Gerald Dawe, poet of ‘the ordinary and the everyday’, dies aged 72

Inaugural director of TCD’s Oscar Wilde Centre was to receive major US award

Gerald Dawe, the distinguished Belfast-born poet and academic, has died after a long illness, aged 72.

He published 13 collections, most recently Another Time (Poems 1978-2023), his ninth with Gallery Press, whose publisher Peter Fallon called him “a lone ranger. He did his own thing, in his own way”.

“You’d know a poem by Gerry Dawe a mile away – its plain speech unadorned by any effect or affectation. And that plainness was, in fact, the mark of style.”

Eoin McNamee, director of Trinity College Dublin’s Oscar Wilde Centre, said: “Gerry was warm, authoritative and funny. He founded the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre with Brendan Kennelly in 1997, the first of its kind in Ireland. The course was designed with shrewd intelligence and the core remains intact. We have the privilege of living with that part of his legacy and we are grateful to him for it every day.”

READ MORE

Gerard Smyth, Irish Times Poetry Editor, said: “Gerry Dawe was first and foremost a treasured friend but also a vital and distinctive voice in Irish poetry. Since the earliest poems in his first collection, Sheltering Places, Gerry’s poems have been models of lucidity, precision and a probing intelligence that was always aware of the responsibilities of conscience.

“He was utterly aware too of his Belfast roots and Northern inheritance and what that demanded of him as poet and witness, giving us poems of such clear perception when dealing with the ‘Northern Troubles’. While never relinquishing those roots, or his own familial history, his poems of the West of Ireland are among some of the best evocations of that landscape and its people.

“From page to page and book to book – in both his poetry and prose – he achieved a flowing continuity that is very rare. Brushing aside grand rhetoric for natural speech, his poetry dealt with the ordinary and the everyday, but behind each poem was a pensive mind acutely in tune with the wider world – a world now at a loss for his passing but enriched by what he gave to it in his writing.”

Dawe studied English at Ulster University and wrote his thesis on William Carleton at what is now the University of Galway, becoming a lecturer there and publishing his debut collection in 1978. He moved to TCD a decade later, becoming a professor and inaugural director of the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing (1997-2015), retiring in 2017. He published 10 collections of essays and criticism, edited several anthologies, most recently the Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets (2018). Last month he was named as winner of the 2024 Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Irish poetry.

Terence Brown, a former colleague at Trinity, said: “Gerry was a man of great generosity of spirit, a true friend and a person of real integrity. He devoted his life to poetry and his creativity found expression in his verse and in his role as a much-loved teacher.”

He is survived by his wife Dorothea, daughter Olwen and stepson Iarla.

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times