Writer who was integral part of Cork literary life

 

Robert O'Donoghue:THE POET, playwright and journalist Robert O'Donoghue, who has died aged 84, was an integral part of Cork literary life for more than half a century.

He edited a highly distinctive literary page for the Cork Examiner that provided a platform for many Irish writers including Paul Durcan, Pearse Hutchinson, Seán Dunne, Michael Coady, MacDara Woods and Patrick Galvin, all of whom were, at different times, weekly columnists.

Seán Dunne remembered him as someone who "always seemed to have a cigarette, a theory, and, if I needed it, a fiver". He later told Dunne that he was the only poet who had returned money borrowed from him.

"Instead of making me feel virtuous," Dunne recalled, "this made me feel that in fact I might not be a poet at all."

Robert O'Donoghue began writing plays and poetry in a serious way in the early 1950s and had six plays performed. He was particularly honoured to win a major award at the national amateur drama festival in Athlone in 1968.

One of his earliest ventures into the performing arts was In Praise of Cork (1958), a presentation with music by John Reidy, later to become better known as Seán Ó Riada. This work was subsequently broadcast by Raidió Éireann.

There followed the plays Hate was the Spur (1969) and Hannah (1970). His two verse plays The Long Night and Not with Trumpets, about former lord mayors of Cork, Terence MacSwiney and Tomás Mac Curtain respectively, were first produced in 1970.

He collaborated in 1972 with Ronnie Walsh in "a play for one person" about Patrick Kavanagh.

Born and educated in Cork, Robert O'Donoghue in 1944 joined the Cork Examiner. He brought great energy and integrity to each of the roles he undertook there until his retirement in 1987.

He brought the best out of writers, for example, encouraging his fellow poet and friend Patrick Galvin to write a biographical series that formed the basis of the Raggy Boy trilogy.

In 1986, with Prof John Barry, he co-edited a major series on the history of Cork, which was later published in book form.

Over the years he collaborated with the Munster Literature Centre on many projects and events.

His poetry initially appeared in the early issues of Irish Writing, edited in Cork by David Marcus and Terence Smith.

The journal Cyphers subsequently became a forum for his work, and its first issue, in June 1975, contained five of his poems.

This publication ended a poetic silence and led to a number of new poems. A selection of his work was included in The Poets of Munster anthology (1985).

His collection The Witness was published in 1990, and he said of it: "The poet as witness is central to this collection . . . He is required to be detached, to 'still the variable in a trance of words'." His most recently published work was a translation from the Turkish, with Patrick Galvin, of the poetry of Yilmaz Odabasi.

Seán Dunne wrote of O'Donoghue's work: "His best poems have a voice that is wholly his own, and the figures who inhabit his writing - old women, lovers, characters from myth and history, people on the edge of events - are often isolated figures. Despite their modernist modes, there is an elegiac quality to many of his poems."

He is remembered by fellow journalists as someone who carried his command of English lightly and was always happier to teach and lead by example, rather than browbeat those less skilled than himself.

Friends remember him as a considerate, warm and entertaining man whose company was a great, enriching pleasure.

Predeceased in 2005 by his son Gregory, also a poet, he is survived by his wife Ann and sons David, Robbie, Tom and Jess.

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Robert O'Donoghue: born July 1924; died November 29th, 2008