Robert Greacen

'We will miss the urbane, courteous intelligence that formed the basis of Robert's quiet-toned, always engaging poetry'

Poet Robert Greacen died in Dublin on Sunday April 13, 2008, at the age of 87. His last book, Robert Greacen: New and Selected Poems (Salmon) was published in 2006.

Though he grew up on the Stranmillis Road in Belfast and spent much of his childhood in Co Monaghan, Greacen was born in Derry on October 24, 1920.

A stranger among strangers
I look for my house of birth.
Pulled down years ago.
I show the paper: ‘I certify …’
Ich bin ein Derryman 

(from ‘Homecomings’)

Greacen was educated at Methodist College, Belfast and later studied at Trinity College, Dublin. As a student he began to publish his poems and essays and developed a left-wing sensibility which he retained throughout his life.

Bust of Robert Greacen, by Robin BuickFor many years he lived in London working in both journalism and in adult education. Among his collections of poetry are The Bird (1941), One Recent Evening (1944) and The Undying Day (1948).

With Valentin Iremonger he edited the Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry (1949) and wrote studies of CP Snow (1952) and Noel Coward (1953). 

In 1975, Greacen returned to poetry with A Garland For Captain Fox (Gallery), in which the enigmatic eponymous hero - a dashing alter-ego for the quiet and unassuming writer - wittily undercuts and exposes the platitudes and lazy corruption of modern life. 

Other collections followed, most notably Young Mr Gibbon (1979), A Bright Mask (1985) and Protestant Without A Horse (1997).

Without Irene (Dolmen, 1969) was an autobiographical memoir reissued by Lagan Press in Belfast in 1995, as a new generation of Ulster writers discovered the laconic, wry and urbane Greacen and sought in his biography a source for the extraordinarily contemporary voice found in his Collected Poems, 1944-1994 (Lagan Press).
This volume won the Irish Times Literature Prize for Poetry in 1995. An expanded version of the memoir was published as The Sash My Father Wore in 1997.

'The Sash My Father Wore', by Robert GreacenIn later years Greacen moved to Dublin. 'We will miss the urbane, courteous intelligence that formed the basis of Robert's quiet-toned, always engaging poetry,' said Professor Terence Brown of Trinity College, Dublin.

A member of Aosdána, an exclusive gathering of fewer than 250 artists who have made an impact in the arts in Ireland, Greacen was one of a generation which marked a revival of literature from and in Northern Ireland. 

Other members of this post-war group included Michael McLaverty, Sam Hanna Bell, Roy McFadden, John Boyd and Joseph Tomelty, which he recalled in his study Rooted in Ulster: Nine Ulster Lives (2000).

Greacen was married to children’s author Patricia Hutchins and is survived by his daughter Arethusa Greacen.

A most civilised man, Captain Fox,
discreet, solid, reliable.

His business isn’t my business. 

(from ’Captain Fox’)

Hugh McFadden writes:

I got to know Robert in Dublin after he returned to Ireland from London. He was a kind, gentle, courteous man and a fine poet. We often talked about his earlier literary career and about that earlier generation of writers from Northern Ireland who were his contemporaries and friends, including my namesake Roy McFadden (no relation) and others such as Sam Hanna Bell, John Boyd and Michael McLaverty. We talked also about his years in Dublin during the late 1940s to early 50s, when he knew Val Iremonger and Patrick Kavanagh, and of his days in London, too.

Robert recommended my Selected Poems, Elegies & Epiphanies in 2005, when it was published by Lagan Press of Belfast. We had a number of things in common, including the fact that both of us were born in Derry, although he was born there more than two decades before me. I shall miss his company and his intelligent companionship. May he rest in peace.