Sam Burnside MBE

Poet and founder of the Verbal Arts Centre receives New Year honour

Sam Burnside, poet and founder of the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry, has been awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours list for ‘services to the arts in Northern Ireland’.

Other arts-related honours include MBEs for Esther Anderson, the musical director of the PSNI Ladies Choir, and Philip Bolton, director of Music at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

Burnside, who has a long track record in public service, with stints on the board of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Millennium Forum, the Western Education and Library Board, and Linen Hall Library, amongst others, said:

‘Being awarded an MBE has come as a great surprise but as an even greater pleasure. I take it to be an honour bestowed not just on me but on all those who have worked with me over the years in community-based arts and in education. It signifies the importance of the arts and of the integral nature of their place in our society.'

Born near Ahoghill, County Antrim, Burnside has lived and worked in Derry for some 30 years, working initially as a tutor in literature and an adult education organiser with the Workers Educational Association.

As an advocate for the place of creativity and imagination in community life, he founded and was the first director of the Verbal Arts Centre, an educational charity set up to promote literature in all its forms. The Verbal Arts Centre was established in the listed former First Derry Primary School, which was extensively refurbished under Burnside’s leadership, receiving a Civic Trust and DOE Conservation awards.

His poetry and prose has been published and broadcast widely. He is the author of The Cathedral (1989), a long poem that won the Sunday Tribune/Hennessy Literary Award for Poetry in that year. His work has attracted a number of literary prizes, including an Allingham Poetry Prize; the University of Ulster’s McCrea Literary Award for Literature and a Bass Ireland Award.

A new oratorio based on his poetry has been commissioned and is being written by the composer Laurence Roman. The work will be performed as part of the Cathedral Church of St Columb’s contribution to the UK City of Culture in 2013. It is anticipated that this event will provide the launch impetus for a new City of Derry Contemporary Music Festival promoted under the umbrella of the University of Ulster.