Brian Coffey, Irish poet and publisher, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin on June 8, 1905. His work is informed by his Catholicism and by his background in science and philosophy, and his connection to surrealism. For these reasons, he is seen as being closer to an intellectual European Catholic tradition than to mainstream Irish Catholic culture.
Coffey attends the Mount St. Benedict boarding school in Gorey, County Wexford from 1917 to 1919 and then Clongowes Wood College, in Clane, County Kildare from 1919 until 1922. In 1923, he goes to France to study for the Bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies at the Institution St. Vincent, Senlis, Oise. While still at college, Coffey begins writing poetry. He publishes his first poems in University College Dublin‘s The National Student under the pseudonym Coeuvre.
In the early 1930s, Coffey moves to Paris where he studies Physical Chemistry under Jean Baptiste Perrin, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926. He completes these studies in 1933, and his Three Poems is printed in Paris by Jeanette Monnier that same year. In 1934 he enters the Institut Catholique de Paris to work with the noted French philosopher Jacques Maritain, taking his licentiate examination in 1936. He then moves to London for a time and contributes reviews and a poem to T.S. Eliot‘s The Criterion magazine. He returns to Paris in 1937 as an exchange student to work on his doctoral thesis on the idea of order in the work of Thomas Aquinas. In 1938, Coffey’s second volume of poetry, Third Person, is published by George Reavey‘s Europa Press.
During the war, Coffey teaches in schools in London and Yorkshire, leaving his young family in Dublin. After the war, he returns to Paris and completes his doctoral thesis. The family then moves so that Coffey can take up a teaching post at the Jesuit Saint Louis University.
By the early 1950s, Coffey becomes uncomfortable for a number of reasons, including the nature of his work, his distance from Ireland and the pressures that inevitably come to bear on an academic who has previously associated with well-known left-wing writers in Paris. For these reasons, he resigns in 1952.
In 1952, Coffey returns to live in London and, from 1973, Southampton. He begins again to publish his poetry and translations, mainly of French poetry. The first work in English to appear after this period of silence is Missouri Sequence, apparently begun in St. Louis but first appearing in the University Review, later known as the Irish University Review, in 1962.
Over the next decade or so, he publishes regularly in the University Review. He also sets up his own publishing enterprise, Advent Press, which publishes work by himself and by younger writers he wants to support.
Brian Coffey dies at the age of 89 on April 14, 1995, and is buried in Southampton, England.