Writer and Broadcaster
1909 – 1990
Sam Hanna Bell was born in Glasgow on 16 October 1909, eldest son of James Hanna Bell, journalist on the Glasgow Herald and his wife, Jane Ferris McCarey (McIlveen) who was Ulster-born. He came to live at Raffrey in County Down when he was nine years old after the death of his father. Although the family moved to Belfast in 1921, he continued to visit Raffrey and its surroundings and the country and its people stimulated his imagination and featured in three of his four novels. He had a variety of jobs in the potato and clothing trade and a spell in the Canadian Pacific Steamship and Railway Company.
Bell joined the Left Book Club and helped to edit the socialist newspaper Labour Progress. He wrote some stories for radio and his story ‘Summer loanen’ was published in Sean O’Faolain’s Dublin journal The Bell in 1941. In 1943 his Summer loanin’ and other stories was published.
In August 1945 he began to work for Northern Ireland Radio as a features producer, retiring in 1969. Perhaps his most popular and successful radio programme was This is Northern Ireland, a complex portrait which he wrote and produced in 1949 for the BBC silver jubilee. He wrote and produced The Orangemen, a carefully researched history of the Orange order, which was broadcast in July 1967. Some of his best work was for series e.g. Within our Province, Country Magazine, It’s a Brave Step, and The Fairy Faith which reported on traditions and folk ways in different parts of Northern Ireland.
With Michael J. Murphy he collected folklore, and with Sean O’Boyle, traditional music, now held in the B.B.C. Archive in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, and much of which was used in radio programmes. He also wrote a great deal about the theatre, and several novels: The Hollow Ball 1961, A Man Flourishing 1973 and Across the Narrow Sea 1987. His first and best novel, December Bride, was published in 1951, adapted as a stage play in 1955, reprinted in 1982, and filmed in 1990.
Bell served for many years on the Northern Ireland Arts Council. In 1970 he was awarded an honorary MA from the Queen’s University of Belfast and in 1977 was honoured with an MBE in recognition for his contribution to the cultural live of the Province. He died at 190 King’s Road, Knock in Belfast on 9 February 1990.
Location of plaque: 2 Crescent Gardens, Belfast
Date of unveiling: 15 October 2009
Report of Plaque unveiling available HERE