Steinbeck Ulster and Ireland Douglas Bartlett book cover


The Ulster and Irish Influences

All his life Steinbeck would “claim the Irish as his own” and with some justification. This book examines the extent of Steinbeck’s Ulster roots, his “Irishness” and the influence all this had, both on his sense of himself and also on certain aspects of his creativity.

Content covered

A European Tour

Steinbeck & Northern Ireland

John & Elaine In Derry

John Steinbeck in Ballykelly

Samuel Hamilton

The 'Ulster Scots' influences

Steinbeck in Ireland

Steinbeck's Irishness


A European Tour

In August 1952, John and Elaine Steinbeck came to Northern Ireland intent on visiting the tiny village of Ballykelly. Their visit was part of a working holiday that had begun in March of that year. John had been commissioned to travel Europe writing articles for Collier’s Magazine and Elaine had been employed to take accompanying photographs. The trip had ...

Prior to arriving in Belfast, the couple had driven ‘all around Scotland’, but there is no record of them having visited Burns Cottage in Ayrshire, the birthplace of Robert Burns. This seems a strange...

Given that the family name was Hamilton, is it more than likely that Steinbeck's Ulster Scots ancestors came from Ayrshire. Steinbeck may, or may not have been aware of this connection, but by this point he was focused on a long-cherished mission to uncover the reality of his Irish ancestry and its background. He said he had grown up with a strong sense of 'demi-Irishness' ever-present in his life. Aged fifty, this was an appropriate time to investigate the roots of this Irishness first-hand...

John and Elaine Steinbeck portrait photo
Douglas Bartlett portrait photo. Festival founder and author of Steinbeck Ulster and Ireland.


Douglas Bartlett

Douglas Bartlett founded the Steinbeck Festival Limavady in 2019. As well as this booklet on Steinbeck, he is the author of 'A History of Limavady and the Roe Valley (Prehistory to 1900)', which is available to purchase at www.limavadyhistory.com. The author is a native of Limavady and a former Vice Principal and Head of History in Limavady High School where he worked for thirty five years.

Purchase your copy of Steinbeck Ulster and Ireland now!

Festival Programme

Dust Bowl Photographic Competition 2022

Whilst it was encouraging that this, our second annual competition, received an increased number of entries from a wider geographical distribution than before, it has to be said that this probably made the jurors’ job more difficult. The range of entries submitted for selection included many superb photographs, many of which could easily be imagined gracing the dust cover of a Steinbeck novel or indeed a Tourism Ireland calendar. Although it had been decided that there would only be one theme – the journey – this topic elicited a great variety of interpretations from the entrants. Landscape subjects outweighed portraiture entries and in both categories high levels of creativity and technical proficiency were displayed. The jurors’ task was to select the best images that encapsulated something of Steinbeck’s artistic legacy as well as demonstrating close adherence to the brief.

Last year’s exhibition, displayed in the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre, was a widely acclaimed success, visited in person and virtually by over two thousand viewers. A similar format is being followed. Twenty entries have been selected for future exhibition. One overall winner was selected and three other photographs were chosen for special commendation. Each selected work contains detail of aspects of humanity or the physical world that is worthy of contemplative inspection. The four submissions selected for special mention all in their own way successfully demonstrate the interplay between geography and humanity familiar in the subject matter of Steinbeck’s works.

Overall Winner:
Slievenisk; Twists and Turns in Life
By John Williams
This contemporary image transports us to a special, timeless place. It has all the elements of a scene-setting description of a landscape in which a great story begins. One anticipates the view coming to life with the sound and image of an approaching automobile journeying along the little road. If it wasn’t for the glimpse of the sail tips of a distant wind turbine, it could be an image snatched from the early decades of the twentieth century. The tonal range of this monochrome composition is reminiscent of those used by the great cinematographers of that era like Gregg Toland and his work on the film adaptation of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Technically, the sharpness of the focus reveals the tiniest landscape details and yet the hazy distance of the hills and the fluffiness of the clouds are conveyed in a much more ethereal way. Such effects do not happen by accident. This photograph is a worthy winner.

Commendations; (in no particular order)
Portstewart Sunset
By Mel Hughes
This colourful seascape dramatically captures the moment a breaking wave of the North Atlantic smashes over rocks on the coast of Ireland; the departure point for the great Irish Diaspora, of which John Steinbeck’s maternal grandfather was part. The camera has artistically frozen the saltwater droplets in time, yet the image conveys so much movement; the constant battering of waves, the ebb and flow of tides and the cycles of nature. Maybe it’s these rhythms that make me think of music; or it could be a distant memory of the Top of the Pops images accompanying Fleetwood Mac’s 1968 musical hit “Albatross”, but to me, this picture sings. Our festivals have often paired American music with Steinbeck’s writing and interestingly, “Albatross” has musical cues taken from the 1939 US standard, ‘Floyd’s Guitar Blues’ by Andy Kirk and his 12 Clouds of Joy. Steinbeck’s interest in oceanography is also another appropriate peg for this stunning entry.

Journey of Food from its Beginnings
By J Phillip Hutton
This image shows a team of horses pulling a traditional Irish plough. The activity pictured looks back nostalgically to a less automated time. However, horsepower still required quite sophisticated mechanisation and paraphernalia as well as hard labour. Steinbeck’s grandfather, Samuel Hamilton, trained as a blacksmith and maintained close ties to agriculture. His forge was a gathering point for socialising and storytelling. Historically, an acre was conceived of as the area of land that could be ploughed by one man using a team of oxen in one day. The acre is a unit of land area still used both in the imperial and the US customary systems. The overall composition, sharpness of focus and the high degree of contrast in this black and white photograph indicate a high level of technical expertise.

The Journey
By Mari Ward-Foster
This artistic study depicts the final resting place of a shipwreck “Ba ́d Eddie”, (meaning Eddie’s boat), on the sandy shores of Bunbeg beach in Gweedore, County Donegal. Obviously at its journey’s end, the future preservation of this boat is not assured. This uncertainty, and the ominous appearance of a dark and threatening sky add drama to the image. The wreck is positioned on a “mirror line” capturing the symmetry of the cloud pattern in the sky with the ripple bumps in the exposed sand. Compositionally the boat breaks the harmonious balance between the two and suggests that threat and dissonance may be the natural order – a common outcome in the narrative of many of Steinbeck’s novels including “Of Mice and Men”. The dark tones presented here by the photographer perfectly match that mood and imbue the photograph with added menace.

British Association for American Studies logo Roe Park Resort logo U.S. Embassy London logo Limavady Friends of Steinbeck logo Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre logo Ulster University logo British Association for American Studies logo Roe Park Resort logo U.S. Embassy London logo