Friday, 16 October 2009

Sam Hanna Bell

Novelist, short story writer and broadcaster, Sam Hanna Bell was born in Glasgow in 1909. His father James Hanna Bell was a journalist with the Glasgow Herald but his paternal grandparents were from Killyglen in Ulster. James married Jane McCarey McIlveen, who was from Raffrey in county Down, in 1906 and the couple then returned to Glasgow.

On the death of his father, Sam and his mother moved to Belfast in 1921 and lived for a time with a relative in India Street. Sam worked at various jobs and then in 1945 he secured the post of features editor with BBC Northern Ireland.

He was a co-founder of the literary journal Lagan in 1943 and in 1951 he co-edited The Arts in Ulster. He also edited Within Our Province, A Miscellany of Ulster Writing.

His first collection of short stories, Summer Loanen, was published in 1943 and his novels include December Bride (1951), The Hollow Ball (1961), A Man Flourishing (1973) and Across the Narrow Sea (1987).

Today he is primarily remembered for December Bride, which is about the life of an Ulster-Scots community in rural Ulster. In 1990 it was made into a film for Channel 4 and received positive critical acclaim. Reviewing it in the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole said that it was ‘not just a remarkable artistic achievement but also a remarkable political one … [it] opens up a community’s sense of itself, restoring a richness and complexity to a history that has been deliberately narrowed.’

Doreen Corcoran (chair), Fergus Hanna Bell & Nelson McCausland

A series of events has been organised to mark the centenary of his birth and yesterday I unveiled a blue history plaque for the Ulster History Circle. The plaque is at 2 Crescent Gardens in South Belfast, where Sam Hanna Bell lived when he wrote December Bride.  His son Fergus Hanna Bell,  a member of the Ulster History Circle, was present and spoke about his father during the ceremony.  I also commented on Sam Hanna Bell's writings and his role in the BBC. 

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