Wednesday, December 28, 2016

RIP Anthony Cronin

The Irish poet, biographer, social critic and all-round public intellectual Anthony Cronin has died aged eighty-eight.

RTE says in its report on his death In part it was due to his indignation that another poet of genius, Patrick Kavanagh, as well as many of Kavanagh’s contemporaries in other arts, such as the composer Frederick May, were reduced to poverty and treated as little better than outlaws. Oops. I don't think that's what they meant to say. I wonder how long it will take them to spot it?

Anthony Cronin wrote an excellent biography of Myles Na Gopaleen, one of my favourite writers, and a memoir of the literary clique to which they both belonged entitled Dead as Doornails, which I've read twice. (Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and J.P. Donleavy were also members.)

In Dead as Doornails, Cronin tried to de-romantize an era and an environment that has passed into Irish folklore-- the era of the hard-drinking literary set who loitered in Dublin pubs in the nineteen forties and fifties. Of course, he only succeeds in making it even more romantic.

Cronin, to a great extent, was an opponent of everything I hold dear in Irish history and culture-- he was critical of the Gaelic Revival and of romantic nationalism, of the Catholic Church, of populist views of art and literature, of censorship on the ground of public morals, and so forth.

And yet he was an example of that creature which was common enough in Irish life, but which is almost extinct now-- that is, the 'public intellectual', a person who was as interested in literature, philosophy and ideas in general, as he was in politics. Irish public intellectuals were nearly always anti-nationalist and anti-Catholic, but the very fact that they took things like religion (or 'spirituality'), literature, national culture, and so forth, so seriously enriched our national life. Fintan O'Toole is a living example-- I disagree with everything he writes, but at least he has some sense of intellectual and cultural seriousness, one that goes beyond sloganeering.

Anthony Cronin was also a fairly accomplished poet, and he took poetry seriously. He wrote articles on great poems for the newspapers, and he had good taste in poetry-- despite his anti-bourgeois rhetoric, they were very often traditionally popular poems. So he was a champion of poetry in mainstream life, which is much to be applauded.

Finally, he was a newspaper columnist, a person who commented on The State of the Nation. Such people always impress me. His collection of columns An Irish Eye was one of the books that gave me my abiding love of the essay format-- since newspaper columns are essentially essays.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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