Lives Remembered

Dominic Burns: ?Teacher, actor and writer was wise, tolerant and humane

Dominic Burns was head of drama in St Mary’s College, Belfast

DOMINIC Anthony Burns was born in Belfast in 1931.

One of eight children, he grew up on the Springfield Road and upon completion of his second-level education at St Mary's Christian Brothers' Grammar School, made the wise decision to turn aside from a possible career in law and instead earn his living by doing something he loved.

As a student teacher at St Joseph's College he had already started to write and publish poetry.

Quite recently, some of these poems reappeared in the short but eclectic Song of a Wandering Man - a collection which shows strong echoes of Wordsworth in its pastoral themes, its ‘spots of time', its vivid sense of history, its epiphanic evocation of iconic characters: Belfast mill workers, a fiddler, Charles Stewart Parnell.

In his middle years, though, Dominic moved from poetry to other literary genres.

Strongly influenced by Michael McLaverty, he was a prolific writer of short stories, many of which appeared in Mickey O'Neill and Other Stories, published in 2006.

As head of drama in St Mary's College, Belfast, he also adapted and directed on stage McLaverty's Call My Brother Back and Lost Fields.

His many stage productions at St Mary's were invariably stylish and original; his students were expertly and imaginatively taught.

Meanwhile, his extra-curricular activities flourished: he acted in numerous Christian Brothers' Past Pupils' Union productions, adjudicated in speech and drama festivals and became a Fellow of Trinity College, London.

In 1964, Dominic married Kathleen Lynch, to whom he unerringly referred in the third person as ‘Kathleen' but always addressed by her family name, ‘Kate'.

Their marriage was a long and happy one; it ‘worked', he once told me, because neither suppressed the personality of the other.

Their home was always very welcoming: Dominic loved company and had the kind of sociability which belongs to people who also like to spend a lot of time on their own, reading or walking.

He walked through the streets of Belfast or in the Glens of Antrim, with which he had a long association. He and Kathleen lived in Cushendall for many years after their retirement. Indeed, he once won minor distinction by walking all the way from Belfast to Cushendall, where he was greeted with a reception in Joe McCollam's pub, a favourite haunt.

Although he missed the Glens when a serious car accident forced him to return to Belfast, he did not waste time pining for lost fields: he and Kathleen threw themselves into city life with renewed gusto.

After lunchtime Mass in St Mary's, Chapel Lane, they would repair to a nearby café, where most days they became the centre of a small coterie of friends and acquaintances.

In those last 16 years of his life, he greatly enjoyed the company of his newly-extended family, which now embraced David and Hugh, husbands of his daughters Paula and Estelle, and his little grand-daughter Marianna, whose first birthday stirred him into poetry again: The breeze calls out / To the lamb on the hill / And the deer in the glen. / The listening trees rustle their leaves / In a show of delight. / The weary butterfly resting a while / On the eyelashes of a daisy / Murmurs drowsily, “It's Marianna's birthday!”

Dominic lived a long life, and would have been very accepting of his death. He died full of the years that, as Wordsworth says, ‘bring the philosophic mind'.

His view of other people was unfailingly wise, tolerant and humane, qualities he drew from his strong Catholic faith, which was throughout his life a source of great joy and freedom for him.

To those privileged to know him, he was an important person. He was most important of all, of course, to Kathleen, Paula and Estelle, who will miss him greatly and will remain always very proud of him.

Dominic Burns died on May 28 and was buried in Killough Cemetery.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

Fiona Lynch

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Lives Remembered