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Poet and writer Seamus Deane dies aged 81


Respected: Seamus Deane was close friend of Seamus Heaney. Credit: Martin McKeown

Respected: Seamus Deane was close friend of Seamus Heaney. Credit: Martin McKeown

Respected: Seamus Deane was close friend of Seamus Heaney. Credit: Martin McKeown

Tributes have been paid to poet and writer Seamus Deane, who has been described as an Irish “literary giant” after his death at the age of 81.

Mr Deane was born in Londonderry in 1940.

He attended St Columb’s College in Derry, where he became a life-long friend with the late Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney.

The author passed away in hospital on Tuesday following a short illness.

Tributes were led by Irish President Michael D Higgins.

He described Mr Deane’s passing as an “incalculable loss to Irish writing". 

Mr Deane’s debut novel Reading In The Dark, which was inspired by his own life and experiences, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

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The work won The Irish Times International Fiction Prize and The Irish Literature Prize in 1997.

The Irish literary critic, who achieved a PhD at Cambridge, enjoyed a distinguished career in academia.

Until 1993 he was Professor of Modern English and American Literature at University College Dublin.

In the late 1970s and 1980s he taught American college juniors part-time at the School of Irish Studies in Ballsbridge.

He also taught the late Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Mr Deane was a prominent member of the Field Day Theatre Company, which was founded in 1980 by Co Tyrone playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea.

He was general editor of the Field Day Anthology Of Irish Writing, published in 1999.

President Higgins added that he was a "distinguished poet, novelist and internationally acclaimed university teacher".

"To Derry, he leaves the incomparable legacy of the life, the writing, the concerns, the despair and the hope, that he shared with its people and to which so much of the work would respond," said Mr Higgins.

"Few cities have a writer more embedded in its people, its history, its challenges, its hopes and its humour.

"There are, to me, parallels between Seamus Deane's relationship to Derry and, in his time, Sean O'Casey's relationship to Dublin in the way the full experience of its peoples are placed at the centre of the writing.”

The estate of Seamus Heaney also paid tribute.

It said in a tweet: “We are incredibly saddened to hear of the death of the poet, critic and academic Seamus Deane.

"He was one of Seamus Heaney’s oldest friends, from their school days at St Columb's College in Derry, through the rest of their lives. Rest in peace.”

Roisin McDonough, chief executive of the Arts Council, on Thursday summed up the author’s contribution to the literary world.

“It’s a rare thing to excel as a poet, or a novelist, a critic or an editor, a teacher or a scholar,” she said. 

"Seamus Deane was all of these. He was a remarkable individual, gifted with creativity and intelligence, who lived a significant life in the arts and who will long be remembered for his contribution to the culture of these islands.”

Veteran politician and former Belfast Telegraph columnist Eamonn McCann, also a contemporary of Mr Deane back in his school and university days, described him as a “literary giant”.

"I had huge respect for him as a writer and I also liked him very much as a human being,” he told BBC Radio Foyle.

Mr Deane is survived by his partner, author and academic Emer Nolan; their daughter Iseult; his former wife Marion and their children Conor, Ciarán, Cormac and Emer.

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