My Twentieth-Century Night-Life

Padraic Fiacc

About the book…

Padraic Fiacc has remained one of the most controversial figures in Irish literature. A modernist poet who paradoxically was steeped in the proverbial world of the Celtic Twilight.

But despite writing poetry from a young age, it is his writing on the Troubles on which his reputation rests. His collections By the Black Stream (1969) Odour of Blood (1986) and Missa Terriblis (1986) were a direct affront to the brutality and terror that was engulfing Northern Irish society at the time.

These plus his highly contentious The Wearing of the Black 1974 made him vulnerable to criticism but there is no doubt that his poetry added to the debate on the part poetry has to play within wartime.

My Twentieth Century Nightlife provides a valuable insight into Fiacc’s achievements in a fuller social, political and literary context. Gathering together original pieces of Fiacc’s work including his much vaunted autobiographical writings Hell’s Kitchen and Atlantic Crossing. The miscellany also includes critical and artistic responses to his work, and is a testament to a much undervalued presence in Northern Irish poetry.

Photo of the author, Padraic Fiacc

About the author…

Born Patrick Joseph O’Connor in Belfast in 1924, Padraic Fiacc adopted his pseudonym, in honour of his friend and mentor, poet Padraic Colum. (Loosely translated from the Irish, Padraic Colum means Padraic the Dove while Padraic Fiacc means Padraic the Raven.)

Following an anti-Catholic pogrom at the family’s Lisburn home, his father emigrated to New York, leaving the young Joseph to be raised by his maternal grandparents. The rest of the family emigrated to New York in the late 1920s. Raised in the notorious Hell’s Kitchen district of the city, he was educated at Commerce High School and Haaren High School.

It was at this point that the young writer became acquainted with Colum and he produced four plays and a volume of poetry – since lost. He enrolled at St Joseph’s Seminary and studied for five years under the Irish Capuchin Order. Unhappy at the life of a prospective priest, he left the seminary and – in order to avoid military service – left for Belfast in 1946.

In Belfast he immediately began forging a reputation as a poet, appearing in New Irish Poets (1948). His work also appeared in Irish Bookman, Poetry Ireland and the Irish Times.

The early fifties saw him traversing the Atlantic to look after the rest of the family back in New York. However, in 1956 he settled in the suburb of Glengormley with his new wife, the American artist Nancy Wayne. In 1957 he won the AE Memorial Award for his anthology Woe to Boy (Never published in its original form). During the 1960s he was a presence in the local literary scene but he was never truly established until his first full collection, By the Black Stream, was published by Dolmen Press.

Other volumes quickly followed: Odour of Blood (1973); Nights in the Bad Place (1977); The Selected Padraic Fiacc (1979); Missa Terriblis (1986); Ruined Pages (1994); Red Earth (1996) and Semper Vacare (1999). A miscellany of his critical and autobiographical work, My Twentieth-Century Night-Life appeared in 2009, which included two biographical pieces for radio: Hell’s Kitchen and Atlantic Crossing.

At the centre of his work are two overriding concerns: the correct poetic response to the moral, political and civil disintegration of Belfast in the face of violence and the re-imagination of a Celtic Twilight in a modernistic, self-expressive aesthetic.

In addition to Northern Ireland’s civic strife, Fiacc suffered the collapse of his marriage to Nancy and the sectarian murder of his friend Gerry McLaughlin, causing him to suffer a complete mental breakdown in the early 70s. This coincided with his most controversial ‘Troubles’ anthology, The Wearing of the Black (1974).

After years of marginalisation, Fiacc was finally recognised for his contribution to Irish literature when he was elected a member of the Aosdana, in 1981.