Lyrical writer, broadcaster and raconteur

Sam McAughtry: March 24th, 1921 – March 28th, 2014

Sat, Apr 5, 2014, 00:48

Sam McAughtry, who has died aged 91, was a writer and broadcaster having previously been a career civil servant.

From a loyalist background in north Belfast, he served for 18 months as a member of Seanad Éireann (elected 1996 by the Industrial and Commercial Panel). A “hybrid unionist”, he declared himself happy to live in the United Kingdom and happier still to be Irish and to proclaim his Irishness. His happiness would have been complete had the British Labour Party organised in Northern Ireland.

He began writing in his teens and eventually found an outlet for his work in Ireland’s Saturday Night , a sports publication and sister paper to the Belfast Telegraph , and known in Belfast as the Ulster .

His first article to appear in print was based on his experiences of dog racing at Dunmore Park. During a long association with the Ulster , dozens of his articles were published.

His first book was inspired by the death of his older brother Mart, who perished when the Kenbane Head was sunk by the Admiral Scheer in the Atlantic on November 5th, 1940. Sam McAughtry idolised his older brother and never fully recovered from his death which he chronicled in The Sinking of the Kenbane Head (1977). The book was well received and the chapters set in Tiger’s Bay were singled out for particular praise.

‘Irish Times’ columnist
A collection of short stories, Play It Again Sam , followed in 1978. Other books included the autobiographical McAughtry’s War (1985) Blind Spot (1979), Sam McAughtry’s Belfast (1981), On The Outside Looking In (2003) and a novel Touch and Go (1993). In the 1980s he was invited by

Douglas Gageby to write a column for The Irish Times and was later an Irish Field columnist. He was a popular broadcaster, contributing to RTÉ’s Sunday Miscellany on more than 200 occasions.

He was born in 1921 in the Tiger’s Bay area of Belfast, one of the 10 children of Mark and Elizabeth McAughtry. Three brothers and a sister died in early childhood. His father was a merchant seaman and money was scarce. “My mother knew all about the hard times in the Hungry Twenties, all right. It’s no wonder she was wild religious.”

He attended St Barnabas School in Duncairn Gardens, which he remembered as an old-style church school that prepared its pupils for a life of manual labour. He was enrolled in the Church Lads’ Brigade and sang in the local church choir.

At 13 he was sent to the Belfast College of Technology where, his mother hoped, he would learn a trade. However, while he did well at English and French he did not shine in other subjects, and after a year he left. He fared no better as an errand boy, a job he lost.

His family’s strong loyalism failed to open any doors for him and he hung around the shipyards in the hope of finding work. But his hopes were frustrated by a “mafia” that barred many Protestants as well as Catholics from getting jobs. Eventually, he found work as a riveter in Shorts aircraft factory.