Poetry Ireland is deeply saddened to learn of the death of poet Derek Mahon. His influence in the Irish poetry community, literary world and society at large, and his legacy, is immense.
Derek, who died in Cork following a short illness, was one of Ireland’s leading poets, a member of Aosdána and a highly accomplished translator. Born in Belfast in 1941, he spent time living in Dublin while studying at Trinity College and subsequently lived in France, the US, Canada and London before settling in Ireland again.
Chair of Poetry Ireland, Ciarán Benson, said, “In the loss of Derek Mahon, Ireland, and the world of poetry, has lost an outstanding voice, one that ranged over the wide territories of contemporary life, both personal and natural. He effortlessly framed and clarified centrally important ideas and longings and gifted them back to us in a beautiful and rich body of work. His influence will continue to grow.”
Director of Poetry Ireland, Niamh O’Donnell, said that Derek’s legacy in the poetry world is very keenly felt.
“Derek was an extraordinarily brilliant poet. A gifted and noble observer of our world and one of that generation of outstanding poets from Northern Ireland who rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s. His legacy to us is an incredible body of work, full of hard-earned insight and wisdom, including so many touchstone poems that will continue to resonate with people all over the world for generations to come.”
One of Derek Mahon’s poems, ‘Everything Is Going To Be All Right’, has been a beacon of solace during the Covid-19 pandemic. In March 2020, RTÉ’s Six One News ended one of their bulletins with a beautiful rendition of Derek reading his poem. It captured the nation’s mood and was widely shared by people in Ireland and all over the world, through social media.
Derek will be remembered for so many of his insightful poems, including ‘A Disused Shed in County Wexford’, ‘Beyond Howth Head’ and ‘A Refusal to Mourn’ and many more. His many honours include the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry (1990), The Irish Times-Aer Lingus Poetry Prize (1991), the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize and the David Cohen Prize for Literature (2007). In 2019, his collection Against the Clock won him the Irish Times Poetry Now award, his third time receiving the award.
At the time, Bernard O’Donoghue said on behalf of the judges that the book was “driven by an unfailing poetic energy” and that “All we can say is that the other five writers on the shortlist were unfortunate to be in competition with Derek Mahon, one of the great poets of our time, at the top of his form.”
Derek’s poems were featured many times in Poetry Ireland Review – his poem ‘Quarantine’ is a stand-out in the latest issue – and his work was often reviewed in the Poetry Ireland Journal.
Reviewing Derek’s most recent collection, Against the Clock, in the Review, Nicholas Grene wrote: “But wonderfully, for a poet who has so often written out of a troubled life, there is a sense in many of these poems of someone at peace with himself…Against the Clock is indeed the collection of a great poet, and we have every reason to be grateful for it.”
Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Derek’s partner Sarah Iremonger and his children Rory, Katy and Maisie, along with all of his extended family, friends and comrades.