Selected Stories

Robert Harbinson

About the book…

Better known for his highly-acclaimed autobiographical quartet No Surrender, Song of Erne, Up Spake the Cabin Boy and The Protoge Robert Harbinson is also one of the north of Ireland's most original and elegant writers of short fiction. 

Carrying with them all the verve and muscular lyricism of the autobiographies, these stories imaginatively engender the worlds of exotica and perverse mannerisms which lie on the factual horizons of those books: from the unconventional homesick missionary lady of Benedicit, to the outrageous tragic farce of Tattoo Lily. 

With a language evocative and economical, his stories explore a rich Ulster background of country and small town with humour, vitality and unsentimental tenderness. Selected and introduced by John Keyes, this book re-establishes Harbinson's place at the centre of that tradition of northern short story writers which includes Michael McLaverty, Sam Hanna Bell and Maurice Leitch

Photo of the author, Robert Harbinson

About the author…

Robert Harbinson

Born in Belfast in the Donegall Road area of Belfast on the 24 April 1928, Robert Harbinson is the pen name of Robin Bryans.

In a life straight out of an adventure story, the young Bryans worked as a cabin boy on a Belfast Lough dredger and the Belfast shipyards before going on to study at Barry Religious College in Wales and to teach in north Devon before moving to London. In 1950 he travelled to Canada as a missionary. 

There he forged connections with native Blackfoot and Stony tribes, hunting and trapping with them, an experience that influenced his writing later in life. He also dabbled as a diamond prospector.

On returning to London he worked in the theatre. Then year on year travelled, lecturing and writing as he went. First to Venezuela, then to the Windward Islands, Grenada, Copenhagen and Zurich, before setting his sights on Asia. Bryans wrote a countless travel books about his experiences, under his own name; Iceland (1960), Denmark (1961), Brazil (1962), Ulster: A Journey Through the Six Counties (1962), the Azores (1963), Malta (1966) and Trinidad & Tobago (1967).

Publishing under the pen name Robert Harbinson he produced a chain of autobiographical books that looked back with nostalgia and wit at his native Ulster; No Surrender: An Ulster Childhood (1960), Song Of Erne (1960), Up Spake The Cabin Boy (1961) and The Protégé (1963), two volumes of short stories, Tattoo Lily (1961) and The Far World (1962) and the novel Lucio (1964). He also produced a volume of poems, Songs Out Of Oriel (1960).

Always on the fringes of British public life, he later published a series of controversial books under his own name outlining corruption and scandal at the heart of the British political and social establishment.

He died in London 11 June 2005.