Three signatures in a visitors’ book in Larne are a deeply poignant link with a local boy who became a household name before being virtually forgotten.
Lancashire-born Richard Hayward, who moved with his family to Larne in 1895 when he was three years old,became one of Ireland’s cultural giants during the middle decades of the 20th century.
The visitors’ book was begun at the opening of an exhibition last Thursday night in Larne’s Museum and Arts Centre entitled ‘Richard Hayward’s East Antrim.’
Described as “an early example of the cult of celebrity in Ireland” by biographer Paul Clements, who was closely involved with the exhibition, Hayward was renowned as a writer, singer, actor, film-star, broadcaster, folklorist, poet, tour guide and much more besides.
His passion and personality were significantly honed by his Larne upbringing, when little Richard’s dazzling future could have been foreseen in his forte for making fireworks!
But since his death in a car crash near Ballymena in 1964 Hayward’s name and remarkable achievements were at best neglected and at worst ignored.
Two of the signatures in the exhibition’s visitors book are his second son Richard (Ricky) Hayward’s, and grandson Paul’s, whose father Dion was Ricky’s elder brother.
Ricky added: “Thanks on dad’s behalf’ to his signature.”
Other visitors penned remarks like ‘wonderful to see him celebrated’ and ‘well deserved, he was unique’.
Hayward’s vast and varied output is vividly displayed in the exhibition with shelves of his books, his much-used travel trunk and suitcase and even some of his clothes!
There are artefacts from his school days in Larne Grammar School and from his time as excursion leader and President of the Belfast Naturalist’s Field Club.
There are newspaper cuttings, posters, photographs, portraits and peppermints - an explanation comes later!
His pipe, cigarette holder and diary share a cabinet with two neck-ties, which are particularly telling. One tie is patterned with the red hand of Ulster, the other with little green Irish harps.
For public appearances he “carefully choreographed the occasion through the insignia” a label explains “reflecting the ties that bind the two parts of the country.”
The exhibition offers recordings of him playing the harp, compilations of his numerous records and clips from his films. Visitors can hear him singing Orange songs or Irish ballads and on the way home can pause at his picture on a gable-end mural in Larne’s Main Street.
The third poignant signature in the Museum’s visitors book, along with Hayward’s son and grandson, is Ian McGimpsey’s, who was a 21-year-old RUC Constable on duty in Ballymena Police Station on Tuesday 13 October 1964.
“I remember it very well,” Ian told me “the Sergeant sent me to an accident on the Antrim Road.”
Arriving at the scene Constable McGimpsey immediately knew “it wasn’t good.
There were three dead and one seriously injured in a two-car crash.
Richard Hayward’s Ford Anglia had crashed head-on into a car driven by Portrush assistant curate Rev Stanley Dunlop accompanied by his mother Violet and their housekeeper Lavinia Kew, who survived.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Ian recounted “but Richard was wearing a fawn-coloured Burberry coat.”
Why was his name so soon forgotten, and for so long, along with his numerous awards, honours and huge cultural legacy?
After his first wife Elma died in 1961, 70-year-old Hayward married Dorothy, 23 years his junior.
His second wife “was extremely protective of his estate and guarded his work zealously” said Paul Clements.
In trying to protect his posthumous reputation, she stifled it. But it’s now there for all to see in Larne.
He wrote 17 books, edited two and contributed to 12 publications by other writers. He authored five music books, composed, arranged or selected numerous tunes and songs for sheet music and recorded over 150 traditional Irish songs and ballads with Decca Records.
Hayward acted in, narrated, directed or contributed to almost 30 feature films, travelogues, documentaries, and marketing and industrial footage.
Over a dozen of the movies he acted in were epic, like A Night to Remember in 1958 and The Quiet Man in 1952.
An enduring image from the latter is a photograph of Maureen O’Hara reading Hayward’s book The Corrib Country while taking a break from her role as Mary Kate Danaher.
Between 1920 and 1937 he trod the boards in over 28 major theatre productions, often as the leading man, and he was showcased in a 1950 gig with Frankie Vaughan, Vera Lynn and Lee Lawrence.
He was also a theatre impresario, ladies’ man, archaeologist, humourist and member of a diverse range of clubs and societies.
“I didn’t realise how unusual he was,” said Richard at the opening.
When he wasn’t writing or performing, his father supplemented the family income supplying confectionary shops with mints, toffees, fruit pastilles, chocolate bon bons and buttered Brazils on behalf of Fox’s Glacier Mints and the Needler’s Chocolate company!
The exhibition has been curated by Larne Museum and Arts Centre in conjunction with the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, where Hayward’s main archive is held, and the Linen Hall Library, Belfast.
It runs until Thursday 31 December 2019 with full details at www.midandeastantrim.gov.uk
Paul Clements will give a talk on Hayward’s East Antrim at the museum on Friday 6 December at 7.30pm and his biography ‘Romancing Ireland: Richard Hayward’ is published by Lilliput Press at www.lilliputpress.ie