Arthur Joyce Lunell Cary (1888-1957) was born in Shipquay St. Derry, but the family seat was at Castlecary, a townland south of Moville, near the Redcastle Hotel in Inishowen. In fact, so much of the family history is linked with the district between Redcastle and Muff that it can be rightly called Cary country. The Cary homestead was sold to a local farmer about 70 years ago and the house was demolished some years later. Access to the site of the house can be made at Havlin’s Kitchen sign (but this is private property) near Redcastle Hotel. The magnificent trees on the hilltop mark out the demesne of Castlecary and they are all that remain of this family landmark which has played a significant role in Irish and European literature. Some years ago the Sunday Times listed Joyce Cary among the top 100 writers in English, in the company of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. Joyce Cary spent most of his leisure time in the vicinity of Castlecary; he had a small sailing boat at the rear of Mrs Kane’s old house at Castlecary. Before she died she recorded her memories of seeing the young Carys sailing at leisure on the Foyle. Their small drontheims were moored behind her house and each family member had a berth with the name written beside it. Holidays were also spent at Elkins of Tremone close to Carrowmena, where the great maritime families of Cooke and McCorkell from Derry also stayed and where they could watch their sailing ships as they prepared to face the Atlantic. The writer and historian Sholto Cooke (THE MAIDEN CITY AND THE WESTERN OCEAN) confirmed this to me in a letter in the 1960s. Tom Elkin told me before he passed away that his grandmother “laid out” the body of Joyce Cary’s mother after she died at Falmore house, where the family lived for a while.
After Oxford university Joyce Cary worked in Africa and in 1944 produced a novel called The Horse’s Mouth, which was later made into a film starring Alec Guinness. (See photo above on left). Joyce Cary appeared on the cover of the prestigious TIME magazine on 26 October 1952. He was a starring writer in the firmament of the fifties. In 1951 and 1953 he did sell-out lecture tours of America and was hailed as a giant of the literary world. In 1954, he drew large audiences across Europe. At this time Cary’s reputation in England was on a par with Charles Dickens and John Galsworthy but to-day Cary’s work has slipped below the radar, a sad fact that befalls some writers. Few bookshops now stock his work. As the old Irish proverb goes, “The work of the pen survives but the hand that created it dies”. “Maireann lorg an phinn ach ní mhaireann an lámh a scríobh”.
The creative gene has followed the Cary family however. In the 1990s, Tristram Cary, Joyce’s son visited Derry but I missed an opportunity to meet him. He worked for the BBC and was involved in the music for the hugely successful series Dr. Who. Tristram’s son, John Cary, is a filmmaker and television producer with studios in England which were involved in the production of the Captain Pugwash series for television. John will be in Derry and Moville at the end of March when there will be interviews, talks and film screenings connected with Joyce Cary and his talented descendants. Let’s make it a Cary Country Celebration and help to get the works of Joyce Cary back on the bookshelves. Although they held extensive properties, the Carys were immensely proud of their Inishowen roots, their Irish heritage, culture and history and deserve a hearty welcome. With Brian Friel resident in the peninsula and Frank McGuinness being a native of Buncrana, Inishowen can lay claim to having nurtured some of the great writers of the modern era. Visitors to the Wild Atlantic Way, please take note. You are entering one of the great literary landscapes of the western world.