Robert O'Driscoll

 

THE SUDDEN death of Professor Robert O'Driscoll last February shocked and saddened his many Irish friends. A Newfoundlander by birth, descended from pre Famine emigrants, he came, in 1964, as a young visiting lecturer to University College, Dublin.

He already knew something about us, having chosen Samuel Ferguson as the subject of his doctoral thesis at the, University of London. But during his two years here he fell in love with Ireland, with our myths, our legends and our literature and on his return to Canada, where he joined the staff of St. Michael's College of the University of Toronto, he worked indefatigably to promote the knowledge of that literature Irish literature in English.

During the 1970s he organised conferences in Irish studies, to which he attracted not only many of our leading scholars and poets, but also such luminaries as Marshall McLuhan, Joseph Campbell and W. H. Auden. He founded the Canadian Association of Irish Studies. It was during these years that he wrote or edited several books, including his monograph on Samuel Ferguson, An Ascendency of the Heart and five volumes of the Yeats Studies series, co edited by me. The culmination of all this creativity and collaboration was The Celtic Consciousness. A volume made up of the contributions to the 1978 conference in Toronto.

Father John Kelly, president of St. Michael's College, called the symposium on the Celtic Consciousness an "explosive event." It had, as fall out, not only the book, but the establishment at the University of Toronto of a full major programme in Celtic studies. For several years, by an ingenious arrangement with the colleges of the National University of Ireland, visiting Irish lecturers contributed to this. In effecting this arrangement, the help of President O hEocha of Galway was vital.

All this while, it was as if Robert O'Driscoll lived in Hy-Brazil. He had found his enchanted isle, his young man's idealism intact. But the unremitting work necessary to keep his projects afloat began to take its toll in his most secret spirit grew.

A whirling and a wandering fire and the ills of ordinary life intruded. Temporarily he lost interest in the Celtic world.

But he had returned to Ireland last year, to think once more about an Irish poet. He had it in mind to write a critical study of AE, who had long interested him. Without warning he was struck down, alive one day, dead the next. He would like, I am sure, these few words to end with lines from that other poet he knew so well and admired so much B.Yeats

Though gravediggers' toil is long,

Sharp their spades, their muscles strong,

They but thrust their buried men

Back in the human mind again