Dardis Clarke (1939-2013)

Poetry Ireland News May/June 2013

Some people become so much part of our lives that it is difficult to imagine a time when they will not be around. Dardis Clarke was that kind of person. I encountered [Dardis Clarke] him for the first time in 1974 when he came to a commemoration for his father, Austin Clarke, in the Black Church. Dardis was always a presence, a figure; we expected to see him at poetry readings and book launches or in his favourite pub in Parliament St where they had (and still have) a picture-poster of him on the wall. With his prominent white beard, generous backward sweep of white hair, black suit, shirt, and hat, he had a distinctive style and shape and it is only now that he has gone that we realise how very real he was. Dublin will not be the same without him. His funeral at Mount St. Jerome was remarkable not only for the large number of people who attended but for the many facets of Dublin life which were represented – from trade unionists to poets to a President – An Uachtaráin Michael D Higgins was in attendance. 

His mother once told me that of the three boys, Donald, Aidan, and Dardis, Dardis was most like his father, and I took that to mean that he was moody and combative, slow to forget an offence and quick to react. He was also private and secretive, as his father was, keeping the different sides of his life separate. When I was editor of Poetry Ireland Review I discovered only by accident that he was the final proof reader for every issue.

He had been chairman of Poetry Ireland and was in the habit of attending all its poetry readings, without fail. He was a familiar sight at the back of the Unitarian Church, St Stephen’s Green, a glass of red wine in his hand, his eyes alight with devilment and good cheer. He usually greeted women by lifting them high in the air. I used to wonder how he had the strength to do this until I heard that he swam every morning in the ESB pool at Ringsend, doing seventy lengths per session. Lifting women into the air was no bother to him.

At one time he was publications officer of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union and edited their monthly paper Liberty. More recently he worked at the European Parliament’s office in Dublin where his job was to read through Irish newspapers in the small hours and fax EU-related cuttings and clippings to Brussels by daybreak. Occasionally he contributed articles on various literary matters to the Irish Times.

He was a man about town who met with friends from the media and the advertising world in various pubs – O’Donoghue’s, Doheny and Nesbitt’s, occasionally the Baggot Inn, but he was to be found most regularly in the PorterHouse in Parliament St where he had his own stool and where mourners gathered after his funeral service in Mount St Jerome to remember the man they’d known and to recall stories about him. Many of those attending found out for the first time that they had a connection with Dardis in common. He liked to compartmentalise his life.

Perhaps the most noticeable thing about him was that he was his own man – opinionated, critical, humorous, emotional, his views untouched by academic institutions. In later years I came to see him as being more like his mother than his father, warm-hearted as she was, forthright, delighting in company, endlessly humorous, and compassionate.

Loyalty was one of his strongest qualities. He edited Frederick Robert Higgins’s The 39 Poems (1992) under the Bridge House imprint which his father had also used. Higgins and Austin Clarke had been good friends, were young poets together, read Irish history and culture, and imitated the assonantal patterns of Irish poetry in their own work. They had a row but when Higgins died Clarke went to his funeral in Laracor, Co Meath. At the time of his own death Dardis was preparing – with Aidan Gray, a relative of Higgins – an expanded edition of the Higgins volume, and this will go ahead with support from Poetry Ireland, in memory of Dardis.

He was fervently loyal to his father and his work. He edited Austin Clarke Remembered: Essays, Poems and Reminiscences to Mark the Centenary of His Birth (1996). It had an introduction by Seamus Heaney and contributions from Michael Hartnett, Brendan Kennelly, Thomas Kinsella, Thomas McCarthy and Derek Mahon, among others. A few years ago Dardis undertook and completed the monumental task of preparing a revised edition of his father’s Collected Poems (2008). When this was first published in 1974, it was marred by typographical errors and this grated on Dardis who was determined to put things right. He was proud that he succeeded in getting funds towards publication from University College Dublin which according to family tradition had dismissed his father from his position as lecturer because he had got married in a registry office. Austin favoured this story and so did Dardis. I’d heard it was because he was unable to continue due to mental strain. Students liked Austin Clarke and the Governing Body could have lived with the marriage. The most recent example of Dardis’s loyalty to his father was his intention to publish the Clarke satires in a single volume, but this hadn’t at the time advanced beyond the discussion stage. 

I will miss his occasional letters, abrupt phone calls and witty, mischievous, unsigned postcards. A few years ago I saw him walking up Leeson St in late morning sunshine without his hat and he looked magnificent with his silvery hair lifting in the wind. All he needed was a cape and sword to complete the picture: the last of the toreadors.

Emeritus Professor of Anglo-Irish Literature at UCD Maurice Harmon’s most recent poetry collection is Loose Connections (Salmon Poetry, 2012)

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