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'His legacy is immense': Irish poet Derek Mahon has died, aged 78

His poem Everything Is Going To Be All Right brought solace after the pandemic broke out in March.

Image: RollingNews

POET DEREK MAHON, whose poem Everything Is Going To Be All Right brought people solace after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, has died aged 78.

He died in Cork following a short illness, Poetry Ireland said. Born in Belfast in 1941, the multiple-award-winning Mahon studied at Trinity College and lived in France, the US, Canada and London before settling back in Ireland. He was a member of Aosdána. 

President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to Mahon, saying that the news “will be received with great sadness by his colleagues in Aosdána but also, and more widely, by those who understand what the loss of a great poet, with a body of work such as his, entails”.

He noted that one of Mahon’s poems, A Disused Shed in County Wexford, was in contention as Ireland’s favourite poem.

Derek Mahon’s body of work revealed a poet that could draw on an easy familiarity with the classics, but which brought to them a wit and freshness that was both perceptive and provocative in equal measure.
He shared with his northern peers the capacity to link the classical and the contemporary but he brought also an edge that was unsparing of cruelty and wickedness.

Higgins said that Mahon’s greatest strength “was his poetic instinct to continually dredge for what was human about us; what was contradictory as well as what was full of possibility”.

“I will miss those short cryptic but hopeful messages I got from him from Kinsale,” said the President. “The loss of Derek Mahon, yet another artist gone from us in recent times, is like the falling of oak trees. We are left with hope from the fruit of the acorns in which the writing and its encouragement represents as legacy. To his partner, family and many friends, Sabina and I send our deepest sympathy.”

Mahon’s poem Everything Is Going To Be All Right saw a resurgence online after the pandemic hit earlier this year, giving people some solace in changing times. 

In March, RTÉ’s Six One News ended a bulletin with a rendition of Mahon reading this poem. 

PastedImage-22652 Source: Twitter

Poetry Ireland said it is deeply saddened to learn of Mahon’s death of poet Derek Mahon, and extended its sympathy to his family.

“His influence in the Irish poetry community, literary world and society at large, and his legacy, is immense,” it said in a statement. 

Chair of Poetry Ireland, Ciarán Benson, said: “In the loss of Derek Mahon, Ireland, and the world of poetry, has lost an outstanding voice, one that ranged over the wide territories of contemporary life, both personal and natural. He effortlessly framed and clarified centrally important ideas and longings and gifted them back to us in a beautiful and rich body of work. His influence will continue to grow.”

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Director of Poetry Ireland, Niamh O’Donnell, added: 

“Derek was an extraordinarily brilliant poet. A gifted and noble observer of our world and one of that generation of outstanding poets from Northern Ireland who rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s. His legacy to us is an incredible body of work, full of hard-earned insight and wisdom, including so many touchstone poems that will continue to resonate with people all over the world for generations to come.” 

Among his awards were the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry (1990), the Irish Times-Aer Lingus Poetry Prize (1991), the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize and the David Cohen Prize for Literature (2007).  

Mahon is survived by his partner Sarah Iremonger and his children Rory, Katy and Maisie.

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