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Jack Harte is an Irish short-story writer and novelist. He founded the Irish Writers’ Union and the Irish Writers’ Centre. He is author of the controversial novel Reflections in a Tar-Barrel.

Jack Harte

Occupation Short story writer, novelist
Nationality Irish
Official website

Contents

Background

Harte was born in Killeenduff, near Easkey in Co. Sligo. At an early age his family moved to Lanesboro, Co. Longford, where his blacksmith father found work with Bord na Mona. Harte draws on the experience of this uprooting in his novel In the Wake of the Bagger. Later he moved to Dublin where he worked at many jobs, including the Civil Service and teaching - for many years he was Principal of Lucan Community College.[1]

Short stories

Harte has published several critically acclaimed collections of short stories. His first collection, Murphy in the Underworld (1986), was welcomed by the Sunday Independent as ‘one of the most important story collections for some time’ [2]. It was followed by a second collection Birds and Other Tails (1996), again to critical acclaim – ‘Jack Harte's is a wonderful refreshing voice in contemporary Irish writing.’ - Irish Independent [3]. Both these collections are now out of print, though several of their stories are included in From Under Gogol’s Nose, a volume of new and selected stories published by Scotus Press in 2004. The opening section of this latter collection is made up of Harte’s insightful meditations on the state of the Irish short story.

As well as many individual stories, several collections of Harte’s stories have been published in translation. These include Birds and Selected Stories, published in Bulgarian by Orpheus Publishing House, Sofia, in 2001; Dream of A Pyramid, published in Hindi translation by Rajkamal Prakashan in 2006; and, a Russian translation of From Under Gogol’s Nose, published by Voskresenye Publishing House, Moscow, in 2007.

Novels

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In The Wake of the Bagger

Harte’s first novel In the Wake of the Bagger was published in 2006. It was commissioned by Sligo Co Council under the Irish Government’s Per Cent for Art scheme (in fact, it was the first novel to be commissioned under this scheme). This novel tells the story of the Dowd family, who are uprooted from their home in Killeenduff, Co Sligo, and re-settle as economic migrants in the Midlands. It describes the tension between the traditional Irish way of life and the new realities of industrialization in rural Ireland, meditating on these changes through the life of the Dowd family. The novel was described in the Irish Independent as ‘one of the great books about Ireland’ [4]. It was selected by Des Kenny as one of his 101 Irish Books You MUST Read – Kenny’s Choice [5].

Reflections in a Tar-Barrel

Harte’s second novel is Reflections in a Tar-Barrel. It was first published in Bulgarian translation in 2007 - the rights to the novel, apparently, were sold for five cases of vintage wine in a Sofia pub [6] - and immediately became something of a sensation with Bulgarian readers, attracting much media attention and critical praise.[7] It was published in English in 2008 by Scotus Press.

Reflections in a Tar-Barrel tells the story of Lofty, a young man from the West of Ireland who, aggrieved with the Creator for having dealt him a poor hand, physically and intellectually, embarks on a campaign to thwart the designs of this same Creator. In his campaign, he combines the roles of hawker in religious goods and keeper of a mobile brothel. Because of his eccentric manner, people consider him a half-wit. Yet, in a tragi-comic way, his untutored mind grapples with the gigantic themes, the nature of God and creation, death and reincarnation, Einsteinian time, and he arrives at his own world-view, his own mystical insights.

Set in the mid-seventies, when Ireland was obsessed with ‘moving statues’ and ‘apparitions’, the novel explores the world through the eyes of this eccentric young man, from the West of Ireland to Paris and Lourdes. The relationship he strikes up with a prostitute on the streets of Paris leads back to the woman-starved West of Ireland and into a sequence of events which hurtle towards disaster. [8]

Arts activist

Harte was a pioneering and tireless advocate and organiser for the arts in Ireland throughout the 1980s. He employed Joe Jackson in 1985 as the first official writer-in-residence in Ireland at Lucan Vocational School. In 1986, in reaction to the conditions to which writers were subjected, and seeing the need for a national organisation, Harte founded the Irish Writers’ Union. The following year he secured funding from the Irish Government to establish the Irish Writers’ Centre, which operates out of 19 Parnell Square, Dublin. [9]

Publications

Reflections in a Tar Barrel: Scotus Press, Dublin 2008; (Bulgarian translation) Altera Publishing House, Sofia, 2007.

In the Wake of the Bagger, Scotus Press, Dublin, 2006.

From Under Gogol’s Nose: Scotus Press, Dublin, 2004; (Russian translation) Voskresenye Publishing House, Moscow, 2007.

Dream of a Pyramid, Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2006 (a selection of stories, translated into Hindi).

Lament for the Birds, Scotus Press, Dublin 2004 (a CD of stories and songs).

And Here I Am, Poems by Lyubomir Levchev (translated by Jack Harte), Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2003.

Birds and Selected Stories, Orpheus Publishing House, Sofia, 2001 (a selection of stories, translated into Bulgarian).

Birds and Other Tails, Dedalus Press, Dublin, 1996.

Homage, Dedalus Press, Dublin, 1992.

Murphy In The Underworld, Glendale Press, Dublin 1986.

References

  1. ^ - This feature article on Harte gives a biographical account of his life and writing career.
  2. ^ Sunday Independent, 29 June 1986
  3. ^ Irish Independent, 5 Oct 1996
  4. ^ Irish Independent, 1 July 2006
  5. ^ 101 Irish Books You MUST Read – Kenny’s Choice, Currach Press, Dublin, 2008
  6. ^ [1]http://www.vagabond-bg.com/?page=live&sub=23&open_news=663
  7. ^ [2]http://www.vagabond-bg.com/?page=live&sub=23&open_news=663, [3]http://www.capital.bg/show.php?storyid=373008, [4] http://www.jackharte.com/reflections gives links and details of several other Bulgarian reviews
  8. ^ [5] www.scotuspress.com/current.htm
  9. ^ Fighting for Writers’ Rights, Irish Times, 26 May 1992

Additional references

  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol 319, British and Irish Short-Fiction Writers (1945 – 2000).
  • Dictionary of Irish Literature – Robert Hogan, Aldwich Press, London, 1996.
  • Mercier Companion to Irish Literature – McMahon and O’Donoghue, Mercier Press, Cork, 1998.
  • Oxford Concise Companion to Irish Literature – Welch, Oxford University Press, 2000

External links


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