Seamus Heaney’s tribute to Dennis O’Driscoll in Saturday’s Guardian (January 5th), published in the book review’s regular feature entitled “My Hero”, is short and worth quoting in full:
Early on he wrote to Enid Blyton and WH Auden and received replies from both. In later years he conducted correspondences with George Mackay Brown, Michael Hamburger and Les Murray, although he was equally in touch with poetry and poets in eastern Europe and the United States. Dennis O’Driscoll, who died suddenly on Christmas Eve aged 58, was utterly devoted to the art. Not only was he constant in his dedication to his own work, he also acted as mentor and sounding board to beginners and established figures alike. Modest to a fault, he would have shrugged off the hero word.
Yet there was heroic virtue in the man, in the way he answered the demands of his day job as a civil servant and then devoted what ought to have been free time for his own work to responding to the work of others. He was like Yeats’s “man of a passionate serving kind”, never self-promoting or seeking the limelight but constantly being sought. Recently, for example, he devoted years to collaborating with me on a book I needed to write but one that, without Dennis as interviewer, might never have got written.
He once described himself as “Lord of the Files”, alluding to his long years in the office, but the title also described a poet whose work took cognizance of a new Ireland, a country moving from Sunday Mass to the shopping mall, from the divine presence to the Dawkins absence. The life of the commuter, the treadmill of the bureaucrat, the preening of the new developer class, the world of the business conferences and executive lounges – all this was common in experience but uncommon in books of Irish poetry until he devoted himself to it.
Dennis was beloved by his friends for his originality as a poet, his acuity as a critic, his probity and courage and merriment as a man. He was also one of the very few worthy of the tribute Auden once paid to Eliot: “So long as one was in his presence one felt it was impossible to say or do anything base.”