- 02 Oct 20
Mahon passed away on Thursday evening, after a short illness.
The great Irish poet Derek Mahon has died. He was 78 years of age.
Born in Belfast in 1941, a child of working class Protestant parents, he came to Dublin to attend Trinity College, and got heavily involved in the burgeoning poetry scene, which saw a bright new generation emerge – including Eavan Boland, Brendan Kennelly and Michael Longley.
“News of the death of Derek Mahon will be received with great sadness by his colleagues in Aosdána,” President Michael D. Higgins said this morning, "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.
"Not so long ago one of his 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.
"What I recall as his 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. Such poetic work would sometimes conclude with a near manifesto statement, such as in the lines from his poem ‘Calypso’:
“Homer was right though about the important thing,
The redemptive power of women”
"I will miss those short cryptic but hopeful messages I got from him from Kinsale. 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.”
Director of Poetry Ireland Niamh O'Donnell described Mahon as "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," she continued. "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.”
Daniel Mulhall, Ireland's Ambassador to the USA also shared his condolences, noting that he often includes Mahon's "brilliant work" in his #IrishPoetry tweets.