Belfast Telegraph

John Montague: Northern Ireland poet dies aged 87

John Montague, one of Ireland's much-loved contemporary poets, has died aged 87.

Mr Montague passed away in Nice in the south of France on Saturday morning.

Montague was born in Brooklyn in 1929. He grew up in Tyrone and, in later years, divided his time between Ireland, the US and France.

He was married three times and has two daughters, Oonagh and Sibyl.

His funeral will take place at Garvaghy, County Tyrone.

Just this November, the poet was presented with the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards. He was made Ireland's first Professor of Poetry in 1998.

He taught at University of California, Berkeley, UCD, University College Cork and the Sorbonne and served as distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the New York State Writers Institute.

His poetry included Forms of Exile (1958); Poisoned Lands(1961); A Chosen Light (1967); Tides (1970) and The Rough Field (1972). His novella, The Lost Notebook, won the first Hughes Award in 1987.

He also published three collections of stories: Death of a Chieftain (1964), An Occasion of Sin (1992) and A Love Present (1997).

He won the Marten Toonder Award in 1977, a Guggenheim fellowship in 1980, and the Ireland Funds Literary Award in 1995.

Irish president Michael D Higgins expressed condolences and paid tribute.

He said: "I have heard with sorrow of the passing of John Montague, one of our finest poets, and the first Ireland Professor of Poetry 1998, and just recently honoured at the Irish Book Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to literature.

"The death of John Montague represents another great loss to Irish letters, a further break with a rich body of work that was the gift of poets and dramatists, to Ulster, Ireland and the world.

"All of the themes of the last century are engaged in John Montague’s work – separation, exile, memory, conflict, the making and teaching of poems in academic settings far and wide, and the challenge of their delivery, generously undertaken in a myriad of settlings.

"His work which includes magnificent love poems, and which indeed show a love of the world in all its curiosity, was immense.

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"John Montague produced a body of work that was recognised by his peers as of the finest kind – lines hewn out of experience as if granite, nothing avoided or evaded, and this writing went on to the end.

"Familiar with the literature of other languages, he was a careful translator and source of encouragement to others.

"His wry, self-deprecating company, his humour, his openness to opposite opinions, will be missed by all of us who were privileged to be his friends – and so many were.

"To his wife Elizabeth Wassell; his daughters Sibyl and Oonagh, and all those who loved him, Sabina and I send our deepest sympathy."

The Irish Arts Council expressed its regret at his passing.

Sheila Pratschke, chair of the Arts Council said: "A true giant of Irish letters, John Montague possessed a voice and vision which was wholly unique and deeply needed, at once intensely relevant and local, while also embracing and celebrating the cosmopolitan.

"His loss will be felt acutely but his work will continue to inspire both readers and writers for generations to come."

The Irish association of artists Aosdána said in a statement: "It is only now with his death that Ireland can truly appreciate the historic achievements of John Montague, a founder member of Aosdána.

"As a Northern Catholic from the complicated territory of Tyrone he spoke truth and peace to his Protestant neighbours; he was a significant Irish-American, with roots in New York; he was Yeatsian in the glory of his friends, like Samuel Beckett; he played an important part in the renaissance of Irish music, through Claddagh Records, which he established with Garech Browne; he played, along with Thomas Kinsella, a pioneering role in Irish publishing, through the Dolmen Press; he was an inspiring teacher of young writers, particularly in Cork; he was a notable critic, novelist, short story writer, and memoirist.

"But, above all, he was a poet. His poetry has, in the words of Aosdána member Thomas McCarthy, ‘an expansive fluency and national grandeur… a splendid, exceptional integrity: it ebbs and flows and shimmers like the tide.’ This is a tide that cannot go out. Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann."

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