Robert Harbinson

Belfast born autobiographer

Robert Harbinson Bryans was born in east Belfast, though in his infancy the family moved to Donegall Avenue in 'the Village’ area of the city. Two volumes of his memoirs, No Surrender (1960) and Up Spake the Cabin Boy (1961), depict his working class childhood with great energy, humour, and a sense of the grotesque.

The city itself emerges in a series of vivid images, for example, like this of the shipyard in wartime:
'Alongside, the skeleton hulls of Harland and Wolff’s bays stuck up, like the bones of washed-up whales. The incessant chatter of automatic hammers echoed in their bowels, and sparks flew out where the riveters worked in the dim, smoky recesses. Trails of cloud flung up from the sea into a ragged sky, the cry of twisted metal, and the sight of men sweating in the cavernous holds, sent a shudder through me.'

Shortly after the outbreak of the second world war, 14 year old Harbinson returned from evacuation in Co Fermanagh to employment as a message boy at Harland and Wolff’s shipyards, and on the dredgers working in Belfast lough. 

Later, he enrolled as a student at Beulah Bible Academy in Wales: ‘Instead of being a greasy shipyard apprentice as once intended, I had become a smart young chap in a collar.’ He set out, quite cynically, on a career as missionary and evangelist, which was to provide the material for another memoir, The Protégé.

As well as his autobiographical works, Harbinson is the author of poems and short stories, and a series of travel books under the name Robin Bryans.

Further Reading
No Surrender (1960) and Up Spake the Cabin Boy (1961) by Robert Harbinson.