seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Death of Poet Matthew Gerard Sweeney

Matthew Gerard Sweeney, Irish poet, dies at Cork University Hospital in Wilton, Cork on August 5, 2018. His work has been translated into Dutch, Italian, Hebrew, Japanese, Latvian, Mexican Spanish, Romanian, Slovakian and German.

Sweeney is born at Lifford, County Donegal, on October 6, 1952. Growing up in Clonmany, he attends Gormanston College (1965–70). He then reads sciences at University College Dublin (1970–72). He goes on to study German and English at the Polytechnic of North London, spending a year at the University of Freiburg, before graduating with a BA Honours degree in 1978.

Sweeney meets Rosemary Barber in 1972 and they marry in 1979. Two offspring – daughter Nico and son Malvin – are produced before the couple goes their separate ways in the early 21st century. Having lived in London for many years until 2001, he separates from Rosemary and goes to live in Timișoara, Romania and Berlin. In 2007, he meets his partner, Mary Noonan, and in early 2008 he moves to Cork to live with her there.

Sweeney produces numerous collections of poetry for which he wins several awards. His novels for children include The Snow Vulture (1992) and Fox (2002). He authors a satirical thriller, co-written with John Hartley Williams, and entitled Death Comes for the Poets (2012).

As Bill Swainson, Sweeney’s editor at Allison & Busby in the 1980s, recalls: “As well as writing his own poetry, Matthew was a great encourager of poetry in others. The workshops he animated, and later the residencies he undertook, were famous for their geniality and seriousness and fun. Sometime in the late 1980s I attended one of these workshops in an upstairs room of a pub in Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury, where the poems were circulated anonymously and carefully read and commented on by all. Around the pushed-together tables were Ruth Padel, Eva Salzman, Don Paterson, Maurice Riordan, Jo Shapcott, Lavinia Greenlaw, Michael Donaghy, Maura Dooley and Tim Dooley.” Sweeney later has residencies at the University of East Anglia and Southbank Centre, among many others. He reads at three Rotterdam Poetry Festivals, in 1998, 2003 and 2009.

According to the poet Gerard Smyth: “I always sensed that in the first instance [Sweeney] regarded himself as a European rather than an Irish poet – and rightly so: like the German Georg Trakl whom he admired he apprehended the world in a way that challenged our perceptions and commanded our attention.” Sweeney’s work has been considered “barely touched by the mainstream of English writing” and more so by the German writers Heinrich von Kleist, Georg Büchner, Franz Kafka, Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll, as well as the aforementioned Georg Trakl. According to Poetry International Web, he would be among the top five most famous Irish poets on the international scene.

Sweeney’s final year sees the publication of two new collections: My Life As A Painter (Bloodaxe Books) and King of a Rainy Country (Arc Publications), inspired by Charles Baudelaire‘s posthumously published Petits poèmes en prose.

Having been diagnosed with motor neuron disease the previous year, Sweeney dies at the age of 65 at Cork University Hospital on August 5, 2018, surrounded by family and friends. He continues writing up until three days before his death. In an interview shortly before his death he is quizzed on his legacy, to which he gives the response, “Mostly what awaits the poet is posthumous oblivion. Maybe there will be a young man in Hamburg, or Munich, or possibly Vienna, for whom my German translations will be for a while important – and might just contribute to him becoming a German language poet with Irish leanings.”

Among those attending a special ceremony on August 8, 2018 at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork to celebrate Sweeney’s life are fellow poets Jo Shapcott, Thomas McCarthy, Gerry Murphy, Maurice Riordan and Padraig Rooney. On August 9, 2018, he is buried in Clonmany New Cemetery in County Donegal.


Leave a comment

Birth of Irish Language Scholar Osborn Bergin

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100Osborn Joseph Bergin, a scholar of the Irish language and early Irish literature, is born in Cork, County Cork on November 26, 1873.

Bergin is the sixth child and eldest son of Osborn Roberts Bergin and Sarah Reddin, and is educated at Queen’s College Cork, now University College Cork. He then goes to Germany for advanced studies in Celtic languages, working with Heinrich Zimmer at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, now the Humboldt University of Berlin, and later with Rudolf Thurneysen at the University of Freiburg, where he writes his dissertation on palatalization in 1906. He then returns to Ireland and teaches at the School of Irish Learning and at University College Dublin.

Within one year of becoming Director of the School of Irish Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Bergin resigns both the senior professorship and his office of director. The reason for his resignation is never made public.

Bergin, who never uses the name Joseph except when signing with his initials, does not seem to have felt the need of institutional religion, and during his lifetime, he rarely attends religious services. He develops Irish nationalist sympathies and remains a firm nationalist all his life but without party affiliations. From the number of Irish-speakers living in Cork, he quickly masters the spoken Irish of West Munster. By 1897, his knowledge of spoken and literary Modern Irish is so strong that he is appointed lecturer in Celtic in Queen’s College, Cork. It is during this time that he becomes an active member of the Gaelic League.

Bergin publishes extensively in the journal for Irish scholarship, Ériu. He is best known for his discovery of Bergin’s Law, which states that while the normal order of a sentence in Old Irish is verb-subject-object, it is permissible for the verb, in the conjunct form, to be placed at the end of the sentence. His friend Frank O’Connor writes humorously that while he discovers the law “he never really believed in it.” He writes poetry in Irish and makes a number of well-received translations of Old Irish love poetry.

Bergin is celebrated in Brian O’Nolan‘s poem Binchy and Bergin and Best, originally printed in the Cruiskeen Lawn column in The Irish Times and now included in The Best of Myles. He is noted for his feuds with George Moore and William Butler Yeats, but he enjoys a lifelong friendship with George William Russell. Frank O’Connor describes Bergin’s eccentricities affectionately in his memoir My Father’s Son.

Osborn Bergin dies in a nursing home in Dublin at the age of 76 on October 6, 1950, having never married.