Romancing Ireland: Richard Hayward 1892-1964, by Paul Clements, Lilliput, €25, ISBN: 978-1843516248
Who has heard of Richard Hayward? Almost nobody these days. But for nearly half a century until his death in 1964 this extraordinarily energetic and prolific writer, singer, actor, director, film-maker, folklorist, tour guide, journalist and broadcaster was a one-man industry promoting the beauty of the Irish landscape and the glories of Irish history and culture. He was known by everybody who was anybody in the two Irish jurisdictions, from prime ministers and taoisigh through writers and theatre producers to film and concert stars. Frank O’Connor, Sean O’Faolain and Tyrone Guthrie spoke highly of his work, although Louis MacNeice and Richard Murphy were less impressed. And he was an Orangeman.
Born in Lancashire but brought up from the age of three in Larne, Co Antrim, Hayward had a lifelong love affair with Ireland and Irish people. As a young man he was greatly influenced by the nineteenth century English author George Borrow, who tramped through Europe meeting people along the road, and developing a particular fondness for gypsies. Hayward aimed to become an Irish Borrow, with his “racy personality and great gift for seeing things from his own individual angle, his love of country people, his hatred of pomposity and above all his innate and magnificent quality of quick friendship and immediate warm contact with his fellow-creatures of all classes and creeds and races”.
In a meticulously assembled and highly readable biography, Paul Clements resurrects this forgotten but colourful Ulster figure. Hayward packed into each decade of his adulthood more than most artists manage in a lifetime (and through it all continued to support his family by working as a sweet salesman). In the 1920s he was a well-known actor and director in Belfast and Dublin (including at the Abbey); in the 1930s he became even better known as a singer of Irish songs and a harpist, and for four years one of Delia Murphy’s most frequent recording partners; in that decade he was also one of the pioneers of the Irish film industry, taking leading roles in US-distributed films like The Luck of the Irish and Irish and Proud of it. The Irish Catholic called the latter “clean entertainment worthy of national self-respect and of Catholic tradition”, while Hayward responded to Irish-American criticism that he was portraying a “land of poverty, dirt and drunks” by declaring that he had spent his “whole life in the study of Irish folklore, literature, architecture and music, and, in order to kill the old Irishman of ‘Punch’, produced realistic plays”.
In the late 1930s he started writing the travel books about every region of Ireland that over the next three decades would become his more lasting legacy, starting with In Praise of Ulster and Where the River Shannon Flows. In his foreword to the former the novelist Maurice Walsh, a lifelong admirer of Hayward’s work, called it “easily the best book on Ireland in my generation and I can go back fifty years”. The Irish Independent reviewer commented: “Only an Ulsterman of goodwill would have had the wisdom to put religion and politics sternly in the distant background at the outset and keep it there … He is a born rambler, with an eye ever alert for the hidden beauty spots, and an ear ever open for the song of the bird, the babble of the mountain stream, the droll story or the stave of an old ballad by the wayside.”
He set off to research Where the River Shannon Flows in August 1939, just as the world was sliding into the Second World War, although this meant little to the apolitical Hayward. He was just happy to be heading off on a jaunt through the countryside he celebrated in his occasionally over-florid prose style: “A warm sun in the sky, a genuine thrill of expectancy and joy in our hearts, and many and many a song in our mouths as we sped past the sweet fields of Ireland.” In 1943 came The Corrib Country, a lengthy essay bringing together an extraordinary compendium of expertise on the history, archaeology, folklore, landscape, wildlife, architecture, music and humour of that western lake and river region. It stood the test of time, with a fourth edition being published as recently as 1993. Three years later In the Kingdom of Kerry gave the same encyclopaedic treatment to Ireland’s most southwesterly county. As with the River Shannon book it was accompanied by a film.
However Hayward, while an enthusiast for the whole island, was also a loyal Ulsterman. He lobbied the Stormont government in 1940 with a proposal for a wartime propaganda film that would tell a story of the North’s sturdy values in opposition to Irish republican “desperadoes” and bombers: “for me Ulster has always been the thing of greatest importance in everything I have done or tried to do … I am entirely at the service of the Government at any time.” In the end all he was asked to do was to make an informational film on silage. In typical provincial fashion the Unionist government preferred to work with the London-based Central Office of Information and English film companies rather than accede to Hayward’s compelling arguments for a separate Ulster Film Unit. Undeterred, he took up an offer from the Irish Government to make a film about the need for the South to become self-sufficient in grain during the war.
The next in his series of regional studies, Leinster and the City of Dublin (1949), with drawings by the Belfast artist Raymond Piper (who was to illustrate his books for the next fifteen years), was widely and warmly reviewed. The Times Literary Supplement called Hayward “an unrepentant romantic” and said his best asset was “a real sense of the poetry of history, through which he peoples ruined castles and abbeys with the life of former times”. Compton McKenzie expressed the wish that “one or two of our Scottish topographers would take a lesson from him”.
The books came at regular intervals after that: Ulster and the City of Belfast in 1950; Connacht and the City of Galway in 1952; Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim & Roscommon in 1955; Border Foray in 1957; and Munster and the City of Cork in 1964. Not everyone liked them. Louis MacNeice felt Hayward was “unduly addicted to superlatives and to words like ‘lovely’ and ‘veritable’ … and he tends to admire too many things too much.” Richard Murphy wrote anonymously in the TLS about the Connacht book: “We might be anywhere in the past 50 years, propelled along by ridiculous passages about the panoramic beauties of coast or hilltop, with lumps in our throats as we amble in the ruined pleasure-grounds of Coole, to the sound of a voice that is often a poor pastiche of Amanda Ros.” Frank O’Connor on the other hand, reviewing the Cork book, said: “He has a tremendous gusto that can stand an enormous amount of contradiction, a profound knowledge and admiration of Irish architecture and sculpture, and an Ulster common sense that is both shocking and exhilarating – exhilarating when he agrees with you, shocking when he doesn’t.”
Border Foray showed one of those contradictions: the unionist face of Richard Hayward that was not normally on display (although he was a member of the Ulster Unionist Party). It was researched and written just after the Irish Government’s abortive international anti-partition drive and during the IRA’s 1950s campaign of attacks on RUC border barracks and customs posts. Despite his declaration that he was no politician, it is his most political book. On the border campaign he had this to say: “The madness of 1922 is now descending upon us in a hateful recrudescence, and the current destroyers, in the guise of armed and irresponsible ‘liberators’, are set upon another campaign of violence and destruction … An acceptance by the Republic, in friendship and goodwill, of the accomplished fact of Northern Ireland’s legal and constitutional entity, and a cessation from tiresome and futile ravings against a partition that is based on law and common sense, would without doubt result in great and lasting benefits to Ireland as a whole.” Even here, however, his sense of humour was not far from the surface. He recalled how he knocked on the door of a border customs hut one summer evening to have his car papers stamped. “But a farmer near the end of his labour in an adjoining field saw what I was at and called out to me: ‘You needn’t knock there, mister. Sure there’s no Border at this time of the day: the man’s away for his tay.”
Hayward was also an indefatigable leader of trips to all parts of Ireland for the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club. As he led off his groups of largely female admirers, dressed in “immaculate Irish cream tweeds with turned-up trousers, shiny brogues and hat, the dapper figure of Richard Hayward could have stepped straight out of Central Casting”, writes Clements. One of his favourite destinations was Kilkenny, home of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, led by his friend the writer Hubert Butler. When Butler faced ostracism and persecution following his 1952 comments about the forced conversion to Catholicism and massacre of Orthodox Serbs by the pro-Nazi Croatian regime during the war, Hayward wrote to support him. “I have always sheered off religion and politics for the very reason that has hit you. In a Roman Catholic country you must either say nothing or be rent in pieces.”
He didn’t actually join the Orange Order until late in life. In 1957, at the age ofsixty-five, he joined the Belfast Eldon Lodge and shortly afterwards was appointed to the newly formed Lodge of Research which contained such establishment luminaries as the lord mayor of Belfast, the Church of Ireland dean of Belfast and future prime minister Brian Faulkner. Given his numerous recordings of Orange songs (some of which are still available online in the Irish Traditional Music Archive) and his unionist affiliations, this belated move came as no surprise, although if there was such a thing as a liberal, open-minded, hibernophile Orangeman, it was Richard Hayward. As a dialect enthusiast he even spoke some Irish, and was a strong proponent of its importance.
In October 1964 he crashed his much-travelled Ford Anglia head on into another vehicle two miles outside Ballymena, Co Antrim, and was killed, along with the two people in the other car. A report in the London Times called him one of Northern Ireland’s most colourful and versatile characters, noting that his 1956 compilation of Orange songs was chosen by a British panel as one of that year’s outstanding recordings. The sales of his records ran into several hundred thousand. Like most larger than life figures (particularly those from a small, muddy fishpool like Northern Ireland), Hayward provoked strong and sharply divided opinions. He charmed audiences with his sense of humour, his endless repertory of songs and his gift for storytelling. Sometimes his overweening personality filled a room so there seemed to be little room for anybody else. His grandson thought he was “bordering on egomania, which was all part of his creative drive”.
There is no doubt that he was a significant Irish cultural figure in the middle decades of the twentieth century and that he has been unfairly neglected ever since (the obsessive hoarding of his papers by his reclusive second wife did not help his posthumous reputation). The many tributes after his death spoke of his love of Ireland; his multi-faceted personality and talents – intellectual, humorous and musical; his huge capacity for fun and enjoyment; and his ability to captivate a dozen people in a village hall as fully as a roomful of scholars. A senior official in the National Museum in Dublin said he had achieved more for “the good relations and happiness of Irish people from Belfast to Cork than anyone in our time”.
Paul Clements has done us a great service in resurrecting this now obscure but still compelling figure and placing him firmly in his Ulster and Irish contexts. His mining of Hayward’s voluminous papers is exemplary. There is occasionally a little too much detail: the exact cost of his honeymoon in Buswell’s Hotel or the details of his dictaphone hire are more than the reader needs to know. There is also a kind of tragedy about Richard Hayward which Clements does not explicitly examine. In many ways he was a pre-partition figure, the kind of charismatic Irishman who combined a passionate love of his country with a strong unionist allegiance that was not uncommon in the nineteenth century. Sadly he may have been one of the last of his kind. Fifty years of hibernophobic one-party rule in Northern Ireland followed by thirty years of anti-British violence by the Provisional IRA have left little room for such fruitful contradictions. Maybe it was a blessing that he died four years before the latest outbreak of internecine conflict in the North. Such a generous and empathetic (if sometimes naive) unionist lover of all things Irish would have been stricken to his soul by that even more “hateful recrudescence” of the ancient Ulster bloodletting.
Andy Pollak was the founding director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies (1999-2013) and is a former Irish Times journalist in Dublin and Belfast.