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Obituary: John Morrow, Belfast Novelist

Friday 7th November 2014 at 1pm 0 Comments Literature

John Morrow (1930 – 2014)

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has learned with great sadness that the Belfast-born novelist, John Morrow, died last night (6th November) at the age of 84 following a short illness.

Born in Belfast in 1930, John Morrow left education at the age of 14 to become an apprentice to the linen trade, going on to work in the Belfast shipyards as a navvy, then as an insurance agent. He began writing short stories in the 1960s and his first works were published in the Honest Ulsterman and the Irish Press. In 1978 he joined the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, becoming Director of Combined Arts with responsibility for literature and community arts in 1991, retiring in 1995.

Described by Seamus Heaney as “a fantasist, a joker bull in the literary china shop, bawdy, nasty, a master of cornerboy cant and an enemy of radical chic”, John Morrow’s stories are laced throughout with a savage wit and local humour. His novels include The Confessions of Proinsias O’Toole (1977), The Essex Factor (1982) and The Anals of Ballyturdeen (1996). His short fiction is gathered in two collections, Northern Myths (1979) and Sects and Other Stories (1987) and a collection of short autobiographical pieces, Pruck: A Life in Bits and Pieces was published in 1999.

Damian Smyth, Head of Literature & Drama at the Arts Council, said: “This is a sad morning for the arts in Northern Ireland. John Morrow found his calling in mid life as a writer of formidable comic talent. He provided through the years of communal violence and low-grade bitter sectarian squabbling a persistent anarchic commentary in the best traditions of satire, at once acerbic, merciless, excoriating and fair, equitable and humane.

His novels and short fiction works will survive as records of his unique and daring comic vision in the darkest of times. The autobiographical vignettes collected in Pruck: A Life in Bits and Pieces (1999) offer his own reflections on his family and his place in the madcap disturbances of an Ulster life. He proved a genial and generous advocate of young writers in all genres, though none managed to capture the racy virulence of his own comic manner. Happy to record, he emerged from the trauma of 20 years in arts administration with only a small tic, like The Duke, “head cocked to one side as though listening to some unseen presence over his left shoulder”. Raise a glass today to his Glorious, Pious and Immortal Memory.”

John Morrow’s wife, Isabel, died last month and he is survived by his sons, Brian and Johnny.

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