Northern Ireland

Poet Padraic Fiacc dies a week after visit by President Michael D Higgins

President Higgins visited Fiacc and read his latest poem 'The Prophets are Weeping' to him
President Higgins visited Fiacc and read his latest poem 'The Prophets are Weeping' to him

POET Pádraic Fiacc, who spent years in the literary wilderness, received a visit from President Michael D Higgins a week before his death aged 94.

The Irish American writer, born Patrick Joseph O'Connor, died peacefully at his care facility in south Belfast late on Monday.

He had been frail for some time and was unable to attend an exhibition at Linen Hall Library in Belfast in May which featured his significant body of work.

Dozens of images of him were displayed alongside his works and papers in the major retrospective.

On Sunday January 13, President Higgins visited Fiacc and read his latest poem 'The Prophets are Weeping' to him.

The president has described Pádraic Fiacc as producing poetry of "outstanding originality, where we encounter an honest confrontation with truth and an unflinching engagement with the reality of the everyday".

He presented Fiacc with a copy of his poem, printed on Uachtaráin na hÉireann gold embossed paper and inscribed with a personal message from the president.

President Higgins read one of Fiacc's poems to him and gave him a piece of expertly worked wood, also embossed with 'The Prophets are Weeping' poem.

According to friend and collaborator Michael McKernon, Fiacc was able to say he was "very moved by the visit" and that the poem "struck a resonance with him because it was about the suffering of people in the face of conflict".

The visit was a tribute to the poet, who was born in Belfast in 1924, and is regarded as reinforcing Fiacc's contribution to the Irish literary tradition.

Fiacc lived his maternal grandparents in the Markets area of south Belfast until his family emigrated to the US in the late 1920s where he grew up in Hell's Kitchen, New York City.

He returned to Belfast in 1946 where he lived for four years before returning to New York in 1950.

Fiacc, who summed up his philosophy of life in the contention that “war and poverty are crimes against humanity”, achieved acclaim when he was published in New York in 1948 and won the George Russell (Memorial) Award in the late 1950s.

Local poets would gather at his home in Glengormley on the outskirts of north Belfast and former hostage and writer Brian Keenan wrote his university thesis on Fiacc.

According to Mr McKernon that changed with the outbreak of the Troubles.

"People have said Fiacc saw an opportunity for self-aggrandisement and self-promotion when he wrote poems about the Troubles," he said.

"But those critics missed the sensitive, empathetic heart of Pádraic Fiacc with people undergoing trauma."

He had empathy for soldiers and for civilians, for policemen, "for everyone who was heard", Mr McKernon said.

"He wrote the biggest body of work about the conflict and suffered the traumatic situation of being ostracised by the official arts scene, although he had a group of close friends who supported him," he added.