Letter writer whose missives enlivened many newspapers
Sean Carr: 1939-2013
Sean Carr: Editors recognised him as giving life to the letters page, because he was a man of strongly held and well-presented opinions
Derry man Sean Carr, one of the North’s most prolific writers of letters to the press, has slipped away and died almost unnoticed. Carr’s letters appeared in many Irish and British papers, but particularly in the Derry Journal. During much of the 1980s, the Journal’s two weekly editions carried at least one letter from Carr.
Editors recognised him as giving life to the letters page, because he was a man of strongly held and well-presented opinions. The letters had a further advantage in that he was left-wing politically and right-wing on social issues. Thus the same letter could provoke all shades of the political spectrum.
A Carr letter was known to draw up to 10 furious responses. He fought frequent verbal battles with Gregory Campbell, now DUP MP for East Londonderry. Not all his letters were political. He frequently suggested improvements for Derry City Centre.
He was born John James Carr on the eve of the second World War in Union Street, a small Catholic enclave in the predominantly Protestant Waterside area of Derry, the first of two sons to John James Carr, a labourer, and his wife Violet (née Holloway).
His father suffered from tuberculosis. As a child, Carr pushed his father in a wheelchair to Derry City football games at the Brandywell, and his father’s funeral took place on the afternoon of his First Communion.
Carr’s formal education ended on leaving Chapel Road primary school at 14. However, he was one of that band of Irish emigrants to England in the generation after the war who became self-taught working-class intellectuals. He was a voracious reader, particularly of Irish history and politics.
Irish and black
After school, he had first worked in a factory, but wanted something better. For a working class Catholic in the Derry of the early 1960s, that meant emigration. He trained as a psychiatric nurse at West Park hospital in Surrey. There, he met Dolly Ali, who came from a Trinidadian Muslim background. They married. The family suffered double racism, being Irish and black.
The killings of Bloody Sunday in 1972 affected him deeply. In reaction, he returned to Derry and settled in the Bogside. He worked as a nurse and for some years was an active member of Sinn Féin.
He was also a talented musician and singer, who sang a hymn at Mass each day through every Lent in St Eugene’s Cathedral. He sang at his last Mass earlier in the week of his death. Tragically, his eyesight had long failed so his prolific pen was stilled in the 1990s. He is survived by his wife, Dolly, children Vi, Terry, Carol and John, grandchildren and great-granddaughter. He was predeceased by his brother Terry.