124 Royal Avenue
Belfast BT1 1EB
The Belfast Telegraph is guilty of serious misrepresentation, having published a photograph of John Hewitt with the caption "Poet and Methodist" to accompany an article by Eric Waugh in which Hewitt was described as a leading Ulster Methodist (28 August). Hewitt was not a Methodist. His parents were Methodists, but, as he records in his autobiography, he was not even baptised himself.
His own beliefs were entirely different. As he expressed it in "No Rootless Colonist", "I have moved beyond the creeds". He was an atheist and frankly stated that fact in an interview with the Linenhall Library magazine. In the introduction to his collected poems, Frank Ormsby describes Hewitt as "a quietly compassionate agnostic".
Hewitt participated in secular funeral services. In "A North Light" he describes how he once conducted a secular funeral service himself for a fellow atheist who had requested that his funeral should have no religious ritual.
Given his own candour about his beliefs and the easy availability of the evidence of his atheism, it is disappointing that such a misrepresentation of a leading Ulster poet should occur. It seems to be symptomatic of the sectarian "Them and Us" division which runs through N. Ireland culture that Hewitt should be appropriated in this way. He always deplored that division in our culture and hoped that people would eventually leave behind the traditional beliefs and petty rivalries which have perpetuated the division. In recognition of his positive aspirations, the Belfast Telegraph should publish his photograph again with a correction to the caption.
Perhaps it is time that the John Hewitt Summer School addressed this aspect of the poet’s life. Hewitt wrote to, and on behalf of, the people of Ulster and he celebrated this region in his work. As a result, he has often been mistakenly described as a Northern Protestant writer. The article by Eric Waugh is just another example. The Summer School would be honouring the memory of Hewitt if it corrected that misapprehension and made his humanist beliefs generally recognised.
Secretary, Belfast Humanist Group