Philosopher, teacher, poet and 'strikingly original' writer


TOM DUDDY:TOM DUDDY, who has died aged 62, was a senior lecturer in the department of philosophy at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and a poet whose 2011 collection, The Hiding Place, published by Arlen House, was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry and the Aldeburgh First Collection Award, the only collection by an Irish poet to make either shortlist last year.

Duddy was born in the village of Ramolin near Shrule, Co Mayo, spending almost all of his adult life in Galway.

While still in his teens, he published his first poem, Ripe Time, in the New Irish Writing supplement to the Irish Press, and began contributing short stories and poems to a number of Irish and British periodicals. More recently his poetry appeared in Magma, Poetry Ireland Review, Smiths Knoll, The Dark Horse, The Frogmore Papers, and The Rialto and was anthologised in Best of Irish Poetry (2007 and 2010) and The Forward Book of Poetry (2011). His chapbook, The Small Hours, was published in 2006 by Happenstance Press, which will also publish, in the near future, his last volume of poetry, The Years.

He studied English and philosophy at what was then University College Galway, going on to specialise in philosophy. His masters and PhD dissertations were on the philosophy of mind, and in 1995 he published Mind, Self and Interiority, based on his doctoral thesis and providing what he described as “a critique of the indiscriminate anti-Cartesianism of contemporary philosophy of mind”.

He did pioneering work in the history of Irish philosophy (a prime example of an Irish bull for those who saw Celts as allergic to reason), and his A History of Irish Thought, described by Terry Eagleton as “strikingly original”, was published by Routledge in 2002. Though he was discouraged for marketing reasons from using the word “philosophy” in the title of the book, he found the rubric of “thought” intellectually more congenial, being more hospitable to what one might call “guerrilla” thinkers.

His Dictionary of Irish Philosophers (2004) was a superbly scholarly volume that rescued many once-celebrated thinkers from undeserved obscurity, though Duddy noted wryly that some deserved the obscurity to which they had been consigned. He edited two important anthologies of Irish writing on philosophical questions, Irish Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century (2002) and The Irish Response to Darwinism (2003).

Duddy has written on the question of morality and the environment in which he considered the ethics of walking, an activity routinely dismissed as non-violent. His major intervention in the visual arts was his polemic on the provincialism of much Irish art criticism, first published in Circa art magazine in 1997, and later reprinted in Fintan Cullen’s standard Sources in Irish Art: A Reader (2000).

Tom Duddy liked to quote Thomas Hardy’s statement that “the mission of poetry is to record impressions, not convictions”. He rejected the imperialism of the abstract without decrying abstraction itself, and he valued concrete actuality without fetishising it. In his poetry he had Blake’s facility for seeing a world in a grain of sand; in his philosophical writings he could give metaphysical notions a local habitation and a name.

One can see why he had an affinity with the 19th-century Mayo poet William Larminie, who collected folktales and translated John Scottus Eriugena’s De Divisione Naturae. He is perhaps one of the few people who have contributed both to the Journal of Scottish Thought and Ireland’s Own. According to his lifelong friend Prof Luke Gibbons of NUI, Maynooth: “In his philosophical explorations of inner life, Tom showed the same eye for detail that he brought to the back lanes and elusive moments that exerted such a fascination in his poetry and fiction.”

He was a popular teacher, described by students as “inspiring”. A member of the Munster Magic Circle who wrote engagingly on Derrida and the druids, he was a great conversationalist, a generous and unassuming man, a witty and humorous companion. Duddy will be sorely missed by his family, friends, colleagues and students.

He is survived by his wife Sheila, his son Conal, his daughter Clare, his brothers Seán, Jim, and Christy and his sisters Carina and Carmel.

Tom Duddy: born April 5th, 1950; died June 15th, 2012