Richard Hayward

Writer, Actor, Singer
1892 – 1964

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Harold Richard Hayward was born on 24 October 1892 in Southport, Lancashire, a son of Captain Scott Hayward, yachtsman and boat designer, and Louise Eleanor. The family moved to Ireland about 1894 and lived briefly in Larne, Co. Antrim, before settling in Greenisland, and Richard and his three brothers were educated at Larne Grammar School.

Hayward’s first work was in connection with ship repair and maintenance in Liverpool, a reserved occupation during the First World War, but after the war he became a sales representative, travelling throughout Ireland. On 9 July 1915 he married Wilhelmina (known as Elma) Nelson (1896-1961). They lived on the Antrim Road in Belfast, and had two sons, Dion Nelson and Richard Scott.

When in his twenties Richard and Elma began acting with the Ulster Literary Theatre. In 1929 Hayward and J. R. Mageean founded the Empire Players (the Belfast Repertory Theatre Company) at the Empire Theatre, Belfast. They performed many of shipyard playwright Thomas Carnduff’s works, and Hayward hoped that a permanent home would be found for the company, creating a vital theatrical force comparable to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. However Belfast was not yet ready for this and the Empire Players was wound up in December 1937.

When the Northern Ireland station of the BBC opened in Belfast in 1924, Hayward was one of the first artists to broadcast. He and Elma were soon taking part in scenes from Shakespeare and, with Tyrone Guthrie, Hayward founded the Belfast Radio Players. He wrote a variety of sketches, including in 1925 the first long play ever broadcast from Belfast, A Trip to the Isle of Man: a Saga in Two Parts. His revue Hip Hip Hooradio was staged at the Empire Theatre and became the first broadcast made from an Irish theatre when it was simultaneously transmitted on 13 December 1927 through the stations of Belfast, Dublin and Cork.

In 1924 Hayward started making gramophone records. By 1950 he had produced more than 140 recordings. These were mainly recorded by Decca, and included such popular local classics as ‘The Ould Orange Flute’, ‘My Lagan Love’ and ‘The Inniskilling Dragoon’. Hayward’s untrained singing voice gave his recordings an informal ballad-like quality, and this added to their popularity. His first involvement with films was as a singer and actor including The Voice of Ireland (1932) and other similar films in the 1930s. Hayward even had a small part in The Quiet Man (1952) and was also co-producer of The Luck of the Irish (1935).

Hayward’s first publication was a book of poems in 1927, followed by a novel Sugarhouse Entry (1936). Two years later he produced In Praise of Ulster which established his reputation as a descriptive writer. Its success lay in its blend of local history archaeology and folklore, giving a broad and enthusiastic picture of the village or area. After this came Where the River Shannon Flows (1940) The Corrib Country (1943), and In the Kingdom of Kerry (1950). Hayward’s almost total exclusion of religion, politics and the bitterness which colours much of Irish popular history contributed to the widespread appeal of his writings. Publication of the series of five books, covering the four provinces of Ireland was spread over the remainder of his life, culminating in Munster and the City of Cork only a few months before his death. The series was illustrated with pencil drawings by Raymond Piper, producing probably the most satisfactory of his many collaborations.

Hayward’s last major activity was with the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club, which he joined in 1944. Characteristically he threw himself into the club’s activities with great enthusiasm: he was soon giving lectures and conducting excursions, and was elected president for 1951-2. In 1951, with his nephew Brendan Adams, he co-founded the folklore and dialect section of the club, and both of them remained its moving spirits until their deaths.

Public recognition of Hayward’s work included the award of an honorary DLitt of Lafayette University, Pennsylvania, in 1959, and an OBE in 1964. Following the death of Elma, Hayward married Dorothy Elizabeth Gamble on 23 February 1962.He died near Ballymena, Co. Antrim, on 13 October 1964, having suffered a heart attack while driving. He was cremated at Roselawn on 16 October and on 4 November a memorial service for Richard Hayward was held in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.

Acknowledgement: Richard Clarke (ODNB)

Location of plaque:   352 Antrim Road Belfast

Date of unveiling: 17 May 2013

Report of Plaque unveiling available HERE