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Romancing the highways and byways


Maureen O’Hara reading one of Hayward’s books during the filming of ‘The Quiet Man’ in Cong in 1951 – one of the images in ‘Romancing Ireland – Richard Hayward, 1892-1964’, by Paul Clements (right).
?Maureen O’Hara reading one of Hayward’s books during the filming of ‘The Quiet Man’ in Cong in 1951 – one of the images in ‘Romancing Ireland – Richard Hayward, 1892-1964’, by Paul Clements (right).

Romancing the highways and byways

Biography rediscovers long-lost travel writer

Áine Ryan

MEETING biographer, broadcaster, cyclist and Wild Atlantic Way explorer Paul Clements for coffee and conversation in The Creel at Westport Quay recently was more serendipitous than The Mayo News initially realised. This Northern Irish travel writer, who is presently meandering along the longest dedicated coastal route in Europe for a travel book is (more metaphorically than geographically) following in the footsteps of a much-admired predecessor.   
It emerges during our chat that just over 60 years ago, another northern Irish travel writer, Richard Hayward – about whom Clements has written a biography – made these observations about Westport Quay:   
“One way out of the demesne will lead you to the fine harbour, well equipped with warehouses and a large grain elevator, but now suffering from the Government policy of the centralisation of imports and their subsequent distribution by road and rail.
We wandered round the quays for a long time, for such places always fascinate me, and as we looked at some small coasting vessels, which were all the shipping we could see in this fine haven, a sailorman told me there was a movement afoot to revive Westport’s once considerable maritime traffic, and to bring grain and other cargoes once more into the well nigh disused harbour.”
Much has changed on the streetscapes of Westport Quay since Richard Hayward wrote about life in County Mayo in his 1955 book, ‘Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon’ – part of his ‘This is Ireland’ series.  

Lost legacy
HAYWARD’S many travel books, Clements explains, were very popular during the middle decades of the last century but like the other multi-layered contributions he made to Irish culture – as a writer, film-maker, singer, song collector and arranger, sweet salesman and raconteur – his legacy was largely lost in the mists of time.       
Published in hardback last year to mark the 50th anniversary of his death (in a car crash) and last month in paperback,  ‘Romancing Ireland: Richard Hayward 1892-1964’, unravels the story of a flamboyant character whose gregarious talent and passion for travelling the highways and byways of Ireland led him to appear in the first black-and-white ‘talkies’, to sing alongside Claremorris-born Delia Murphy on the crackling national airwaves of Radio Éireann and to reside at the opulent Ashford Castle when researching his travel book, The Corrib Country.
Long before tourism and travel writing became trendy, explorers like Sir William Wilde,  William Makepeace Thackeray, Heinrich Böll and Robert Lloyd Praeger were discovering the untamed beauty and rich heritage of the west of Ireland. Clements’s biography now ensures that Richard Hayward is added to that intrepid troupe of observers and writers.

Colourful character
‘ROMANCING Ireland’ reveals a colourful character whose ‘limitless energy and passionate perceptions … captured a newly independent Ireland in all its changing hues’.  Born in Southport, Lancashire, Hayward was raised in Larne on the Antrim coast, but he spent much of his life south of the border discovering, embracing and promoting a nascent post-colonial cultural revival.
Clements’s access to Hayward’s original notebooks, private papers and hitherto unpublished letters, ensures the reader meets the real character behind the ‘celebrity’.
An anecdote encapsulates his passion, humour and pragmatism: Hayward was once sued by a music publisher over ownership of a song, entitled ‘The Ould Orange Flute’. At his court defense, he brought fiddlers, uilleann pipers and singers from the glens of Antrim to court as witnesses to prove they had learned the particular song from their grandmother, who in turn had heard it from hers. Hayward won the case.   

About the author
Belfast resident, Paul Clements is a former BBC journalist and a contributing writer to Fodor’s Guide Ireland. Among his other publications are ‘The Height of Nonsense: The Ultimate Irish Road Trip’ (2005) and ‘Burren Country: Through an Irish Limestone Landscape (2011).
‘Romancing Ireland: Richard Hayward, 1892-1964’ is published by Lilliput Press.