The Irish poet Maurice Scully has died in Spain. He began publishing in the 1980s when he also founded and edited the literary journal The Beau. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, where he studied Irish and English Literature, he was awarded the Macaulay Fellowship and Arts Council Bursaries in Literature in 1986 and 1988 along with the Katherine and Patrick Kavanagh Fellowship in 2004.
He was born in Dublin in 1952 and spent his childhood between Clare, the Ring Gaeltacht and Dublin. Following his graduation from Trinity, where he edited the literary journal Icarus, he travelled widely in Europe and Africa teaching English before returning to Dublin in the 1990s, where he settled with his wife and four children, teaching for a time at Dublin City University.
For 25 years, Scully’s work was devoted to a single vast project under the overall title of Things That Happen, which consists of 5 Freedoms of Movement, Livelihood, Sonata, and Tig, the coda to the whole work. Eric Falci called it “the most ambitious and important long poem in modern Irish literature” and in recognition of his remarkable career and achievement a collection of critical essays on his work, edited by Ken Keating, was published in 2020.
His debut collection, Love Poems and Others, was published by Raven Arts Press in 1981. With publishers in Ireland and England he went on to produce over a dozen further volumes, including Humming and Several Dances. A sampler of his works, Doing the Same in English, was published by Dedalus Press in 2008.
Scully was a distinctively innovative poet. He once remarked that Paterson by William Carlos Williams was a “favourite book” of his youth and from first to last his own work demonstrated the influence of the American poet and other modernists who were the masters in his pantheon.
Paying tribute, Prof Philip Coleman of Trinity College Dublin described Scully as “a true original in the world of Irish poetry, quietly and patiently doing things his own way for several decades. Things That Happen is a major contribution to 21st-century Irish poetry but despite the monumental scale of that achievement there are moments of wit, beauty and gentle, human affirmation throughout Scully’s extensive work. As he puts it in Airs, published to coincide with his 70th birthday in 2022:
Climb the stairs to the light. Off this landing
many sub-Departments of Ratified Aesthetic Delight.
Language, the Tangible World. Art.
Coleman commented that Scully was esteemed internationally as a poet whose commitment to his art was celebrated for the ways in which it “belies easy categorisation”.
Prof Kevin Rafter, chair of the Arts Council, said: “The Arts Council is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of renowned poet Maurice Scully. His writing displayed tremendous sensitivity and empathy, earning him loyal readers across the world. His death is a great loss to Irish literature.”
Maureen Kennelly, director of the Arts Council, said: “Maurice Scully was an esteemed poet and member of Aosdána. He made a wide and rich contribution to writing over his long career. He will be sadly missed but his legacy will endure and we send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”
Scully, who was elected to Aosdána in 2009 died on Sunday in the village of Boléa, Spain.