Poet and critic Anthony Cronin dies aged 88

Co Wexford born writer served as an arts adviser to former taoiseach Charles Haughey

The Irish poet, novelist and critic Anthony Cronin has died. He was 88. Video: UCD Library Special Collections

 

The Irish poet, novelist and critic Anthony Cronin has died. He was 88.

Cronin was one of the best known cultural commentators in Ireland over the last 50 years and also served as an arts adviser to the late taoiseach Charles Haughey.

Born in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford in 1928, Cronin studied at University College Dublin.

He published 14 volumes of poetry as well as biographies of writers Flann O’Brien and Samuel Beckett

He also published the novels The Life of Riley and Identity Papers and wrote the weekly Irish Times column Viewpoint between 1973 and 1980.

During his time advising Mr Haughey, Cronin was a driving force behind the establishment of Aosdána which sought to support artists and writers.

He was appointed as a Saoi of Aosdána in 1993, joining the likes of Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Sean Ó Faoláín, Mary Lavin, Tony O’Malley and Brian Friel.

President Michael D Higgins described him as “a master of the long poem and faithful to the scholarly traditio,understanding the poem, the poet and history’’.

He had made an immense contribution to Irish life and sensibility, Mr Higgins added.

The President said Cronin’s commitment to the right of artists to simply survive in the most basic sense led to his role in the establishment of Aosdána.

“His version of the Republic was one of a republic of ideas, international, informed and not bound by a single language,’’ he added. “A fine critic, his essay on Joyce and Modernism was an early indication of the literary insight he would bring to his work on Samuel Beckett. ’’

Loomed large

Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys said Cronin had loomed large in Ireland’s cultural life as a prolific poet, acclaimed author and columnist.

“However, it is perhaps for his cultural activism and his work as an advocate for the artists of Ireland that he will be best remembered,’’ she added.

“Anthony was, of course, a driving force behind the creation of Aosdána, wheere one of his primary concerns was the welfare of struggling artists, particularly those in their later years.’’

Aosdána, in a statement, said Cronin would want to be remembered primarily as a poet. “But as the moving spirit in the foundation of Aosdána, he was also one of the most significant figures in Ireland’s cultural history,’’ it added.

“He raised the public standing of the arts and, most especially, of the artist, to a level that no one in his generation would have thought possible.’’

In a statement, the Arts Council said Cronin was “an iconic figure in Irish letters, an impassioned and incisive commentator on politics and culture, one of the most influential of Irish writers during a long and varied life”.

Arts Council chair Sheila Pratschke said Cronin was “a rare example of the public intellectual in Irish life - committed, fearless, rigorous in his thought, and unashamedly forthright in his advocacy of what he thought right and good”.

“Unfailingly courteous and generous in his dealings with others, and particularly kind to emerging younger writers, Cronin held himself to the highest standard in his literary production,” she said.

Cronin is survived by his wife Anne Haverty and daughter Sarah.

Literary figures

Cronin was a contemporary of literary figures such as Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and Flann O’Brien and freequented Dublin city centre pubs with them in the 1950s and 1960s.

His book Dead As Doornails was an unsentimental evocation of that era, where literary genius was mixed with heavy drinking and sometimes petty rivalries.

In recent years, he contributed a poetry column to the Sunday Independent.

Cronin’s friendship with Mr Haughey went back to their time in UCD together. Their paths were to cross again many years later when Haughey was taoiseach and hired Cronin as his cultural adviser.

Cronin worked out of Government Buildings and was given credit for pioneering a new political approach to the arts with the help of a sympathetic taoiseach.

As Mr Haughey, in retirement, became engulfed in controversy and scandal, Cronin and himself remained personal friends.

Writing in the Irish Times in 2014, poet Michael O’Loughlin referred to Cronin’s “fighting spirit’’ as he surveyed modern Ireland.

“At this stage it is hardly necessary to point out that poetry has always been Cronin’s central concern, something that may occasionally have been obscured by his achievements in the fields of fiction, biography, memoir, criticism and journalism,’’ O’Loughlin added.