Dermot Healy was afflicted with an unruly mind
In his most famous work, A Goat’s Song, he excelled himself in revealing the Irish male as the dreamer, the broken thing that a man becomes when the women have gone away
Dermot Healy: love was the root of his books
I tell a story sometimes that I heard from Dermot Healy. He went into an old bachelor one day. “Do you not be lonely sometimes?” Dermot wondered.
To which the man replied, “No. Sure I know I’m always here.”
It’s a story with a universal truth; that in our sitting and solitude we are conscious of something beyond the narrow scope of the ego. A bigger mind inhabits us and observes our ego’s passions rise and fall like the swell of the ocean.
It’s the wisdom of Zen, but it is also to be found in the exuberance of Irish poets, from the minimalist luminosity of the 12th-century bards to the glory days of south Ulster poets such as Cathal Buí MacGiolla Gunna, Art McCooey and many others, and right down to Patrick Kavanagh, who still carried the flickering lantern of those ancient muses in his poetry and lit the way for Dermot too. Dermot was afflicted with an unruly mind that could never quite attend to the mundane because of the sacred anarchy beneath the surface of everything, which drew him in and allowed him to write such viscerally beautiful poetry and prose.
Close encounters in Cavan
I remember when I was 14 going into a little cafe in Cavan, where he lived, to meet the 20-year-old, who even then was acknowledged as a great poet. I was terrified.
His mother said he wasn’t out of bed, so I waited in the empty restaurant as sun broke in through the amber glass of a high window. He arrived with a big smile. It felt like I was being hugged when he looked at me.
One day he came to my mother’s house to bring me out to dinner with some very important people. When I tried to get into the car there was a pot of curry on the passenger seat.
“That’s the dinner,” he said. “They don’t know we’re coming yet.”
Nobody knew if Dermot was coming or going. I remember drinking with him in Blessings Bar one night. At one stage he slipped out. I thought he was gone to the toilet. But he was over in the Farnham Arms having another life with someone else. When he appeared again I said, “You were a long time in the toilet.” He said, “I’m across the road. Finish your drink and come over.”