by Pat Devlin
Born in Enniskillen in 1937, Ian was educated at Portora Royal School. He graduated in dentistry at Queen’s University, Belfast. While there he edited the student publications The Gown and Q, as well as co-editing the Northern Review. Despite his degree in dentistry Ian decided that his future was in the arts and journalism.
Ian became an art critic, travel writer and journalist. He started work with the Belfast Telegraph, returning later in life to that paper as the ‘Man About Town’ columnist. He worked for other several newspapers, including the News Letter, Irish Times and the Ulster Tatler. He was also a contributor to BBC Radio Ulster and, over the years, a familiar voice on Radio Ulster’s Arts Extra programme. For a while he worked for the BT tabloid called Ulsterweek where his articles about bodies like the Tourist Board and the Arts Council, which appeared to be immune from criticism, soon found out that they weren’t.
Ian wrote about the theatre and art exhibitions. He was a habitual opening night man, regularly recording the various plays on at the theatres in Belfast. He reviewed art exhibitions all over the city and was regarded as an encyclopaedia on travel.
Ian was on the board of several arts organisations in Northern Ireland, including the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and the Ulster Theatre Company. Despite his earlier criticisms of the organisation, Ian was for ten years a director of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the author and contributor to many travel books about Ireland.
As he grew older, his love of the arts and the theatre became more apparent in his writings and he was always in demand for art and theatre reviews and for his opinions on the musicals and superstars that came to town. His comments and his stories were always sharp and original and he had a way with words that delighted his readers.
Shortly before he died Ian wrote the illustrated book My Lagan Love, published by Cottage Publications, ‘an informed and informative social history’ of the river. He contributed a seminal essay on ‘Arts Administration’ to Stepping Stones, the Arts in Ulster, 1971-2001 (Blackstaff Press, 2001), the third volume in the ‘Arts in Ulster’ series, covering the development of Arts Council policy and practice.
Ian joined the Ulster History Circle very shortly after it was formed in the early 1980s. He always maintained that he was a founder member but as no record of those early meetings survives this cannot be confirmed although there is no reason to doubt him. Indeed founder Jimmy Hawthorne himself could not tell you who all were at the early meetings. For 20 years he was a regular attendee and active contributor to the Circle’s work, chasing up the evidence for dates and places of birth or residence (he was a stickler for historical accuracy), and petitioning local authorities for support, at which he was reasonably successful.
Ian died suddenly, at home, on 16 July 2010. He is buried at Down Cathedral.
Some of his later Reviews are at http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/users/38