Poet and Rooney Prize winner Gerard Fanning dies

The poet and civil servant wrote ‘some of the finest poems of his generation’

The poet Gerard Fanning has died in Dublin, after an illness. Fanning, a poet, retired civil servant and film buff, was born in Dublin in 1952 and grew up in Mount Merrion, Co Dublin. He went to Blackrock College (where he was a classmate of Bob Geldof) and studied arts at University College Dublin, where he was editor of the St Stephen's literary magazine.

His poetry collections, published by Dedalus Press, include Easter Snow (1992), Working for the Government (1999) , Water & Power (2004; the title is from one of his favourite films, Chinatown) and Hombre: New and Selected Poems (2011), with a preface by Gerald Dawe. He won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the Brendan Behan Award for poetry.

Gerard Fanning was a brother of RTÉ broadcaster Dave Fanning and of John Fanning, former managing director and chairman of McConnells Advertising and former Irish Times board member. He is survived by his wife Bríd Ní Chuilinn, sales administrator at publishers' agent Repforce Ireland.

Poet and friend Gerald Dawe said: “I met Gerry back in the 1970s when we were in our early 20s in a very different Dublin. We remained friends ever since. I was a big fan of his poetry even then. But he went on to produce some of the finest and most artful poems of his generation, not just here but across the globe.


“It’s not possible to think of him gone. He was a generous, caring and thoughtful individual. His family and friends are bereft at his loss. But we have the poems and that is a consolation to cherish.”

John F Deane, poet, friend and former editor of Dedalus Press, recalls publishing Fanning's first book of poetry, Easter Snow, in 1992, which won the Rooney Prize.

He said today: “Gerard’s integrity was absolute, both in his personal living and in his approach to poetry. He was very admirable, intellectually and formally in his poetry. His imagination encompassed a great deal. It was an unusual combination of strengths. I admired him greatly.”

Poet and former Irish Times managing editor Gerard Smyth said: “More than a fellow poet, Gerry Fanning was a dear and cherished friend. Time spent in his company always left you feeling better in spirit, with a true sense of the important things, as well as better informed on literary matters. As a poet he possessed an authentic and distinctive voice but typically was far too modest about his gifts.”

Poet John McAuliffe, who has also reviewed his work, commented today: “Gerard Fanning was a stylist. Close cousin to the poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Derek Mahon, there is a mortal loveliness to his lyrics. His tone, a kind of on-tiptoes, confiding approach to the world, was his alone: the poems mix reserve, great good humour and sudden surges of feeling. His special subjects were aftermaths, childhood, the out of the way, illness, landscape, the other arts (he wrote beautifully about music, about silence).

“The standard, the idiomatic taste and tastiness, of this utterly distinctive poet never flags in Hombre: Selected Poems, or across what may be his best, last book Water &Power, where he wrote, in ‘Character in Search of an Author’, “the panicked wren fleeing a patch of salal / is there to remind me, that I know / the date of my birth, but don’t yet know / the date of my death, and never shall.”

“The gorgeous couplets of Canower Sound are equally distinctive, picking up on “the clavichord of a thrush, / its afterthought, its wiry scale struck dumb” as well as, with a typical pun, how “waves dance ashore arm in arm / like a couple of swells”.

In a review published in Poetry Review, Conor Kelly described “Fanning’s poems… for all their quietude and hesitancy, their off-hand and often offbeat comments, their guarded privacies and sequestered emotions, sing with an elegant intensity”.

Reviewing Water and Power in The Irish Times, Fiona Sampson described his “quietly spoken poems” as “constructions of extreme delicacy, alert to the shifts of air and spirit”.

In a feature in the Irish Times in 2014, about himself and his brother Dave, Gerard Fanning said about growing up: “We mostly played soccer down in Belfield and given the chance we both still believe we would have made superb professional soccer players, but sadly we never even made a team.

“In the summer we would have swam down in the Blackrock Baths and our Dad Barney was always bringing us to the Stella cinema to watch Westerns, which we both still love.”

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times