An unrepentant romantic
Richard Hayward was a pivotal cultural figure in the middle decades of twentieth-century Ireland. His distinctive presence and unique voice made him one of the most popular singers and actors of his generation. In his writing he explored aspects of Irish cultural history and was a broadcaster, folklorist and collector of Ulster dialect.
Although born in Southport, Lancashire, Hayward grew up in Larne, Co. Antrim and tried to disguise his English background. He lived in Belfast and devoted his days to promoting Ireland. He appeared in early Irish films including The Luck of the Irish (1935) and Irish and Proud of It (1936).
Between 1938 and 1964 Hayward wrote eleven travel books and one novel about Ireland. His travel books are filled with cultural history, topography, architecture, archaeology, legends and folklore. He was a fluent and intelligent writer whose work was held in high regard by the critics. His first travel book, In Praise of Ulster, published in 1938, was illustrated by the artist James Humbert Craig, while later books were illustrated by Theo Gracey and Raymond Piper.
Richard Hayward was killed in a car crash near Ballymena on 13 October 1964, so October 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of his death. For the first time his remarkable life story has been told in a biography, and a series of events was held throughout October to commemorate his achievements.
Paul Clements, a former BBC journalist, illustrated his talk with images and photographs that he sourced from a variety of archives in Ireland and Britain. His book, Romancing Ireland, Richard Hayward, 1892-1964 was published by Lilliput Press in the summer of 2014. It is the product of five years’ wide ranging research, exploring many sources including extensive use of holdings at PRONI. For his research into Hayward’s filmmaking career, Paul drew on government information files and wartime Cabinet Papers held at PRONI as well as the Tyrone Guthrie and John Hewitt archives. He also sourced material through the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, in libraries and universities across Ireland and England, at the BBC written archives, and has uncovered photographs that for many years had lain unseen in the archive of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club.
His book has been acclaimed by The Irish Times as ‘product of great industry and astuteness, a social history, and a worthwhile exercise in reinstatement’. The Irish News called it ‘A masterful biography which sheds new light on the cultural history of the early 20th century North’, while the Belfast News Letter described the book as ‘a comprehensive biography, impeccably written, and a gripping read from the start’.