Padraic Fiacc was born in Belfast in 1924, as Patrick Joseph O’Connor.
As a child his father moved to New York’s Hell’s Kitchen district, while the rest of the family remained in the markets area of Belfast, until they too emigrated in the 1920s.
In America he studied for the priesthood but decided that this was not his path and he returned to Belfast in 1946 for four years before returning to New York. In 1956 he returned permanently to Belfast.
Having won the AE Memorial award for his volume of poetry ‘ Woe to the Boy’, his next volume, ‘By the Black Stream’, was published in 1969, at the same time as the Troubles were starting in Northern Ireland. The collapse of his marriage, the effect of the Troubles, including the murder of a friend, lead to an increased mental pressure on the poet. He continued to write about his experiences and the Troubles and his work has been collated into critically received collections in recent decades.
Fiacc was elected to Aosdana in 1981.
“I call it Hellfast. I was asked by a journalist from Dublin about leaving New York and I told her, ‘I couldn’t breathe in New York. Next question.’ She asked why I’d come to Belfast and I told her, ‘I like it OK, but it’s Hellfast.’ She wrote about what would he not call it if he didn’t like it! Belfast is not love-hate though, for I do love the place and I couldn’t tell you why. It smells of tar, chimneys, cooking grub and the boneyards. There’s that poem from the bad days in the ‘70s where I call it a ‘beaten, sexless dog’. You’ll get what I feel about its suffering in ‘Glass Grass’. Why do I love it? God knows! In my darkest and bleakest book, Nights In The Bad Place, it’s a place where ‘the dead stick in your gut’ you can’t live here without being poisoned. … “…
In America it was all politics and politics there is a religion: you have to take one side or another. I don’t like taking sides. Here I try to keep my mouth shut, difficult though that is. I suppose we should have Northern Ireland and that other shitbag of a neighbour together – a bit like England and Scotland and Wales – but the whole question of a united Ireland depends on people. Even Jimmy Connolly knew there was no point in having a united Ireland unless the people were united in wanting it. Connolly talked of a unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. I guess that whatever the answer I’d be a dissenter.”… Nights In The Bad Place … even more than Missa Terribilis … is my bleakest and blackest and darkest book. The poet is alone, the ‘wolf outside munching the leper’s head’. ‘Christ Goodbye’ was a harder poem to write than Glass Grass and I don’t understand – I still can’t understand – why they would want to torture someone like the innocent old Protestant man I had dinner with in Rathcoole. Ratcool! I often wonder what happened to him. I tried to get near to the killer mentality in this book and Father Des Wilson says he still can’t understand the sentiments in it. Behind the book is the murder of Gerry McLaughlin, a poor innocent boy, who used to come visit me in Glengormley and bring some chips and beer … One day you switch from classical music to Radio Ulster and you just find out they murdered him. I’d seen too much when I came to write that book. I was, I still am bitter. I just can’t understand – I just can’t understand – why people would kill each other over religion and politics here.”
Woe to the Boy (1957)
By the Black Stream (Dublin, The Dolmen Press, 1969)
Odour of Blood (Kildare, The Goldsmith Press, 1973)
Nights in the Bad Place (Belfast, The Blackstaff Press, 1977)
The Selected Padraic Fiacc (The Blackstaff Press, 1979)
Missa Terriblis (The Blackstaff Press, 1986)
Ruined Pages: Selected poems (edited by Gerald Dawe and Aodán Mac Póilin), elfast: Blackstaff Press, 1994
Semper vacare (Belfast, Lagan Press, 1999)
Red Earth (Lagan Press)
The Wearing of the Black (Editor The Blackstaff Press, 1974)
Sea - sixty years of poetry (Edited and illustrated by Michael McKernon) MH Press 2006
Selected Writings About Padraic Fiacc
Terence Brown, ‘Pádraic Fiacc, The Bleeding Bough’, in Northern Voices, Poets from Ulster (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975), pp.141-48.
Gerald Dawe, ‘Secret Being, the Poetry of Padraic Fiacc’, in Honest Ulsterman, No. 67 (Oct 1980-Feb. 1981), pp.71-82.
Terence Brown, intro., The Selected Padraic Fiacc (Belfast: Blackstaff 1979).
Francis Hagan, ‘Failure as a Strategy in the Poetry of Padraic Fiacc’, in Honest Ulsterman (Autumn 1994), pp.5-9.
Brendan Hamill on Fiacc, in Krino (Summer 1995).
Michael Parker, review article on Ruined Pages, Selected Poems, in Irish Studies Review (Jan. 1996), pp.46-50 [with photo-port.].
Gerald Dawe, ‘Finding the Language: Poetry, Belfast, and the Past’, New Hibernia Review, 1, 1 (Spring 1997), pp.9-18.
‘Padriac Fiacc: Poet of the Pagan City’, Supplement to Fortnight 370 (May 1998), 19pp., photo-ports. [contribs. with Fiacc, Paul Grattan Chris Agee, Damian Smyth, John Minahan, John Brown (interview)].
Pádraig Ó Snodaigh & Aogán Ó Muircheartaigh, Vae Puero: Athleaganacha ar dhánta le Padraic Fiacc (Baile Atha Cliath: Coiscéim), 48pp.
John Brown, interview with Padraic Fiacc, in Fiacc Supplement, Fortnight (May 1998).
Patrick Ramsay, review of Patrick Crotty, Contemporary Irish Poetry (1995), in Fortnight Review, Jan. 1995, p.33.
Patricia Craig reviewing Frank Ormsby, ed., Rage for Order poetry of the Trouble (TLS Review, 19.2.1993), p.27.
Brendan Hamill, ‘Many More Bright Aprils’, appraisal of Fiacc in Fortnight Review, 327 (Apr. 1994), pp.45-56.
James Simmons, review of The Wearing of the Black, in The Honest Ulsterman, Nos. 46-47 (Nov. 1974-Feb. 1975), pp.67-71.
Robert McMillen, interview with Padraic Fiacc (Anderstown News, 3 Feb. 1997).
Fred Johnston, ‘A poet of Blakean wrath’, Irish Times, 8 Feb. 1997.
Michael Parker, ‘Elegies for Orszula’, reviewing Seamus Heaney, trans., Jan Kochanowski, Laments (1995), in TLS, 22 Mar. 1996, p.26.
Denis O’Donoghue, ‘We Irish’, in Hibernia, 1978.