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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Writer's life celebrated
By Arthur Strain
BBC News

Loius MacNeice at the BBC
Loius MacNeice at the BBC
He spent most of his life in London, yet he became one of Northern Ireland's best known and most celebrated poets.

Born on 12 September 1907, Louis MacNeice had an early life marred by the loss of his mother in 1914.

His father, John, was a rector in the County Antrim town of Carrickfergus, then later the Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore and was a strong character.

In 1912 John MacNeice refused to sign the Ulster Covenant and in 1935 would not allow the hanging of the Union Flag over Edward Carson's grave in St Anne's Cathedral.

In 1917 he sent his son to Sherborne preparatory school in England, but the town of his tender years remained a rich seam of creativity.

In some ways his feelings are mixed as he writes about the "slum" of the Irish Quarter and how: "The Norman walled this town against the country, To stop his ears to the yelping of his slave."

A special programme celebrating the poet's life and work will be broadcast on Arts Extra - BBC Radio Ulster from 1830 BST.

However, the curator of Carrickfergus Museum, Helen Rankin, said that he retained a strong affection for the town.

"I think that people don't always put down all the truth of how they feel in their writings," she said.

"He was constantly back and forth, and always wrote to his father and step-mother.

"He also sent his son to stay with them for a year."

Part of the display in Carrickfergus Museum
I am not yet born; O hear me, Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God come near me.
From A Prayer Before Birth

The museum is hosting an exhibition of his work and life marking the centenary of his birth until December.

Ms Rankin said the poet is not well remembered in his home-town, with a fold named after him on the site of the old rectory the only physical link.

However, the council has appointed Kate Newman as a poet in residence and part of this role will be to raise the MacNeice profile in local schools.

For 20 years, he was also one of the BBC's most innovative radio producers, famous for productions such as The Dark Tower and Columbus - which featured Laurence Olivier and music by William Walton - and unusual impressionistic programmes such as India at First Sight.

A BBC sponsored exhibition celebrating the life and work of Louis MacNeice is also being held at the Queen's Visitor Centre during September and October.

As part of the effort to raise his profile in the town there will be a performance of the Dark Tower in the museum on 9 November.

MacNeice was as mistrustful of political programs as he was of philosophical systems.

He was never a member of any political group, and he was quite candid about the ambiguities of his political attitudes. "My sympathies are Left," he wrote. "But not in my heart or my guts."

In August 1963, MacNeice, on location with a BBC team, insisted on going down into a mineshaft to check on sound effects.

He caught a chill that was not diagnosed as pneumonia until he was fatally ill.

He died on 4 September, 1963, just before the publication of his last book of poems, The Burning Perch.

MacNeice was buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard at Carrowdore, with his mother buried beside him.

Loiuse MacNeice reads the poem 'Carrickfergus'


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