saved’ girl; first sex with another in Co. Antrim hayshed; preaching in mission halls; leaves Ireland for missionary training in response to calls of sea, adventure and religion. (Blackstaff Catalogue, 1988).

The Protégé, full of Protestant missionary zeal and other less respectable passions, Harbinson crosses the water to wartime Britain; become by turns protégé of committed evangelicals, rich old ladies, exotic mystical group, and more eccentric protectors. WR Rodgers, reviewing The Protégé in the Sunday Times, ‘God is good and the devil isn’t bad thank God, so the boy quickly climbs into grace and favour in an England which we know all too little about [...] With the help of pulpit-piton, Biblical axe, and ropes of charm, young Mr Harbinson at length reaches the refined and rarified air of upper-class English society, is welcomed at great houses, and meets many rewarding and wordly people. / He accomplishes his climb with such candour, innocence, and desperation of poverty, that one feels he was really a climber on the level, and a youth with unusual gifts of hope, humour and charity’ (Blackstaff Catalogue, 1988).

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References
Bernard Share, ed., Far Green Fields; 1500 Years of Irish Travel Writing (Belfast: Blackstaff 1992), contains extract from Robin Bryans, Crete (1969).

Frank Ormsby, ed., Northern Windows, an anthology of Ulster autobiography (Blackstaff 1987), contains extract from No Surrender (1966), pp.164-83 [biog. as supra].

Books in Print (1995), No Surrender, An Ulster Childhood (London: Faber 1960; rep. Belfast: Blackstaff 1987) [0 85640 383 0]; Song of Erne (London: Faber 1960; rep. Belfast: Blackstaff 1987) [0 85640 394 6]; Up Spake the Cabin Boy (London: Faber 1961; rep. Belfast: Blackstaff 1988) [0 85640 400 4]; The Protegé (London: Faber 1963; rep rep. Belfast: Blackstaff 1988) [085640 413 6]; Ulster, A Journey Through the Six Counties (London: Faber 1964), rep. (Belfast: Blackstaff 1989) [0 85640 421 7]

Brendan Kennelly cites Harbinson in ‘Modern Writing’, in Encyclopaedia of Ireland (Figgis 1968).

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