John Montague remembered at funeral as poet of ‘wonder’

‘He would carry words through the noise of domesticity to drop them safely onto the page’

 

The life and work of the late John Montague was celebrated by family and friends at a funeral service in Dublin on Wednesday.

The 87-year-old poet, who died in France last weekend, was remembered as a father and husband, a companion, storyteller and a writer of great standing.

His service at Newman University Church on St Stephen’s Green was attended by President Michael D Higgins and figures from the arts world including the filmmaker John Boorman, who delivered the eulogy; and poet and close friend Theo Dorgan.

In a moving tribute, Mr Montague’s daughter Oonagh described him as the centre of a family, “the skin and the blood and the bones of the Montague clan.”

“We are those people who knew his face like our own because it was our own,” she said.

The author of more than 30 books of poetry and a recipient of the Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur, France’s highest award, he died in Nice following colon surgery.

He is survived by his daughters Oonagh and Sibyl, his widow Elizabeth Wassell, and extended family.

“Elizabeth, dad’s constant and loving companion, lost her whole world at one o’clock on Saturday. She cared for dad so carefully, so happily and they were content in his last chapter,” Oonagh told the congregation.

She spoke affectionately of a man known “un-domestically”; hopeless around the house, whose attempts to cook - a “rare and fascinating thing” - led to “Eggs Tyrone”, a signature dish he had jokingly claimed was a famous staple of the North.

She described his hands as “large, warm paws that lifted us up into trees”, and recalled how he routinely lost things and would sneakily swap fuller glasses of wine for his own.

Of his poetic method, she said, “he was a man who would suddenly zone out, walk across rooms incanting quietly, carrying the words through the noise of domesticity up to the attic to drop them safely onto the page”.

She added: “He was wonderful in the real sense of the word.”

As preparation for his final journey from France back to Ireland, his family had laid wild flowers over him “to free his soul”, and placed two stones in his pockets from Killiney and Nice along with a notebook bearing the names of his grandchildren.

The service was celebrated by Fr Bill Dailey CSC with music from Paddy Moloney and Tríona Marshall, and the singer Sharon Lyons. A number of Mr Montague’s poems were read.

In his eulogy, Mr Boorman spoke of the poet’s childhood journey from Brooklyn where he was born and of his literary life, nurtured by an inspiring teacher who recognised a great spirit.

“He thrived and blossomed and the poetry took him to Paris in the footsteps of Beckett and Joyce,” he said.

“The poems are a kind of inspired conversation he has with his readers, we who miss him so much, and we owe him so much; such a great debt.”

The “ferocious love”, he said, offered by Elizabeth “brought him, finally, peace and contentment”.