A TRIBUTE TO MATTHEW SWEENEY

September 25, 2018

Everyone at Keats-Shelley House and the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association was deeply saddened by the death of Matthew Sweeney on 5th August, aged 66.

In addition to being one of Ireland's finest modern poets, Matthew had since 1999 been a Poetry Judge for the Keats-Shelley Prize, when he shared duties with Alan Jenkins.

Born in Lifford, County Donegal on 6th October 1952, he lived in Cork, but had previously worked throughout Europe, from London to Romania.

His first collection, A Dream House, was published in 1981, and was followed by A Round House, which won the Piggot Prize, and Blue Shoes. 2007's Black Moon was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and the Poetry Now Award. His most recent publications included Horse Music and Inquisition Lane, and a satirical novel written in collaboration with fellow Keats-Shelley Poetry Judge, John Hartley Williams. Matthew's most recent collection My Life as a Painter was published in April. Speaking to The Irish Examiner at its launch, Matthew who had been suffering from motor neurone disease addressed the topic of death directly: 'Mortality has always been part of the subject of poetry but is best not dealt with too directly. Derek Mahon in his celebrated poem for Albert Camus, “Death and the Sun”, warns about looking at those two fellows head on. Metaphor is one’s ally here, that and imagery. Like most people I prefer not to dwell on my inevitable demise. Where the poems take me is another matter.'

Despite his illness, Matthew attended the most recent Keats-Shelley Awards Ceremony in May.


Poet Theo Dorgan described Matthew as ‘one of the finest poets of his generation, a craftsman of the highest achievement, with a distinct music all his own.’

'Poetry was his whole life,' said his friend and fellow poet Gerry Murphy. 

'He was a true poet who knew how to place the best words across the white page like first footprints on snow. Even his darkest lines had a twinkle in their eye,' Ian McMillan wrote on Twitter.

The last word belongs to Matthew himself. 'Poetry has been central to my life,' he told The Irish Examiner in April. 'Despite the lack of money it brings, I would do it all over again.'

You can read the full Irish Examiner interview here.

Read Matthew's advice to young writers on the Keats-Shelley Blog.

Read his wonderful, sad poem 'Dialogue with an Artist' at the Poetry Foundation.