Remembering Robert Dunbar

22nd July 2016

Poetry Ireland was saddened to hear of the death of Robert Dunbar on 21 July 2016. He was a great friend to the organisation and particularly to the Writers in Schools Scheme, which he supported in many different ways over the years. He was also a regular at poetry readings and events along with Carole, always arriving early in contravention of the unwritten rule that a poetry reading never starts on time! As a teacher, reviewer, critic, editor scholar and expert on children’s literature, Robert spent his life talking about the importance of books in the lives of children and young people, championing young adult fiction long before it was fashionable to do so. His columns in the Irish Times, contributed over some twenty-seven years, allowed him to showcase up-and-coming writers, whilst also keeping children’s literature within the public domain. He advocated getting books and children acquainted from an early age, believing that “When you give a child the present of a book, you give them a present they can open again and again and again.”  He spent his life working for, and enthusing about, the importance of bringing books into the lives of children and young people and understood and believed in the power of reading, and in the reader. His interest and knowledge were boundless, and his reviews, lectures, commentaries and general conversation, were always infused with enthusiasm and humour, particularly the many interviews he conducted over the years.   

He was a founder member of the Children’s Literature Association of Ireland and when the Irish Children’s Book Trust and the Children’s Literature Association of Ireland became Children’s Books Ireland, Robert went on to have a long association with CBI as a board member, editor of Inis magazine, for which he was also a long time reviewer, judge the Bisto Book of the Year, and as patron of the organisation.  He edited a number of anthologies including two anthologies of fiction, Enchanted Journeys: Fifty Years of Irish Writing for Children and Skimming, both published by O’Brien Press and the poetry anthology, Rusty nails & astronauts, co-edited with Gabriel Fitzmaurice and illustrated by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick published by Wolfhound Press.  He was a regular contributor to Rattlebag and other programmes and hosted his own children’s book show with Dublin Community Radio. In recognition of his contribution to children’s literature in Ireland, he received a CBI Lifetime Achievement Award and he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Trinity College in 2009.  

Robert was originally from Co Antrim, and attended Queen’s University at the same time as Seamus Heaney. He taught initially in Coleraine and Magherafelt in Co Derry, moving to Dublin to lecture in English and Children’s Literature, at the Church of Ireland College of Education in Rathmines. He also lectured in TCD and St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra.

- Jane O'Hanlon