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Belfast-born 'master poet' Derek Mahon dies aged 78


Poet Derek Mahon

Poet Derek Mahon

Poet Derek Mahon

The Belfast-born poet Derek Mahon has died after a short illness.

Mr Mahon, one of the foremost contemporary Irish poets, died in Cork on Thursday night.

Poetry Ireland said it was "deeply saddened" to hear of the 78-year-old's death.

"His influence in the Irish poetry community, literary world and society at large, and his legacy, is immense.

“Our sympathies to his family and friends," the organisation said.

His poem, Everything is Going to be All Right, which he wrote during the pandemic, captured the national mood.

Born in Belfast in 1941, Mr Mahon lived in Kinsale for the past several decades.

He is widely regarded as one of the most talented and innovative Irish poets of the late 20th century.

He was best known for illuminating ordinary aspects of daily life through his skillfully crafted verse.

He attended the Royal Belfast Academic Institution.

After studying French at Trinity College, Dublin, he spent a year in France at the Sorbonne University.

He subsequently lived and worked in cities across the United States and Canada before moving to London to become a journalist.

His first collection, Twelve Poems, was published by the Belfast Festival at Queen's in 1965.

Oxford University Press then published his first major collection, Night Crossings, in 1968.

He went on to publish many collections of poems across a career that spanned 50 years.

The Gallery press, which published a number of works by Mr Mahon, described him as a "master poet" and a "pure artist".

They wrote on social media: “To his partner Sarah Iremonger and his children Rory, Katy and Maisie we send heartfelt condolences.

"We will miss him forever as a friend and beloved author. Peace to Derek’s beautiful mind.” Mr Mahon was a member of Aosdana, the Irish association of artists and had received numerous awards for his work.

He received the David Cohen Prize for Literature in 2007 in recognition of his work.

Mr Mahon will also be remembered for poems such as A Disused Shed in County Wexford, A Refusal to Mourn, Beyond Howth Head, The Hudson Letter and The Yellow Book.

BBC journalist Fergal Keane described the death as a "terrible loss".

"He was a master whose words reached me at the darkest moments of life," Keane said on social media.

The books editor of the Irish Times, Martin Doyle, called Mahon one of Ireland's finest poets.

Irish President Michael D Higgins said: “News of the death of Derek Mahon will be received with great sadness by his colleagues in Aosdána but also, and more widely, by those who understand what the loss of a great poet, with a body of work such as his, entails.

"Not so long ago one of his poems ‘A disused Shed in County Wexford’ was in contention as Ireland’s favourite poem. Derek Mahon’s body of work revealed a poet that could draw on an easy familiarity with the classics, but which brought to them a wit and freshness that was both perceptive and provocative in equal measure.

"He shared with his northern peers the capacity to link the classical and the contemporary but he brought also an edge that was unsparing of cruelty and wickedness."

He added: "The loss of Derek Mahon, yet another artist gone from us in recent times, is like the falling of oak trees. We are left with hope from the fruit of the acorns in which the writing and its encouragement represents as legacy.

"To his partner, family and many friends, Sabina and I send our deepest sympathy.”

Belfast Telegraph