John Harold Hewitt

John Harold Hewitt

John Harold Hewitt (28 October 1907-22 June 1987), who was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was the most significant Irish poet to emerge before the 1960s generation of Irish poets that included Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley. He was appointed the first writer-in-residence at Queen's University Belfast in 1976. His collections include "The Day of the Corncrake" (1969) and "Out of My Time: Poems 1969 to 1974" (1974). He was also made a Freeman of the City of Belfast in 1983, and was awarded honorary doctorates the University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast. [ John Hewitt (1907-1987)] , John Hewitt Collection, University of Ulster, accessed 27 August 2007]

Hewitt had an active political life, describing himself as "a man of the left", and was involved in the British Labour Party, the Fabian Society and the Belfast Peace League. [ John Hewitt: Man of the Left] , John Hewitt Collection, University of Ulster, accessed 27 August 2007] He was attracted to the Ulster dissenting tradition and was drawn to a concept of regional identity within the island of Ireland, describing his identity as Ulster, Irish, British and European. [ Biography: John Harold Hewitt (1907-1987)] , John Hewitt International Summer School, accessed 27 August 2007] John Hewitt officially opened the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre (BURC) Offices on Mayday 1985. [ [ Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre] , "Making Good Money in Belfast: Social Economy Businesses", p. 44, accessed 27 August 2007]

His life and work are celebrated in two prominent ways - the annual John Hewitt International Summer School - and, less conventionally, a Belfast pub is named after him - the John Hewitt Bar and Restaurant, which is situated on the city's Donegall Street and which opened in 1999. [ [ The John Hewitt: More than just a great pub] , "Making Good Money in Belfast: Social Economy Businesses", pp. 41-44, accessed 27 August 2007] The bar was named after him as he officially opened the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, which owns the establishment. It is a popular meeting place for local writers, musicians, journalists, students and artists. Both the Belfast Festival at Queen's and the Belfast Film Festival use the venue to stage events.

Hewitt's life and writing

Early life

After attending Agnes Street National School, Hewitt moved to Methodist College Belfast, where he was a keen cricketer. In 1924, he started an English degree at the Queen's University of Belfast, obtaining a BA in 1930, [ The John Hewitt Papers (D/3838)] , Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, accessed 27 August 2007] which he followed by obtaining a teaching qualification from Stranmillis College, Belfast.Fact|date=August 2007 During these years, his calling to radical and socialist causes deepened; he heard James Larkin address a Labour rally, began to write for a range of Trades Union and Socialist publications, and co-founded a journal entitled "Iskra".Fact|date=August 2007 Hewitt also joined the Northern Ireland Labour Party.Fact|date=August 2007

In 1930 Hewitt was appointed Art Assistant at the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, where amongst other duties, he gave public lectures on art, at one of which he met Roberta Black, whom he was to marry a year later.Fact|date=August 2007 Roberta was also a convinced Socialist, and the couple became members of the Independent Labour Party, the Belfast Peace League, the Left Book Club and the British Civil Liberties Union.

Early writing

Hewitt began experimenting with poetry while still a schoolboy at Methodist College in the 1920s. Typically thorough, his notebooks from these years are filled with hundreds of poems, in dozens of styles; Hewitt's main influences at this time included William Blake, William Morris and W. B. Yeats, and for the most part the verse is either highly romantic, or strongly socialist, a theme which increased in prominence as the 1930s began. Morris is the key figure, combining both these strains, and allowing Hewitt to articulate the radical, sissenting strain which he inherited from his Methodist forbearers, including his father - easily the most important influence throughout Hewitt's long life and career.Fact|date=August 2007

As the 1920s moved into the 1930s, Hewitt's writing began to develop and mature. Firstly, his role models (including Vachel Lindsay) became more modern; secondly, he discovered in Chinese poetry a voice which was "quiet and undemonstrative but clear and direct" (from his unpublished autobiography, "A North Light"), and which answered a part of Hewitt's temperament which had been suppressed; finally, and most importantly, he began his lifelong work of excavation and discovery of the poetry of the north of Ireland] , starting with Richard Rowley, Joseph Campbell and George William Russell (AE).Fact|date=August 2007

Hewitt himself felt that his juvenilia ended with the poem 'Ireland' (1932), which he placed at the start of his "Collected Poems" (1968), and indeed it is more complex than most of his earlier work, and begins his lifelong preoccupation with bleak landscapes of bog and rock; with exile, and with the nature of belonging.

The 1930s

The 1930s was a period of transition in Hewitt's poetry, one in which he began seriously to address the tortured history of his native province, and the contradictions between his love for the people and the landscape, his inspiration in the radical dissenting tradition, and the bloody, fratricidal conflicts which scar the North to this day. A key text is "The Bloody Brae: A Dramatic Poem" (finished in 1936, though not broadcast - on the Northern Ireland Home Service of the BBC - until 1954; the Belfast Lyric Players performed a stage version in 1957, which they revived in 1986), which tells of a legendary massacre of Catholics by Cromwellian troops in Islandmagee, County Antrim, in 1642. John Hill, one of the soldiers who has been racked by guilt since he participated in the slaughter, returns many years later to beg forgiveness. This he receives from the ghost of one of his victims, a gesture which she wraps in a condemnation of his self-indulgence, luxuriating in his guilt rather than taking positive action to combat bigotry. Another theme which was to become a fixture in Hewitt's poetry also first appears in "The Bloody Brae"; that is, a bold assertion of the right of his people - Ulster Protestants - to a right to live in this part of Ireland, rooted in their hard work and commitment to it::This is my country; my grandfather came here:and raised his walls and fenced the tangled waste:and gave his years and strength into the earthHewitt is not claiming a right of Imperial possession here; rather, the right to live alongside the native population.

Also in the 1930s, Hewitt was involved in with a group of young artists and sculptors known as the 'Ulster Unit', and acted as their secretary.

1940s and 1950s

During the 1940s and 1950s, Hewitt increasingly played the role of reviewer and art critic. He gained an MA from Queen's University Belfast, with a thesis on Ulster poets 1800-1870, in 1951. In 1957, Hewitt left Northern Ireland to take up the position of Art Director at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry. While in Coventry, Hewitt started work on his unpublished autobiography, "A North Light". He subsequently returned to Belfast on his retirement in 1972.



*"Conacre "(privately printed, 1943)
*"No Rebel Word "(Frederick Muller, 1948)
*"The Lint Pulling "(1948)
*"Those Swans Remember: a poem "(privately printed, 1956)
*"Tesserae "(Queen’s University Belfast Festival Publication, 1967)
*"Collected Poems 1932-1967 "(MacGibbon & Kee, 1968)
*"The Day of the Corncrake: poems of the nine glens "( [ Glens of Antrim Historical Society] , 1969; 2nd edition 1984)
*"The Planter and the Gael: an anthology of poems by John Hewitt & John Montague " (Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 1970)
*"An Ulster Reckoning "(privately printed, 1971)
*"The Chinese Fluteplayer "(privately printed, 1974)
*"Scissors for a One-Armed Tailor: Marginal Verses 1929-1954 "(privately printed, 1974)
*"Out of My Time: poems 1967-1974 " ( [ Blackstaff Press] , 1974)
*"Time Enough: Poems New and Revised " (Blackstaff Press, 1976)
*"The Rain Dance: Poems New and Revised " (Blackstaff Press, 1978)
*"Kites in Spring: a Belfast boyhood " (Blackstaff Press, 1980)
*"The Selected John Hewitt " (Blackstaff Press, 1981)
*"Mosaic " (Blackstaff Press, 1981)
*"Loose Ends " (Blackstaff Press, 1983)
*"Freehold and Other Poems " (Blackstaff Press, 1986)
*"The Collected Poems of John Hewitt (Ed. Frank Ormsby) " (Blackstaff Press, 1991)


*"Ancestral Voices: the selected prose of John Hewitt (Ed. Tom Clyde) "(Blackstaff Press, 1987)


*"Two Plays: The McCrackens, The Angry Dove (Ed. Damian Smyth) "( [ Lagan Press] , 1999)

Art criticism

*"Colin Middleton "(Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 1976)
*"Art in Ulster (with Mike Catto) "(Blackstaff Press, 1977)
*"John Luke 1906-1975 "(Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 1978)


*"The Poems of William Allingham "(Oxford University Press/ Dolmen Press, 1967)

ee also

*List of Northern Irish writers


External links

* [ The John Hewitt Collection at the University of Ulster]
* [ The John Hewitt Bar]
* [ The John Hewitt International Summer School]
* [ The John Hewitt Collection at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland]

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