1888 – 1957
One of the finest English novelists of the first half of the 20th century, Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary was born in the house of his maternal grandfather, who was manager of the Belfast Bank in Londonderry. He belonged to an Anglo-Irish family from Inishowen; on his mother’s side he was descended from the Joyces of Galway; hence his unusual Christian name. After uncertain beginnings – he was an art student in Paris, took a law degree and served with the Red Cross in Montenegro – his decisive act was joining the Colonial Service in 1913; his years as an Assistant District Officer in Nigeria, and on military service in Cameroon, gave him his first, fruitful themes.
After the first world war he settled in Oxford to write. His first four novels, culminating in the brilliant Mister Johnson (1939), are set in Africa, but he also expanded his subject matter to include English society as a whole, as well as Donegal, both of which, along with Africa, figure in the semi-autobiographical Castle Corner (1938). A House Of Children (1941) is a charming, wistful evocation of the summer holidays he spent on Inishowen as a child.
His most celebrated work is the trilogy of novels devoted to the raffish, Blakean artist Gulley Jimson and his circle: Herself Surprised (1941), To Be A Pilgrim (1942) and The Horse’s Mouth (1944); but a later trilogy centred on a politician and dealing with the demoralising effect of power (Prisoner Of Grace, Except The Lord, Not Honour More) is also very fine. Cary died of motor neurone disease in 1957.
Location of plaque: Bank House, on the corner of Shipquay Street and Bank Place, Derry. The former family estate, Castle Cary, is on Inishowen, Co Donegal, between Moville and Carrowkeel; the house no longer exists.
Date of Unveiling: 27 October 1995