- 13 May 21
"The death of Seamus Deane is an incalculable loss to Irish critical writing, indeed Irish writing in general," President Michael D. Higgins has stated.
President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins is among those who have paid tribute to renowned Irish writer, critic and academic Seamus Deane, following news of his death.
Born in Derry in 1940, Deane was best known for his debut novel, Reading in the Dark, shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1996, as well as his work as general editor of the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. He also published several collections of poetry, and was a professor of Modern English and American Literature in University College Dublin.
Hot Press editor Niall Stokes remembers Deane as "a brilliant and inspiring teacher in UCD."
"I was fortunate that I succeeded in inveigling my way into his English tutorial, and it proved to be a powerful formative experience – and not just because that was where I first got to really know my partner in life, Máirín Sheehy, who was also a student of his," he continues.
"Seamus introduced us all to the new journalism, putting Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night on the course he conducted in Modern American literature. I haven’t looked at the book in a long time, but back then I remember that, for a neophyte coming into the world of writing, it was riveting and inspiring.
“Seamus was very different to the other great English Professor of that era in UCD, Denis Donoghue, who in a moment of sad synchronicity, also died as recently as April. Denis was – in a far more abstract, unapologetically intellectual way – also a great teacher and a man who pushed students to aim for a more cerebral form of intellectual engagement. But it was towards the more streetwise, modern and politically dynamic attitude which Seamus championed that I and most of my friends gravitated.
“Seamus acted as a referee for me when I went job hunting, which of course he’d have been perfectly entitled to refuse, given that I was far from the ideal student, slipping off to play rock ’n' roll gigs or to direct plays, when I should have been attending lectures. But I never wanted to miss what Seamus had to say: he made the literature he spoke about – and the writers – truly come alive.
"A few years later, we met by chance on an underground train into London. He was enthused by the democratisation that was happening in rock ’n’ roll and, in particular, was a big fan of The Undertones, whose songs drew on the ordinary experiences of people growing up in Derry – as Seamus himself had – in such a colourful, powerful and memorable way.
“Seamus was a great writer himself – a poet, a critic and a novelist of genuine brilliance, who valued – in the way that he had taught us – the importance of attending to every word. I loved his one novel, Reading In The Dark, which deservedly won all sorts of awards – and, in a way, felt cheated that it ended up being his only work of fiction. But it is one that deserves re-reading now, as a brilliant example of Irish fiction at its finest.
“I, like countless other students over the years, owe Seamus Deane a huge debt of thanks. Who knows what we might have become without the wise words he spoke, and the very effective way in which he encouraged independent, politically aware, critical thinking? I remember a poem – in Gradual Wars, published in 1972, if I remember correctly – in which he describes looking in a mirror and seeing the first hint of baldness as he imagines himself “dying slowly from the top.
"Many years later that premonition has sadly, finally come true. But only after a marvelously productive and inspiring life. Hot Press extends its deepest sympathy to family, friends and everyone who was close to or loves Seamus Deane."
President Michael D. Higgins has also shared a statement, describing Deane's death as "an incalculable loss to Irish critical writing, indeed Irish writing in general, as his passing represents not only the loss of a foremost critic but of a distinguished poet, novelist and internationally acclaimed university teacher."
Read the rest of the President's statement below:
Seamus Deane’s contribution to critical and creative writing was delivered, not only at home in Ireland but in some of the most prestigious universities of the United States of America, be it Berkeley, Notre Dame, Indiana, Oregon," the President continues. "In such universities, news of Seamus Deane’s participation in a seminar immediately drew huge interest from scholars young and old, partly due, no doubt, to the sheer breath of the materials he would cover, but also due to the unique connection he would make between the life and the work.
To Derry he leaves the incomparable legacy of the life, the writing, the concerns, the despair and the hope, that he shared with its people and to which so much of the work would respond.
Few cities have a writer more embedded in its people, its history, its challenges, its hopes and its humour.
There are, to me, parallels between Seamus Deane’s relationship to Derry and, in his time, Sean O’Casey’s relationship to Dublin in the way the full experience of its peoples are placed at the centre of the writing. All of the living is allowed its place.
Seamus Deane was, too, a leading part of the great burst of intellectual revival that led to The Crane Bag, The Field Day Anthology of Irish Literature and many other innovations, which will be recalled as examples of the collaboration he had with his scholarly neighbours, and others, in giving a valuable affirmative to the importance and energy of Irish writing. When reasonably criticised for omission in a work he replied with the candour of a critic who had become himself the subject of a legitimate criticism. This was typical of the scholar in him.
The price paid for a great talent, such as Seamus Deane had, was high and is revealed, I believe, in his work, including his fine novel ‘Reading in the Dark’.
That work too was delivered with a truth that combined the word, the place, the history, the lives, and the power of communal humour in the act of survival.
All of this is put so well, for example, in his poem ‘Derry’, which opens with the lines:
“The Unemployment in our bones
Errupting on our hands in stones
The thought of violence a relief,
The act of violence a grief
Our bitterness and love
Hand in glove.”
Eternal peace be with our great writer and critic Seamus Deane. Sabina and I send our sympathies to his family, the people of Derry and his many, many friends and former students at home and abroad.
Siochán síoraí dá anam lách.
See more tributes:
Seamus Deane 1940-2021
One of the original members of Field Day, Seamus Deane, died after a short illness in Dublin on 12 May 2021.
Rest in Peace. pic.twitter.com/fomOR0YMfX
— Field Day (@FieldDayCompany) May 13, 2021
The death of Seamus Deane is a terrible loss. Wilde had an essay called The Critic as Artist and there were very few figures who so beautifully combined critical brilliance with imaginative and linguistic power. https://t.co/f28mkJc1lT
— Fintan O'Toole (@fotoole) May 13, 2021
I’m very sorry to hear this morning of the death of Seamus Deane. Such an important voice in the culture - and Reading in the Dark is a masterpiece. pic.twitter.com/k5MA11NWMN
— John Kelly tweets (@johnkellytweets) May 13, 2021
.@MaryLouMcDonald extends condolences on the passing of Seamus Deane
"Seamus made exceptional contributions to literature, poetry and to the discourse surrounding our nation's history." https://t.co/AHB7S1DW5H pic.twitter.com/fswdK09xqW
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) May 13, 2021
We are incredibly saddened to hear of the death of the poet, critic and academic Seamus Deane. He was one of SH's oldest friends, from their school days at St Columb's College in Derry, through the rest of their lives. Rest in peace.https://t.co/TfcUsfIl18
— Estate of Seamus Heaney (@seamusheaneyest) May 13, 2021
He has been described as one of our ‘greatest critics, sharp of mind and fearless in opinion’. Derry has lost another great writer and thinker. Seamus Deane leaves behind a remarkable legacy, and Irish history and literature is grateful. https://t.co/uNJpv8tqa8
— Sarah Campbell (@SarCampbel) May 13, 2021
Really sad to hear of the passing of Seamus Deane, a contemporary of mine at St Columbs College in Derry.He had a brilliant mind and was a gentle, gracious man. Ar dheis De go rabh a anam. https://t.co/oJgYS15zQV
— Phil Coulter (@Phil_Coulter) May 13, 2021