George A Birmingham

Prolific novelist, journalist and autobiographer

‘I was born in Belfast and brought up to believe that, like St Paul, I am a citizen of no mean city.’ This famous remark opens Pleasant Places, the autobiography of George Birmingham, pen name of the Rev James Owen Hannay, a prolific novelist and non-fiction writer who held church posts in Somerset, London and Westport, Co Mayo.

Birmingham valued his native city’s ‘self-confidence and fierce energy’, even if ‘Belfast never aspired to anything in the way of culture. Indeed I think, we rather despised music, literature and art as merely frills.’

Between 1905 and his death in 1950, Birmingham published 60 works of fiction, as well as miscellaneous journalism and four autobiographical works. One novel, General John Regan, was produced as a play in 1913, but scandalised Westport, leading to riots, boycotts, and the burning of Birmingham’s effigy.

Like many of his novels, General John Regan casts a gentle, if humorously sceptical eye on Irish pieties. The Northern Iron and The Red Hand of Ulster variously explore the political and comic possibilities offered by the tensions between Ulster Protestantism and Irish nationalism.

Further Reading:
Life and Writings of James Owen Hannay (George A Birmingham), 1865-1950 (1995) by Brian Taylor; Pleasant Places (1934) by George Birmingham.