Page last updated at 06:40 GMT, Tuesday, 4 May 2010 07:40 UK

Lost voice of controversial Belfast Poet: Padraic Fiacc

Padraic Fiacc
Padraic Fiacc has been called 'the custodian of the spirit of poetry'.

Padraic Fiacc, once called the "patron saint of the insane" is known for his stark and sometimes brutal poems about the Troubles in his native Northern Ireland.

Cold shouldered for parts of his career by the literary establishment, the poet's work has been criticised for being 'crude' and 'savage'.

Now, fellow poet Brian Patten, has explored Fiacc's controversial poetry as part of Radio 4's Lost Voices series.

A long-time admirer of Padraic Fiacc's work, he says the poet has "transmuted the brutality of Belfast at the height of the Troubles into verse that will survive the work of tamer souls".

Yet the poet has arguably been marginalised in Northern Ireland, his fame never rising to that of contemporaries Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, and Paul Muldoon.


Padraic Fiacc was born Patrick Joseph O'Connor in the Lower Falls area of Belfast in the mid-1920s.

His family migrated to America to escape the violence and tensions in Belfast.

But they soon found themselves in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York, an area rife with social problems and gang warfare.

Padraic Fiacc began to write poetry whilst attending local schools, mentored by the Irish poet Padraic Colum.

He returned to Belfast in 1946 when he was 22, and soon began to publish poetry.

He won the prestigious AE Memorial Award for his poems in 1957, but widespread critical acclaim was not to follow, and his work became increasingly controversial.

In the early 1970s, as the situation in Northern Ireland grew precarious, violence became the overriding theme of his poetry.


His portrayal of the Troubles was spare, stark and sometimes brutal, marking him out from the more traditional Irish lyrical style.

His poems were criticised by other poets for their rawness, and he wrote in his poem Glass Grass:"My fellow poets call my poems 'cryptic, crude, distasteful, brutal, savage, bitter"'.

Some critics have said this hostile reaction to his poetry had an ideological basis, and interpret his work as having openly nationalist sympathies.

Brian Patten will question this in Sunday's programme.

He says: "It would seem at first reading his poems that he is a political poet, but that description would not do him justice.

"It is empathy for the frightened and maimed individuals, for all on either side of the great divide, that shines through his work."

'The elephant at the literary tea party'

Padraic Fiacc never reached the fame of other poets writing of the troubles such as Derek Mahon, Stewart Parker and Seamus Heaney.

For Brian Patten however, "Few poets have faced up to contemporary Irish history like Fiacc".

He says: "Without wishing to denigrate other poets, for me it is the torn soul of Padriac Fiacc that has mirrored the modern history of Belfast and its troubles like no other writer.

"He is the shadow falling across the conscience of so many poets, the elephant at the literary tea party."

Fiacc has also been admired by some of his contemporaries.

Micheal Longley has called him both "the custodian of the spirit of poetry", and the "patron saint of the insane".

The importance of Fiacc's poerty was recognised more formally by his election to Aosdana, the Irish state's affiliation of major artists, in 1981.

The programme was broadcast on Sunday 2 May 2010 and is available on the BBC's iPlayer until 9 May

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