"...am I to blame if [my ancestors] looked on the land with approval and stayed"? (Thomas Carnduff, 'I have faith in Ireland')

The Thomas Carnduff Archive is a collection of papers and manuscripts relating to the life and work of Belfast writer, Thomas Carnduff, also known as 'the shipyard poet'. The archive is lodged in Queen's University of Belfast Special Collections Library, and provides a more exhaustive record of Carnduff than has previously been available


Thomas Carnduff - Biographical Chronology

History of the Archive

History of the Catalogue

Précis: the significance of the Carnduff Archive, and of critical approaches to Carnduff in the post-1968 (or 'Troubles') context.

Mary Carnduff, the addressee of Carnduff's 'Journal to Mary'

Carnduff in 1922, working as a Gas Inspector


If Thomas Carnduff's story rings any bells in your memory about manuscripts or correspondence long consigned to a cupboard or attic, why not check it out and get in touch?

Email Sarah

The Significance of the Archive

About Thomas Carnduff (1886-1956)

In Thomas Carnduff: Life and Writings (Lagan: Belfast, l994), John Gray, Chief Librarian at the Linen Hall Library, Belfast, described Thomas Carnduff as the "shipyards' playwright" and the independent voice in the loyalist tradition". Carnduff was born in Belfast 1886 and died in 1956. He was the son of an Army schoolmaster, and when he jooined up as a private in the Royal Engineers during the First World War, he had already begun to write verse. After the war, he went back to work in the shipyards, where he remained until the slump in the thirties.

Carnduff was an Irishman, a Belfast manual worker, an Independent Orangeman, a poet, a dramatist, and a dedicated essayist on local cultural politics from the 1920s through to the 1950s. His wife, Mary, commented that "though he lived among working class people all his life, he never failed to see the drabness of it" (Belfast Telegraph, 30.10.1964, p.15). Carnduff observed of his home city that, "tragedy simply cried out from the streets for expression". He uniquely rejected stage Irish dialogue and farce to voice the realist accents and desperate concerns of its working people.

All his life, Carnduff was painfully aware that regarding Belfast's educational institutions he remained a looker-on from the outside all his life. When Dublin's Abbey Theatre staged Workers in l932, he succumbed to an "unholy joy" as he, an unemployed shipyard man, became a playwright. Belfast's Ulster Theatre had previously rehearsed but abandoned the play when the Opera House objected to its working-class tendencies. After Workers, however, Carnduff successfully launched plays such as Castlereagh and Traitors in the home city that constantly exasperated him, but of which he never tired.

In all, Carnduff wrote more than a dozen plays, including radio drama. He published two books of poetry, and was a prolific essayist on Ulster drama, Ulster workingmen poets, and Belfast's politics and cultures. He established the Belfast Poetry Circle in 1926, the Young Ulster Society in 1936, and was a founding member of the Belfast Irish P.E.N. [See: Thomas Carnduff. "Playwright and Poet." In Who's Who in Northern Ireland, Ed. Anon. Belfast: Stanley & Co., 1938.]

Carnduff's achievements were extraordinary in a context widely dismissed as a cultural desert. Yet, by l970 when five extracts of Carnduff's unpublished autobiography surfaced in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast, his reputation had sunk almost without trace. Twenty-four years passed before his edited autobiography was published in John Gray, ed., Carnduff: Life & Writings (Belfast: Lagan, l994).

Carnduff's manuscript plays and other material, including Carnduff's diary correspondence, Letters to Mary, remain unpublished.

Noel Carnduff's search for his father's papers.

Thomas Carnduff: A Biographical Chronology

History of the archive.

For decades after his death, Carnduff was largely forgotten, and his papers and manuscripts scattered and lost. In l986, his son Noel became curious about his father's work and traveled to Belfast from his home in Kent to begin the search. Throughout more than 15 years of dedicated searching, Noel single-handedly retrieved the substantial body of material that is now gathered together in the Carnduff Archive and listed in the The Thomas Carnduff Archive catalogue (© Sarah Ferris 1999). This catalogue is the result of over three years' work on Thomas Carnduff's papers.

About Noel Carnduff's search for his father's papers.

The history of the Catalogue.

I met Noel Carnduff through my research on John Hewitt. In 1997, he asked me to catalogue his father's papers so that his father's literary legacy could be preserved. The task took several years, and my catalogue, The Thomas Carnduff Archive, records the results of this work. In January 1999, at Noel's request, Thomas Carnduff's papers are lodged in Queen’s University Library.

A copy of the catalogue can be consulted in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast, which also holds significant Carnduff material, and extensive material on Irish theatre.

As Literary Executor to the Carnduff papers, I continue Noel's work of retrieval. More material has recently come to light and will, in due course, be added to the archive, in the the Special Collections at Queen's University, Belfast. Details and acknowledgements soon.


"MMy ancestry lies buried under the shadow of an ancient round tower within the grounds of Drumbo Presbyterian Meeting house"

Thomas Carnduff, "Belfast" c.1938

The Thomas Carnduff Archive

Please note: You will need Adobe Reader 5 or later to download the Archive.

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For information about The Thomas Carnduff Archive Catalogue and access to the material held by Queen's, contact:

Deirdre Wildy
Humanities & Special Collections
Main Library
Queen's University

Tel:00 44 (0) 28 9097 3607
Fax: 00 44 (0) 28 9032 3340

Email Deirdre Wildy

Linen Hall Library also holds significant Carnduff material

If Thomas Carnduff's story rings any bells in your memory about manuscripts or correspondence long consigned to a cupboard or attic, why not check it out and get in touch?

Email Sarah