Accolades for late poet Thomas Kinsella over ‘excellence that did not know borders’

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to the poet Thomas Kinsella, who has died aged 93.

Mr Higgins said that in addition to Kinsella’s rich contribution to the school syllabus for generations of students, with poems such as Another September and Mirror in February, his work retained a fierce urgency and relevance.

“All those with a love of Irish poetry and culture will be saddened to have learned today of the death of Thomas Kinsella, one of Ireland’s finest poets,” the President said.

“His reputation at home and abroad was one of being of a school that sought an excellence that did not know borders.”

Mr Higgins said Kinsella’s poetry tackled “the gap between the aspirations of what Irish society should be and that which he saw before him. That ethical pursuit was attempted through rigorously honed lines.

“I had the great pleasure in being present for one of Thomas’s last public engagements, when we visited his old primary school, Model School, Inchicore, in 2019, a place like so many in his native Dublin 8 that he immortalised in his work. He remained to the end a truly remarkable man with a special grace.”

Kinsella belonged to the great tradition of Irish writers who doubled up as public servants, working in the Department of Finance alongside TK Whitaker, before emigrating to the US in 1965 where he lectured for many years.


Among his many honours, Kinsella was made a Freeman of Dublin in 2007. Dublin’s Lord Mayor Alison Gilliland announced that the Dublin flags on the Mansion House and City Hall would fly at half-mast to mark his passing.

In 2018, Trinity College Dublin conferred him with a Doctor in Letters for his lifetime achievement “as one of Ireland’s major 20th-century poets”. He also received the Ulysses medal from UCD, where he studied.

Kinsella was acclaimed for his translations from early Irish, notably his version of The Táin (1969), in a collaboration with the artist Louis le Brocquy, and An Duanaire: 1600-1900, Poems of the Dispossessed (1981).

In 1972, he founded Peppercanister Press, whose first publication was Butcher’s Dozen, his satirical response to Britain’s Widgery Tribunal which had whitewashed the British army massacre of civil rights protesters in Derry on Bloody Sunday. A central presence in many poems was his wife and muse, Eleanor, who died in 2017. He is survived by his daughters Sarah and Mary, son John, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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