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President leads tributes to much-loved poet Gerald Dawe

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Michael Longley and many others pay tribute to the Belfast-born poet and academic

Gerald Dawe on Achill

President Michael D Higgins, friends and fellow poets have paid tribute to Gerald Dawe, the distinguished Belfast-born poet and academic, who died yesterday after a long illness, aged 72.

He published 13 collections, most recently Another Time (Poems 1978-2023). 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.

President Michael D Higgins

The last collection I received from my dear friend Gerald Dawe was Revenant, a book of poems with images by John Behan. A very beautiful book with a very special poem, Only Son, dedicated to his father. My reaction to that poem in the collection was that Gerald Dawe’s work was getting better and better and arriving at what I think might be 10 collections. A very distinctive work of poem-making that was bringing richer and richer results.


Gerry Dawe wrote out of a unique experience that gave him a special place and memory in contemporary poetry. His work embraced the most important themes of life and the heart, out of a red-bricked context of Belfast. In the collections, the most sensitive of themes are undertaken with a meticulous care of crafting that seemed to me a recall of all the diverse skills of the shipyard.

The standard he set for himself was so high that nothing is redundant or irrelevant in the lines, something special is being recreated or is the basis of a response.

His passing represents a very significant and special loss to Irish poetry and to all those who love poems. About to receive an international award in the United States, it would have been a further recognition to the appreciation that is widely held for his work.

Gerry and I shared an experience of what was then known as University College Galway. We shared not only the experience of pursuing research – in his case, among many interests, an outstanding work on Carleton. We were fellow activists in politics in times of hope, occasional advance and disappointment. We travelled long distances and not without humour in such endeavours, something he has recorded in one of his poems which I treasure.

It was no surprise to any of us when he founded the Oscar Wilde Centre at Trinity College. His interest and work on Wilde and his period had been developed over a long period.

I do not remember him concentrating on a single area to the exclusion of anything that might interest him. For me, his was a most important voice that was able to relate the experiences of those terraced houses where people put the minutiae of daily life – of existence, neighbours and friendships – ahead of dominating ideological divides.

He had an appreciation of all the Northern poets, but he had a particular instinct for the proximate, the intimate and the symbolism of tiny things. This was so reflected in, for example, Looking Through You: Northern Chronicles, published in 2020. As the time of his passing came, the work was simply getting better and better.

In dedicating that book to Dorothea, he quoted Joseph Brodsky: “At certain periods of history it is only poetry that is capable of dealing with reality by condensing it into something graspable, something that otherwise wouldn’t be retained by the mind”. In that regard, Gerald Dawe’s work is an outstanding achievement.

Ireland has lost a great poet and so many of us a warm and valued friend.

I will miss him deeply, as will Sabina and all our family. But the greatest loss will be to Dorothea, their daughter Olwen and his stepson Iarla. To them, Sabina and I wish to send our deepest sympathy and our love at this time.

Pat Boran

Gerry Dawe was a poet of fine, thoughtful, nuanced poems, focused in the main on the everyday, the loves, affections and connections that compose our lives around us. He was a poet made in Belfast, and repaid that debt many times over, not least with his loving exploration of the source of Van Morrison’s songs in that same city, a journey that, like much of his own work, also afforded glimpses of a pre-Troubles time, and perhaps of a future that might yet evolve from it. He brought huge energy and vision to his ground-breaking gathering of Irish war poets (a not unconnected project, in so many ways). And, at every juncture of his own writing life – as teacher, journal editor, anthologist and friend and colleague to other poets – he put far more into the community of Irish writing than he ever took out of it, an imbalance he not only seemed to accept with grace but which, I think, must have satisfied his evident sense that, despite our individual pursuits, we should leave the world of Irish writing in a better state than which we found it. He can certainly be said to have done that.

Pat Boran is a poet and editor at Dedalus Press. His most recent collection is Then Again.

Lucy Collins

The birds are singing high in the trees. / Summer is over; Autumn has come. Gerry Dawe’s precise and reflective poems resonate deeply in a strident world. From Belfast to the West of Ireland, and at the Dublin coastline, they create enduring spaces of mind and memory – humane, observant, shrewd. These clear-thinking yet never simple poems are an apt expression of the man himself, and the warmth and generosity he brought to the world of Irish poetry. I first met Gerry when I was a student in the early 1990s and, since then, our paths have often crossed both on the page and in the worlds of poetry and the university. His writing on war poetry – especially the marvellous Earth Voices Whispering – has changed the way we read and teach in this field (between wars/and in the war and later on – who knows where will be next…) So much of his critical work captures this breadth of enquiry, this searching intelligence; he is equally at home in the lyrics of Van Morrison as in the manuscripts of a forgotten modernist writer. A decade or so ago, when I was putting together an anthology of Irish women poets Gerry gave me lots of encouragement, sharing texts and contacts, always interested in the progress of the work. Later, he invited me to Trinity to speak to his students about these poets. His faith in the value of this work, his willingness to create a space for other voices and to give time and attention selflessly, is extraordinarily valuable yet easy to overlook. He will be hugely missed, and in ways we can’t yet imagine.

Lucy Collins is associate professor of modern poetry at UCD and editor of Irish University Review

Gerald Dawe and Moya Cannon at the Poetry Ireland archive launch in November 2004. Photograph: Fran Veale

Katie Donovan

Relaxed and jovial, with his signature smile, Gerry was a skilled raconteur. He made the many different strands of his literary activity - poet, professor, broadcaster, critic - look easy. We met on the poetry circuit and it was always a delight to be in his company. In particular, our shared friendship with the late Brendan Kennelly meant that on several occasions, we spoke at events honouring Kennelly, most recently last November. I recall Gerry was full of excitement about his O’Shaughnessy win, and I assured him that he would have a wonderful time when he went to St Paul to receive his award. When I heard that fellow poet and TCD professor Iggy McGovern had travelled to St Paul to accept the award on Gerry’s behalf, I began to realise that this vital, cheerful, multi-talented man, at the centre of Irish literary life, must be in very poor health indeed. My sympathies to his family, whom I know he adored. His absence will be keenly felt for a long time to come.

Katie Donovan’s latest collection is May Swim (Bloodaxe)

Peter Fallon

He was a lone ranger. He did his own thing, in his own way.

We met forty years ago and I published the first of nine Gallery books in 1985, the most recent of them just last September: Another Time (Poems 1978-2023). 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.

His recent years were plagued by ill health and messages referred to courses of radiotherapy, ‘a new chemo pill’, ‘a new consultant later in the year’...and yet he remained stoical. In march he went to Switzerland to read at the Joyce Foundation where an exhibition devoted to his work was on; in April he received the O’Shaughnessy Award. And just weeks ago he wrote to me to say, ‘I’ve been working though and hope to send you something different at the end of summer.’

To his beloved Dorothea, to Olwen and Iarla, we send heartfelt condolences.

I’ll miss his honesty, his seriousness and his laughter. It’s getting, oh, so lonely.

Peter Fallon is the founder and publisher of The Gallery Press

Padraic Fiacc, left, with fellow poet Gerald Dawe. Reproduced by kind permission of Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives, Boston College.

Leontia Flynn

I first received a postcard from Gerry Dawe after mentioning his poetry collection, Lake Geneva, in an interview after my own first book was published. In the 20 years since then, as I grew to know him and occasionally work with him, he proved himself to be unfailingly generous, intelligent, courteous and funny – a man who performed the rare feat of attending to the development of his own work, and carrying out his professorial duties with great dignity. We continued to cross paths as he gamely kept up his poetry, broadcasting and university work after beginning cancer treatment – and he even found time to send me another postcard, after another book, last summer. Like his poetry he was plainspoken but very much out of the ordinary. I will miss him enormously.

Leontia Flynn’s most recent collection is Taking Liberties

David Gardiner

Here he is from east Belfast, UU grad, in Galway, editing Krino. Maybe we were outsiders. But he never really was. An intellect that sharp can find its way in anywhere. I’d stay behind class with him with issues of Krino that I’d find at the old Kenny’s on High Street and ask him about this or that article. Why did you include that? Why did you write the introduction in that way?

I remember the way that he’d always place a hand under his chin and look at me as if I had just landed on the planet or jumped out of the Salmon Weir. But then he’d talk me through it.

And he helped me become an editor too. But, like every editor, I was hell-bent on being a poet, and I knew about his work. I’d read Sheltering Places (1978), and The Lundys Letter (1985). Nothing prepared me for Gerald Dawe. He was not part of the Faber ransacking of Queens that occurred in the early ‘70s. He was a part of a new transitional generation that wrote for themselves but also ushered in and, for the last time perhaps, truly critiqued new writers; he was unique in being razor-witted and open-hearted. He didn’t speak like the others, or even seem to think like the others. Maybe that’s why we got along. Even my disagreements with Gerry became “portals of discoveries”. He had a mind that could ferret out interests that you didn’t know that you had but once found realised you may have always needed. The last time I was with Gerry, I wasn’t really with Gerry. I took the Dart out to visit him. I hadn’t walked the East Pier in a while, and I was going to read his poem East Pier at the O’Shaughnessy Award reception for him. So, I got there about an hour early on a warm, sunny autumn day – the sort he loved in the lyrics of his East Orangefield alum friend Van Morrison. A few minutes after I walked out, I received a text that we should reschedule. That was never to happen.

Dr David Gardiner is director of the Center for Irish Studies in the University St Thomas, editor of the New Hibernia Review and administrator of the O’Shaughnessy Poetry Award. His poetry collection Skenographia was recently published by Salmon.

Conor Graham

It was with profound sadness that I heard of the news yesterday of the death of my most celebrated author, and a dear, dear friend, the incomparable Gerry Dawe. I first met Gerry through his long-time agent, Jonathan Williams, when we agreed to publish the first of Gerry’s Northern Chronicles memoirs in 2017, In Another World: Van Morrison and Belfast. From the moment I read his prose and met the man, I fell in love with both. His writing is exquisite, and it spoke to me directly through his lyrical evocation of the Belfast of my parents and the maelstrom of cultural and political influences sweeping the city in the late sixties. Our relationship blossomed with Gerry hitting a rich seam, “in the groove” as he was fond to say, and we went on to publish another five books in as many years, and each and every one was a joy and a pleasure to publish. And I see two more unpublished manuscripts on my desk as I write these words. We met often, got on like old friends, and he was truly a beloved author to all our staff, who were always enamoured by his inimitable charm and good grace. We will all miss him dearly.

Conor Graham is publisher at Merrion Press

Michael Longley

When he was still a schoolboy Gerry sent me a letter asking for literary advice and enclosing some poems. I recognised a real talent, and in my reply recommended the work of Heaney, Mahon and Simmons. That brief correspondence remained a sweet echo over the years. Our friendship deepened in Galway, Belfast and Dublin. In his life and work, Gerry brought Ireland’s separate regions together. He illuminated for me my native city of Belfast. His northern accent sounded at home in Dublin. His humanity and charisma generated concord. His legacy is so various and capacious: inspired anthologist (I treasure in particular Earth Voices Whispering: Irish Poetry of War); champion of such northern heroes as Stewart Parker, Van Morrison, Padraic Fiacc; author of crucially important cultural histories; editor of the indispensable magazine Krino; and then the poetry collections from Sheltering Places (1978) to Another Time (2023). Yes, above all there is his poetry, the art that conceals art, the voice of reason and tenderness and mystery, the aura of protection. I loved Gerry Dawe. I always felt safe and fulfilled in his deep-souled company.

Michael Longley’s Ash Keys: New Collected Poems is published on July 25th.

Sinéad Mac Aodha

Gerry Dawe was a quiet, generous and uncompromising presence within the Irish literature sector. Armed with a very strong sense of fair play and a deep compassion for and understanding of people, he quietly helped ensure that many Irish writers and poets were given every chance to flourish.

Apart from his own fine poetry and his significant academic achievements, he had a strong sense of public service and gave willingly of his own time to many important and worthwhile literary projects.

Over the ten-year period 1986-1996, he dedicated thousands of hours to editing Krino: A Literary Magazine from Ireland, which, as its name suggests, he saw as an international platform for Irish writing. I remember meeting him when I worked in the Arts Council and being struck by the exceptional passion and commitment he brought to every single issue of Krino.

Many years later, he joined our board at Literature Ireland. His dedication to the international promotion of Irish literature and his knowledge of international publishing and literary translation were immediately apparent. His own poetry has been widely translated and he himself, together with Marco Sonzogni, co-translated work by the Sicilian poet Salvatore Quasimodo into English.

Gerry would always arrive quite early for Literature Ireland meetings so as to talk to the team and to take the temperature of the organisation. He rarely missed a meeting, making sure to contribute fully, even during the early stages of his illness, when many others would have simply chosen to retire. He was also exceptionally supportive of the Literature Ireland staff during the pandemic, formally recognising their contributions and regularly checking in on their well-being.

Gerry had a very quick and mischievous sense of humour and could lighten the atmosphere in even the most challenging of situations. Together with other board members he helped guide Literature Ireland through a very difficult financial period.

He would also attend our translation events with no fanfare, quietly taking a seat and dropping us a note afterwards to thank us - a true gentleman.

Just last month, a selection of his work in translation, Versions, Selected Poems by Gerald Dawe in Translation, edited by his former student Dr Florence Impens, was launched at an event jointly hosted by Literature Ireland and the Trinity Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation. The book includes translations of his poems in French, Japanese, Italian, German and Argentinian Spanish. The range of languages and poems contained in Versions are a testament to the great international reach of the man, to his work and to the many lives he touched.

My deepest sympathy to his wife Dorothea and to his children, Iarla and Olwen. He will be greatly missed.

Sinéad Mac Aodha is director of Literature Ireland

Dorothea Dawe, Gerald Dawe and Sebastian Barry, at the launch of Paul Murray's The Mark and the Void. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Eoin McNamee

My first meetings with Gerry always seemed to be fleeting encounters at festivals and readings, but I think you got the essence of the man straight away. He was warm, authoritative and funny. There was a steadiness there as well, Gerry was to be trusted. He founded the Trinity Oscar Wilde Centre with Brendan Kennelly in 1997, the first of its kind in Ireland. The writing course there was designed with shrewd intelligence and the core of it remains intact. We have the privilege of living with that part of his legacy and we are grateful to him for it every day.

Eoin McNamee is Director of Trinity College Dublin’s Oscar Wilde Centre

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Gerry will be sorely missed. A poet first of all, by vocation, though he played other parts. In his poems he is drawn to scenes of cam stillness, while the sense of a slight distance, a particularity of perspective seems to give him the freedom to apprehand such stillness even in unpromising places. The kindness and calm that radiates in his poetry, its special balance and freedom from fuss, were there in his life as a recognisable, genuine decency, a trustiness.

As a colleague in Trinity he was exemplary; as a critic he was at once generous and firm, the originality of his mind quietly sparking new departures thrughout a long career, from Krino, the magazine he founded, to his celebrations of music and drama emanating from Belfast, to the exploration of Irish war poetry. It is consoling to think how well he will be remembered, by students, by readers of his poems and scholarly work, and by his friends.

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin is Professor (emeritus) in the School of English, Trinity College Dublin

Gerry Dawe in his Ulster rugby shirt

John O’Donnell

As well as poetry, Gerry Dawe and I shared a passion for Irish rugby. The week before each big game would see a flurry of texts exchanged between us: how will we do? why have they picked x and not y?

The après-match analysis was just as intense: who played well, who didn’t show? A proud Belfast man, Gerry was always first to praise the contributions of the Ulster players to the Irish team (even if they’d done nothing).

For his 60th birthday I sent him an Ulster jersey; he sent me in response the attached picture which captures his loyalty, enthusiasm and good humour. He even came to a couple of Leinster v Ulster matches where he cheerily bayed his support for the Red Hand, much to the amusement of my sons and nearby fans. I can’t believe he’s gone. The world of Irish poetry - and Irish rugby - has lost one of its brightest stars.

John O’Donnell is a poet and fiction writer.

Gerald Dawe and Edna O'Brien at the Flatlake Literary Festival in Clones, Co Monaghan.

Mary O’Malley

I first met Gerry Dawe in Galway in the mid-seventies. I was an undergraduate, sharing an upstairs flat with two others. Gerry and Dor lived in the flat downstairs. I knew he was doing post-grad work in UCG, and when I heard that the tall, serious young man with a Belfast accent and his thatch of dark hair was a poet, I found some of his poems in the Blackstaff Anthology a friend lent me.

I was in London when his first book ‘Sheltering Places’ came out in 1978, the year he set up a monthly supplement called ‘Writing in the West’ in the Connacht Tribune. This provided a much needed outlet for new writers and continuedinto the earlly 90s. When I came back to Galway in 1986, Dor and Gerry got back in touch. When Gerry heard I was writing what would become my second collection, he asked to see a selection of poems, and made very practical suggestions and helped have a few of the sequence published. We stayed in touch over the years, mostly meeting up for Cúirt or at readings in Dublin, and in Dun Laoghaire on a few occasions. When I did a stint in Trinity in 2016, I was given Gerry’s office, with a great number of his books still on the shelves. This was unexpected, and I rang him and he said to ‘read away’ so I made good use of that unexpected trove. Consulting a writer’s library is to open another kind of conversation, and I got to know the man better from that rich, random collection.

I last saw Gerry in Kenny’s in 2022 at the launch of Revenant, his collaborative book of poems and drawings with John Behan. He was in good form and good voice, and the poems showed another side of this very private man. He was working to the end, with an astonishing output of prose and poetry in the last five years alone. My deepest sympathy goes to Dorothea and Olwen and Iarla. Gerry loved the West and like a lot of Northerners, he felt at home here. It’s here I’ll remember him, strolling over the bridge by the Claddagh with Dor, stopping for a chat, with a sudden smile full of devilment and delight. Mary O’Malley

Mary O’Malley is a poet. Her latest collection, The Shark Nursery, is published this month.

Nadine O’Regan

I had the good fortune to be taught by Gerry Dawe as part of the Creative Writing M.Phil. in Trinity, just a few short years after the course had been set up in 1998, with Gerry and his fellow poet Brendan Kennelly established as co-directors. It was an innovative programme, the first of its kind in the country, and I was a green student, fresh up from Cork, and feeling lucky to be in the room. Throughout the year, Gerry was a warm, comforting and consistently helpful presence, always ready to listen and take the time with us students. He had a great way about him, a wry, understated sense of humour and a profound dedication to the arts -- I still have a copy of the reading list he gave us for the course, which was labyrinthine. The last time I spoke to him was in December, when I phoned him up to ask for his thoughts for an article I was writing on the late playwright Thomas Kilroy -- he was as kind, insightful and helpful as ever. I feel very glad to have known him.

Nadine O’Regan, Acting Editor, The Irish Times Magazine

Gerald Dawe’s collections include Mickey Finn’s Air

Keith Payne

Rave on, Gerry Dawe, Rave on.

Gerry Dawe is gone. He had the sway about him to lift what we read on the page up and out of the books we had in our hands and onto the streets we marched into after riffing O’Casey or Beckett: Iain Crichton Smith’s ticking clock in his mother’s kitchen, Behan finally and tragically lost for words or Bishop taking a turn to Brazil. He once nodded there was no need for the Ph or d, that i’d find all I’d need on the road; spoke of two-to-a-seat across Belfast in a Morris Minor to catch the late night gig, then no longer being afforded the freedom to do so; A Huguenot, the first I knew; spotted early the back-door east coast pattern of tipping over to the UK - a whole other migration tale - that lost 50s generation. But he kept smiling throughout. It was the quiet word with Gerry, the grin and ever lift from the poem in hand; the tune tickling always behind the reredos... as a good pal of his had it...

Keith Payne is a poet, translator and editor. Whales and Whales, from the Galician of Luisa Castro is forthcoming from Skein Press. He is a former student of Gerry’s.

Gerard Smyth

Gerry Dawe was first and foremost a treasured friend but also a vital and distinctive voice in Irish poetry. We knew each other since his days teaching in Galway University in the 1980s and I am deeply saddened that our long conversation around poetry, music and much else to do with our lives and loves has come to an end. 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.

Gerard Smyth is Poetry Editor of The Irish Times