Love of Fermanagh’s past set Séamas on literary path

FROM his early days feeding his imagination with the stories of Fermanagh’s past, to become an internationally-renowned bi-lingual writer, Séamas MacAnnaidh is well known across Ireland and beyond for his way with words.

Having enjoyed a successful career in the literary world, he has been living back home in Fermanagh for the past 20 years, where he continues to write and bring the county’s history to life.

Séamas may not have been born in Enniskillen, but having moved to the county town as a young child, he was certainly reared ‘between the bridges.’


Séamas was five-years-old when his father Jimmy took up the job of the Munster and Leinster Bank, the former name for the Allied Irish Bank, beside the Royal Hotel on East Bridge Street. Along with his mother Ita and his two brothers and sister, the family moved in above the bank, where Séamas had a good overview of the happenings in the town.

“That was interesting, looking at all the comings and goings,” said Séamas, reflecting on what it was like growing up in the heart of the town, at time when there were still people living on the island.

“At that stage the Lucchesis still lived over the Golden Arrow, McHughs were there at the shop on East Bridge Street,” he continued. “So there was a small community of people still living in the town at that stage.”

Séamas began what would become a glittering career at Enniskillen Library, and still speaks fondly of his four years there.

“It was a grand place to be. You were meeting young and old, and it was a place where you had time to talk to people. People wanted help and information, and that’s what your job was,” he said, noting it wasn’t all about the books.

“People could be asking you what time were confessions in Derrylin, you wouldn’t know what you were going to be asked. You were meeting local people, you were meeting visitors, Americans looking for their ancestors.

“All that sort of thing. So I was learning as well.”


Séamas secured the job at the library after finishing his degree in English and Irish at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. The former St Michael’s PS and St Michael’s College pupil had already exhibited a literary flair even back then, and while looking for work after graduating, he published his first fiction novel, as Gaeilge.

That book was the renowned ‘Cuaifeach Mo Lon Dubh Buí’, which means ‘The Yellow Blackbird’. Borne out of Séamus’ imaginings while walking around Enniskillen thinking of its historical connections, it would become the first of around 20 books published by Séamus in the coming decades, both in English and Irish.

Séamus explained to the Herald he liked to write fiction in Irish, while he writes his non-fiction books in English.

“I do the creative writing in Irish, novels and short stories, and then I do local history and Irish history in English,” he said.

“When I started off Irish was like my secret language. I kept my diaries in Irish so I learned to express myself in that language, whereas with history you’re copying stuff out of old papers and the English is lovely. It’s easier to keep the two separate.”
Cuaifeach Mo Lon Dubh Buí also helped him secure the job at the library.

“When the Job Centre sent me down for an interview in the library they had the book on the desk,” he recalled.
After leaving the library, Séamas went on to become writer-in-residence at Queen’s University and University of Ulster at Coleraine, an impressive feat for someone still so young.

“It was a great form of recognition and it also gave me the space and freedom to do my own thing,” he said.
After that, he joined the BBC, which was just starting out with its Irish language broadcasting, where he remained for around four years.

“I was doing radio programmes on Radio Ulster, and I did a children’s TV series, The Magic Attic, with a puppet. That was good fun,” he remembered fondly.

It was at around this stage Séamas married his wife, Derrygonnelly woman Joy Beatty, a classical musician. The couple then moved to Glasgow, where viola player Joy was studying for a post-grad at the Royal Scottish Academy.

“That was a great experience too. Glasgow is a very lively, happening place,” he said.

It was while living in Glasgow that Séamas first joined the world of the self-employed.

Indulging his passion for history while in Glasgow, Séamus spent endless hours pouring over the local names in Poor Law Records at the Mitchell Library which contained the details of many Fermanagh families who had moved to the Scottish city.

He also invested in lots of copies of microfilm, mostly of old Fermanagh newspapers, which he would take into the library to study.

Upon returning to the North, Séamus took up the role of literary editor at the Andersonstown News Group, where he produced the LÁ Irish language newspaper each week. He was in his element, being regularly supplied with books to review.

Upon returning to Fermanagh, Séamas and Joy welcomed their daughter Raphaelle in 2001. The couple wanted her to grow up near her grandparents, and the family have now been living in Belcoo ever since.

As someone who has forged a highly successful career in the literary arts, Séamas agreed that the culture in Fermanagh helped foster creativity.

“I think it’s a fairly open sort of society. People love talking and exchanging ideas,” he said.

“There’s also the intergenerational thing. There is good contact between the different generations, which I think is important.”

He also noted the county was steeped in history, which helps fire the imagination.

Séamas told the Herald he was interested in all aspects of local history, from genealogy and family stories, to the town of Enniskillen and the people who have populated it through the years.

“At the minute I’m doing a lot of work on old schools, the different primary schools that were in the town,” he said, adding he finds local people are generally very interested in the history of their homeland.

As many locals know of his work, he said they often supply him with books and stories.

“It all feeds back to when I was in the library surrounded by books. I now have my own library at home, the house is coming down with books. People often give me books and I often find good homes for books. I circulate books,” he joked.

As for any budding historians reading, Séamas had the following advice, “Start with your own family, or start with some particular story you’re interested in, whether it’s the Coonian Ghost, of the Macken Fight, or the boats on the lough, or some old prehistoric tomb in the next townland.

“Start with that and it leads out in all directions.”

He added, “That’s what I found with the library, people would come in and they would have a query.

“For instance, there was a man called Beatty from Eden Street, who was a railway engineer, and he built the railway in the Crimean War. I had noted him, because he was Beatty.

“So when an English man just happened to walk in one day and said he was interested in railway history, and he believed this engineer was from Enniskillen, asking if there was anyway he could trace him, I said, I know all about him, he’s in my file already.

“The fun is, when someone throws a query at me, can I get something out.

“That goes back to when I worked in the library. People would come in and it was almost like they were throwing you down a challenge.

“They nearly thought you’d read every book in the library. The secret of course was to know what was in every book, and to just lay your hand to it.”

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The Fermanagh Herald is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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