A Literary Treasure – “The Belfast Group”

About the Group

MS1/204/15. Typescript of poetry by Philip Hobsbaum.

Philip Hobsbaum (1932-2005) was a lecturer in the Faculty of Arts at Queen’s University Belfast between 1962 and 1966. It was during this period that he established a creative writing group known as the “Belfast Group”. The group met once per week at Hobsbaum’s house in Fitzwilliam street, where they would each critique a writer’s work before moving towards an open discussion.[1]

Professor Hobsbaum presented the Belfast Creative Writing Group Manuscripts to Queen’s, where they are held in Special Collections under the reference MS1/204; see here for a complete listing.

This includes 10 of Philip’s own poems such as ‘Derry City’, and ‘In Retreat’. A play prepared by Philip’s former wife, Hannah, When Rebecca Comes, is also enclosed.

About the Collection – Heaney, Longley and MacLaverty’s Contributions

Seamus Heaney at the University College Dublin, February 11, 2009.

This collection is made up of the works of 29 different authors. Although comprised primarily of poetry, the manuscripts also contain plays, short stories, prose pieces, and book chapters– including pieces from high profile contributors such as Seamus Heaney. The manuscripts hold 49 poems by Heaney. ‘Death of a Naturalist’ chronicles the collection of “Frogspawn” from a festering “flax-dam”, and ‘Boy Driving His Father to Confession’ explores a strained father-son relationship.

 

MS1/204/13. ‘At a Potato Digging’ by Seamus Heaney.

 

     ‘At a Potato Digging’ is a 4-part poem which draws

     contrasts between a potato harvest conducted with a

     “mechanical digger”, a more natural potato harvest

     (“a clean birth”), and finally, a blighted potato harvest.

 

 

Michael Longley at the Corrymeela Peace Center. Andrew Hill, July 2012. Please see here for licence info.

Further high profile contributions come from Belfast born poet Michael Longley CBE. The collection contains 27 poems prepared by Longley, including ‘Leaving Inishmore’, which details a boat journey into the Atlantic with “the harbor wall of Inishmore astern”. Also held is a 3 part poem entitled ‘Persephone’, as well as ‘Elegy for Fats Waller’– celebrating the famous jazz pianist.

 

MS1/204/18. Jim Scroggy by Bernard MacLaverty.

The manuscripts hold a short story by Bernard MacLaverty entitled ‘Jim Scroggy’. This piece follows the aging owner of an overgrown farm to confession, later exploring the death of his child Oliver. 2 further short stories entitled ‘The Choice’ and ‘Wiglaf the Viking’ are in the collection as well as a play by Bernard, The Interview.

Midwinter Break, published in August 2017, is available for consultation in Special Collections. See our catalogue for further details.

Other Contributions – Tone of the Collection

This collection provides a keen insight into Northern Irish writing during this period, which was often characterised by a dark sense of humour. James Simmons’ ‘Drinker’s Blues’ exemplifies this. The protagonist in this poem suffers from alcoholism, yet faces continuous failures from the barman to take the condition seriously (MS1/204/25). Similar issues are explored in the ‘Last Bus’ by Michael Brophy. This poem outlines a conversation between two “half drunk” men on a bus filled with the “smell of smoke and drink”, amid the sound of “beer cans rattle” (MS1/204/7).

Joan Watton’s poetry similarly utilised comedy while addressing serious issues. ‘A Lone, Middle-Aged, Unmarried Woman Relates’ explores a lonely aging process, and ‘Aunt Alice’ details the transformation of young girl with “wild eyes” into a “porcelain spinster” (MS1/204/30).

MS1/204/30. 3 typescripts of poetry by Joan Watton including ‘Betrayal’ and ‘Aunt Alice’.

 Consulting the Collection

A rich resource for anyone with an interest in literature, the “Belfast Group” manuscripts are available to view in the Special Collections & Archives reading room. Please see here for further information about visiting Special Collections.

The published works of many of its members are also available for consultation and may be found in our catalogue.

For those interested in the work of Seamus Heaney, Special Collections also holds a collection of manuscripts (MS20), which relate to Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. The collection also houses an assortment of poems, correspondence, personal notebooks, and other writings by Heaney.

 

[1] For more information about the group including interviews with its members, see ‘The Belfast Group: A Symposium’ in The Honest Uslterman, No 53 (November/December 1976). This is available for consultation in Special Collections. See our catalogue for further details.