Poet Pat Boran pays tribute to the late, great Bernard Loughlin, the Belfast-born founding director of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for creative artists, who passed away last week, aged 68. 

Stunned to hear the news of the death of Bernard Loughlin on Friday, in a tragic accident in the High Pyrenees that have been his and Mary’s home for many years.

Though it is a long time since he was Director of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig (and Mary was, among so many other things, the wonderful cook there), the warm welcome he and they extended to so many artists, writers and musicians, the connections they made with the local, national and international arts communities, and the energy they dedicated to the physical house, the gardens and the extensive grounds means he and they will be forever in the hearts of a whole generation for whom their presence transformed that part of the country, and the real possibilities of cross-border imaginative thinking were put into action long before the first whisperings of the Good Friday Agreement were heard.

It’s a cliche to say that Benny was a larger than life character, but no one could take command of a room, or cheer one, or clear one perhaps, with the gusto and brio and the hilarious, from-the-hip wordplay that Bernard could deliver in his sleep.

Yet for all his verbal blindsiding and sidewinding, the evident joy he took in toppling the self-important off their perches, he was also one of the kindest and most perceptive people I ever knew. Nearly 30 years ago now (hard to believe), spotting this scribe as someone somewhat down on his luck, he made it possible for me to overstay my welcome at Annaghmakerrig until I was back on my feet, a period of residence that, as it happens, lead to some of the most meaningful and enduring friendships of my adult life. Bernard seemed to know more about me than I knew about myself.

And, as all of us writers knew, he was among the best-read people we had ever encountered, a man who might have been a great novelist himself (who could tell a better story) had the great and small outdoors of forestry and garden not consumed his energies and captured his sense of wonder, leaving him with time only to be one of the great readers, one of the brightest intellects, one of the most constant and inspiring friends.

Sincere sympathies to Mary, Maeve and Eoin and all of Bernard’s legions of friends and admirers. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal. Que tinguis un bon viatge! xxx