Dunmurry born poet passes away at 101

A DUNMURRY man who had been writing poems all his life but didn’t have a collection published until he was 98, has passed away at a care home in Omagh, aged 101.

James McBryde was born on June 17th, 1910 and died on December 13.

Mr McBryde was born in Dunmurry, the second of four children and the elder son to James McBryde, a skilled worker in a linen mill, and his wife, Jane (née Greer). He left school at 14 to serve an apprenticeship as a millwright in the Glenmore Mill in Lambeg. He completed his apprenticeship but knew the linen industry was in decline so, in 1932, he joined the RUC. That year he was one of the guards of honour at the opening of the new Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont.

He had retired from the police before the Troubles and was particularly proud that, throughout his service, he never used his revolver.

Mr McBryde published his first collection of poems at 98. In almost 90 years of writing he wrote about 1,000 poems. He was still writing in the final month of his life, at 101.

Mr McBryde had great affection for the classics of English poetry. He believed Milton and Byron were the greatest poets, but he had a real love for WB Yeats and Francis Ledwidge.

The publication of his collection, Off the Beaten Track, was accidental. In early 1998 local historian Paddy Montague was working on a history of Lack, Co Fermanagh. He heard Mr McBryde, whom he remembered from childhood, was still alive and living in Drumragh Care Home in Omagh. Montague visited him, and they spoke about the history of the village. Then, in passing, Mr McBryde mentioned his poetry and produced folders of poems.

Paddy Montague realised the poetry had real value. Mr McBryde had spent almost 40 years in the RUC, and all his service was in rural Fermanagh. The poems record the changes in life over those years.

As well as observing social change, the work has literary merit. Mr McBryde’s favourite form was the sonnet. His poetic manifesto is in the poem Good Standard . It shows a knowledge of – and disdain for – modern trends. The second verse goes: “For finicking and honing have gone out/ Since Hobsbaum’s group decided it was better/ To pour words on paper like a spout.”

But Mr McBryde wrote with respect for some 20th-century poets: “But Yeats corrected, seeking still the smooth,/ Revised and mended; Ledwidge did the same.”

Over the years, various newspapers and magazines had published his poems. Mr Montague brought the poems to the Omagh-based Open Door Poetry Group, which published Off the Beaten Track three years ago.

Mr McBryde was predeceased by his wife, Ethel Elizabeth (Lannie), in 1987. He is survived by his children, Mikey, Rita (Larsen), Billy and John, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.