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Sam McAughtry

Writer and broadcaster

Writer and broadcaster

Born: March 24, 1923; Died: March 28, 2014

Sam McAughtry, who has died aged 91, was a writer, broadcaster, peace activist and Irish senator. He was a northern Unionist but he was also proud to declare his Irishness and he organised the Peace Train that travelled between Belfast and Dublin as a protest against the frequent bombing of the line.

He was born one of ten children into a Protestant family in the loyalist Tiger's Bay area of Belfast. It was a poor upbringing - four of his siblings died - but McAughtry did well at school and was offered an apprenticeship with an aircraft factory. In the end, the Second World War intervened and he joined the RAF instead, eventually flying bombing missions over the Med.

After his demob at the end of the war, he joined the civil service and became an active trade unionist. His first book was his memoir The Sinking of the Kenbane Head, published in 1977, which described how his brother Mart died when the Kenbane Head was sunk by the infamous German battleship Admiral Scheer.

Numerous other volumes of memoir, novels and travel books followed, which led to him writing for The Irish Times about his life and the north and an invitation to make radio and television programmes.

His published works included Play It Again Sam, Blind Spot, Sam McAughtry's Belfast, McAughtry's War, Belfast Stories and another volume of memoir, On the Outside Looking In, which was published in 2003.

In all his work, McAughtry was known for his wit, reason and a desire to work for peace and understanding across Ireland.

In 1989, at the height of the troubles, he was chairman of the Peace Train, a response to the regular attacks on the line between Dublin and Belfast. Hundreds of Irish people of all backgrounds travelled on the train in defiance of the attacks.

In 1996, he was elected to the Irish Senate and described his feelings about his home. In his first address on 28 February, he said: "I am a hybrid unionist in that I am happy to live in the United Kingdom but I am happier still to be Irish and to proclaim my Irishness.

"As I stated on the day of my election, it is my dearest wish to see this island inhabited by five million Irish people, living in two jurisdictions with consent, but with institutions established to emphasise their Irishness. I have urged for some time that we should negotiate as Irish people to Irish people.

"I am greatly saddened to see graffiti on walls in my area with references to the Irish as some sort of enemy. For people living in areas, such as Ballyhackamore, to discourage the Irish language seems a sad error of judgment."

Irish President Michael D Higgins said McAughtry would be remembered as a man of immense talent and integrity.

"He will be especially remembered for his ongoing efforts, his writings and his personal example in the fight for a non-sectarian society, and maintaining a life-long focus on the ultimate prize of peace and reconciliation; and also his efforts to unite trade union members in particular in that cause."

Northern Ireland Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin also paid tribute to McAughtry. "Sam's path took him from Tiger's Bay to the Irish Senate, through decades of historic events," she said. "His artistic contribution served to enrich life, not only in the north, but across Ireland and beyond. He added a splash of colour with his wit and storytelling."

He is survived by his wife and three daughters.

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