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Sam McAughtry (1921-2014)

Sam McAughtry

I last met Sam in the car park behind the Surgery Comber early March 2014, we exchanged a

few words. He was his usual jovial self and looked very fresh for a man of his age. I asked if I could do a short interview for publication in Comber History Society's web page. He readily agreed to this as he climbed into his car and drove off, this was the last time I spoke to Sam. Alas this was not to be as Sam passed away a few weeks later.

Sam died at the ripe old age age of 93 on Mach 31st, 2014. He was survived by his three daughters, Elaine, Marion and Angela, and by his wife, Phyllis.

Sam was born in Hillman Street, in the Tiger's Bay area of North Belfast during 1921. A Protestant area of North Belfast, to his mother Elizabeth (Lizzie) and his father Mariott. There were six children in the family brought up by Lizzie virtually on her own as his father a seaman was away for lengthy periods. As the children grew older they found jobs and with the extra income they were able to afford a bigger house also in Hillman Street. He attended St Barnabas Public Elementary School in Duncairn Gardens, Belfast. He left school aged 14, a bright student who did well in his exams, especially English, in those days the standard of both Primary and Secondary education was vastly superior to today's standards. He later went on to study English and Maths at Belfast technical college. This equipped him well for his military service in the Royal Air force, (joined the RAF in 1940) after basic training he was selected for training as an Airframe Engineer (Rigger). He must have been good as he was noted to eventually become Air-crew as an Observer and received his wing.

Life in the RAF would have further equipped him for his later life in civvy street as it any sense of sectarianism would have been the last thing on his mind. Upon leaving the RAF he worked at various manual jobs before entering the Civil Service. Somewhere he picked up the nickname of 'Soda-bread' Sam which stuck with him for the rest of his life. I don't know if this was because he liked soda bread or most likely it was his hair turning white. Soda-bread is best enjoyed after being fried with an egg and plenty of butter. His elder brother (Mart) Marriott died on 5th November 1940 aged 27 years. he served as a crew member on board the Steam Ship "Kenbane Head" which was attacked and sunk off the coast of Greenland during WWII. The ship which attacked was the Admiral Scheer. a pocket battleship of the Kriegsmarine navy of Nazi Germany. Twenty four sailors were lost during that encounter including Mart whose body was never found and he has no known resting place. The SS Kenbane Head was part of the convoy HX-84 from Halifax Nova Scotia. Six other ships were tragically lost during this encounter. This family disaster affected Sam very badly and he was known to drown his sorrows. This was the nadir of Sam's life but as the sun rises the silver lining in every cloud begins to shine brightly.

He applied for and passed the entrance exam to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) but immediately resigned as his Sergeant told him he would be posted to a country station to help farmers fill in their annual tillage returns. He then was accepted into the Civil Service and ended up doing the same job that he would be doing in the RUC. Whether or not this is a true story it shows his style of humour and his skill in telling a good yarn.

Sam took to writing and soon proved himself as a prolific writer as can be seen in some of his publications listed below.

He was a nominee of the Taoiseach to Seanad Éireann on 28 February 1996, welcomed as a rare northern Protestant Senator. Seanad Éireann is similar to the House of Lords in England as distinct from Dáil Éireann which is the lower house of Irish government. He was proud of his election to the Senate and made his first contribution in response in which he stated:

"It is my dearest wish to see this island inhabited by five million Irish people, living in two jurisdictions with consent, but with institutions established to emphasise their Irishness."

Sam was the founding chairman of the Peace Train Organisation, which stood against frequent paramilitary attacks on the Dublin-Belfast train during the years of the "Troubles". Sam's peace work included many other activities, such as supporting the "Peace Process" he called himself "a hybrid unionist," and said he was "happy to live in the United Kingdom but I am happier still to be Irish and to proclaim my Irishness".

During his life he became an acclaimed novelist, broadcaster and columnist for the Irish Times. Sam was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the National University of Ireland (Ollscoil na hEireann) in 1998 for his contribution to literature and peace. I can remember him making many appearances on BBC Television. He also appeared on Raidio Teilifis Éireann (RTE) the Irish Broadcasting service.

Dr Sam McAughtry was a highly intelligent, very complex human being. An incisive wit that cut to the chase who retired to Comber for peace and quiet during the latter years of his life. He achieved a lot in his 93 years. He was voted Columnist of the Year, 1985; by the Irish Writers Union (Chomhar na Scribhneoiri). A committed trade unionist, Labour Party member and a non-sectarian socialist. He was also noted as an astute political analyst during his lifetime in journalism and politics.

A man who lived a fulfilled life in the service of the people of all Ireland.

"A life well lived"

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