Tributes to Magherafelt man credited with launching many literary careers

Robert Dunbar
Robert Dunbar

Irish literary figures have been paying tribute following the death of Robert Dunbar, who has been described as the ‘Father Christmas’ of children’s literature.

Mr Dunbar, who was head of English at the Rainey Endowed School in Magherafelt for several years after graduating from Queen’s University in the early 1960s, died after a long illness. He was 76.

Often appearing at public events in his trademark red duffle coat, Bertie, as he was known to many, inspired comparisons with Santa Claus.

He was a leading critic, editor and educator, and his contribution to the world of children’s literature has been described as ‘immeasurable.’

Leading children’s author, Eoin Colfer said Mr Dunbar was a champion of children’s books. “He would climb on top of whatever platform he could to trumpet the importance of books for young people. Speaking for myself Robert catapulted me on to the book charts when he said nice things about Benny & Omar on the Pat Kenny show and from there it was on to the Late Late Toy Show and I have never looked back. All thanks to Robert. Without his support there are many of us who would never have managed to sustain a career.”

Best selling author of A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness recalled Mr Dunbar’s “warmth” and “sheer interest” in his work.

“He was right there at the very, very start of my career, reviewing the books with such brilliant emotional intelligence and sympathy,” he said.

Mr Dunbar was a native of Dunseverick on the north coast and was a contemporary of Seamus Heaney at Queen’s.

He was head of English at the Church of Ireland College of Education, Rathmines, until he retired in 2005.

He also taught the BEd course in the School of Education at Trinity and on the MA in Children’s literature at St Patrick’s College, Dublin. He has edited or coedited five books for young readers, has published numerous academic articles on children’s literature and was a regular reviewer of children’s books on RTE radio and in the Irish Times.

He is survived by his wife, Carole, their children, Gráinne and Dominic and four grandchildren.