Talented linguist and a touchstone for artists
Born: February 3rd, 1950 Died: October 19th, 2018
A generation of Irish painters, sculptors, poets, novelists, musicians, playwrights and film makers were deeply shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Bernard Loughlin in a freak accident in the garden of his home in the Pyrenean hilltop village of Farrera.
Bernard Loughlin was the first director of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig in Co Monaghan. With his wife, Mary, he ran the artists’ retreat from 1981 to 1999, nurturing the creative endeavour of both beginner and established creative artists, making everyone feel equally at home in the country house that English theatre director, Tyrone Guthrie, had bequeathed to the Irish State.
Born in Andersonstown, Belfast and the eldest of five children, Loughlin attended Queen’s University for a time, editing the college newspaper the Gown but never graduating. Like many of his generation, he travelled to mainland Europe where he taught English and soaked up the rich cultural and linguistic landscapes of France, Switzerland, Germany and Spain.
He first went to Spain with his then girlfriend, Mary Rogan, in November 1975 following the death of General Franco. Novelist and one-time journalist Colm Tóibín was teaching English in Barcelona at that time and he and Loughlin became lifelong friends. “At that time, Bernard spoke French, German and became fluent in Spanish in a few months and fluent in Catalan a few months later. He had an extraordinary gift for languages,” remembers Tóibín. “He also read a novel a day – in different languages – which made Bernard a great touchstone for me throughout my life. He was fully cosmopolitan, a pacifist without the burden of politics whether from Northern Ireland or Catalonia.”
Following a stint teaching English in Barcelona, the couple rented a house, Can Felip, in the village of Farrera in Catalonia. They got married there in 1976 and their daughter, Maeve – born in 1977 – was the first child born in the village for more than 30 years. They then returned to Ireland, first to Belfast, then to Killybegs, Co Donegal (where Loughlin worked as a fisherman on a trawler) and then in Dublin, where he taught English. Their son, Eoin, was born in 1979 while the family lived in Dublin.
When the possibility of running the Tyrone Guthrie centre presented itself, they enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to run this artists’ retreat jointly funded by the Arts Council of Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. This cross-Border initiative meant that artists from the North and the South would meet and spend time together over what became the legendary 7pm delicious dinners (cooked by Mary) that Tyrone Guthrie had stipulated to occur in his will. During their time there, Loughlin received grants to convert farm buildings into artists’ studios and reclaimed the gardens to more than their former glory.
Following his death, many artists and writers spoke about how his relaxed and watchful presence at Annaghmakerrig helped shape their creative lives and how friendships made there nourished them on their artistic journeys.
Poet and lifelong friend of the Loughlin family Theo Dorgan says that Loughlin’s primary concern was the wellbeing and welfare of the artists who stayed at Annaghmakerrig. “Benny worked seven days a week in Annaghmakerrig. You could see him at any hour in his office, in the garden or checking in with artists. He also was a driver of that culture which says there is no border in the arts. Annaghmakerrig was the cultural equivalent to the Glencree Reconciliation Centre in Co Wicklow.”
When their time at Annaghmakerrig came to an end in 1999, they moved back to Farrera, having persuaded the owners of Can Felip to sell them the house in the 1980s.
Loughlin was buried in Farrera after a secular funeral conducted by author and family friend Michael Harding.
His daughter, Maeve, says: “I will remember my dad as the funniest, strongest, most resilient, most wonderful and most loving man in the world.”
Bernard Loughlin is survived by his wife, Mary, his daughter, Maeve, his son, Eoin, his sisters, Harriet and Marion, and his brother, Michael. He was pre-deceased by his brother, Billy.
Bernard Loughlin first went to Spain with his wife-to-be Mary Rogan, in November 1975 following Franco’s death