Northern Ireland news

Tributes paid to Co Tyrone poet John Montague (87) after he dies in France

Poet John Montague, left, with Seamus Heaney 
Jennifer Maloney, John Monaghan and Catherine Wyatt, Press Association

IRISH president Michael D Higgins has led tributes to Co Tyrone poet John Montague who has died aged 87.

Mr Montague, who had been living in France, was born in New York in 1929 but moved to Garvaghey, Co Tyrone at the age of four.

His work included numerous collections of poetry and prose, including The Rough Field, published in 1972.

Mr Montague, who was Ireland's first professor of poetry, died early on Saturday in Nice, France, after undergoing major intestinal surgery, the Irish Times reported.

His widow, American novelist Elizabeth Wassell, told the paper: "On Thursday night we were sitting so closely. We were both lonely when we were apart.

"I suggested to John that it was a second courtship for us. He smiled warmly."

Roger Lomas who now lives in the Co Tyrone house in which the poet grew up and whose wife is the poet's grand-niece said: “Saddened to hear of the passing of our great-uncle John Montague, who was brought up in his early childhood in the very house that is now our family home.”

President Higgins said Mr Montague was "one of our finest poets and the first Ireland Professor of Poetry, and just recently honoured at the Irish Book Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to literature."

He added: The death of John Montague represents another great loss to Irish letters, a further break with a rich body of work that was the gift of poets and dramatists, to Ulster, Ireland and the world.

"All of the themes of the last century are engaged in John Montague’s work – separation, exile, memory, conflict, the making and teaching of poems in academic settings far and wide, and the challenge of their delivery, generously undertaken in a myriad of settlings.

His work, which includes magnificent love poems and which indeed show a love of the world in all its curiosity, was immense.

"John Montague produced a body of work that was recognised by his peers as of the finest kind – lines hewn out of experience as if granite, nothing avoided or evaded, and this writing went on to the end."

He added: "Familiar with the literature of other languages, he was a careful translator and source of encouragement to others.

"His wry, self-deprecating company, his humour, his openness to opposite opinions, will be missed by all of us who were privileged to be his friends – and so many were.”

Orlaith McBride, director of the Arts Council Ireland tweeted: “Saddened on behalf of the Arts Council Ireland to learn of the death of John Montague... a true loss to Irish literature.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness tweeted: "Sad to hear one of Ireland's greatest poets, John Montague has died. Born in the United States, Ireland tugged at his heartstrings."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who attended his lectures as a student in Cork, said: “John Montague was influential in nurturing a new generation of poets in Ireland in the 1970s and his legacy will live on long after his death."

His funeral is expected to take place in Garvaghey although arrangements are still being finalised

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