Anthony Cronin: a man of achievement

Few writers could rival his versatility or claim such influence as adviser to two Taoisigh

 

The death of poet Anthony Cronin has occurred at a moment in Ireland’s cultural history when the arts have been given official recognition as a “vital component” of society. Throughout his life, Cronin has been an advocate for such a status and for the dignity of the individual artist.

Few writers of his time could rival Cronin’s versatility and few could claim the kind of influence that he had as adviser to two Taoisigh. He was, in the truest sense, an eminence grise and leaves behind many monuments to his work in Irish cultural life. First and foremost is his literary legacy – a magisterial biography of Samuel Beckett, a comic masterpiece, The Life of Riley, a rich memoir of Dublin’s bygone literary era, Dead as Doornails, but above all else a body of poetry that made his reputation and includes the long ruminative poems – R.M.S. Titanic and The End of the Modern World, an organic sonnet sequence that Anthony Burgess compared to Eliot’s The Waste Land.

His work as a cultural adviser to Taoiseach Charles Haughey ( and later Garret FitzGerald ) in the 1980s ensured that the arts were valued as a part of state policy, innovatively in the creation of Aosdána which rescued many writers and artists from dire circumstances. He had a defining impact on cultural policy as it evolved in those years, including the establishment of the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Heritage Council.

Cronin’s rigorous intellect and his understanding of political and social history informed both his poetry and his perceptive journalistic commentaries. He saw through the seductive artifice of “the modern world”. His “Viewpoint” column in this newspaper – a weekly discourse on the arts, politics and much else – was once described by the writer Dermot Bolger as “a ray of subversive light”. Similarly in his poetry his intention was never to enchant but to question and argue and shower his readers with a confetti of ideas. It will be his poetry – “as complex and strong-willed as the man”, according to the Aosdána tribute to its founding father – that will stand at the head of his long list of achievements.

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