Thomas Carnduff

Working class poet and playwright

Thomas Carnduff was born at Little May Street in 1886, witnessing in his youth a time of rapid growth, urbanisation and great social change in Belfast. Moving through a series of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, he eventually found work as a shipyard labourer, but had already begun ‘to frequent the Public Libraries’ and ‘to write doggerel, which afterwards, long afterwards, developed into minor poetry’.

Carnduff’s poetry and drama is unsophisticated, energetic, and for a man of his background, unconventional. A member of the Independent Orange Order, he developed left-wing attitudes to the political and cultural problems faced by Belfast in the depression years:

'The rival politicians rise to count heads as if the blame for unemployment among some Protestants was that there is not more unemployment among Catholics, thus hiding the essential issue that there is a scarcity of jobs…’

Carnduff published his first volume of poetry, Songs from the Shipyards, in 1924, followed by Songs of an Out-of-Work in 1932. By this time he had also begun writing for the York Street Players. His first play Workers premiered at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, and its successors Machinery (1933), Traitors (1934), Castlereagh (1934) and The Stars Foretell (1938), played in both Belfast and Dublin.

Thomas Carnduff died in 1956 and is remembered as a complex figure in a working class culture that has produced a number of writers, poets and dramatists of note.

Further reading 
Thomas Carnduff: Life and Writings (1994) by John Gray; Songs from the Shipyard (1924) by Thomas Carnduff.