Dermot Healy, one of Ireland’s great contemporary men of letters, passed away June 29. Healy’s sudden death at the early age of 66 came as a shock to many, but his artistic output in those years will live on for many years to come.
Healy was a poet, playwright, memoirist and fiction writer whose work was regarded for its originality, depth of feeling, and psychological insight. The Irish Times described his writing as “vivid and dreamlike with a generous helping of nightmare, Healy understood how the human mind ebbs and flows, invariably at the mercy that come and can only be held at bay with liquor.” His style was original and his work has been compared with the likes of Samuel Beckett, Flann O’Brien, and Ernest Hemingway with the late Seamus Heaney deeming him “the heir of Patrick Cavanaugh.”
Healy was born in Finnea, County Westmeath in 1947. His father was a policeman who worked near the border of Northern Ireland and as a result his childhood was one of constant upheaval. In his widely acclaimed memoir The Bend for Home (1996) he would write eloquently of his turbulent early life, telling The Guardian in 2011 that “it was a leap from a village to a town, from a familiar world to an alien one.” School life proved just as tumultuous as Healy was expelled from school at age 15, later returning to study for a BA at University College Dublin only to drop out at the end of his first year. From there, Healy worked as a security guard at Heathrow airport and then spent fifteen years in London working odd jobs, but always keeping up his writing. He released his first book of short stories Banished Misfortune in 1982 and travelled between Belfast and Sligo before finally settling down permanently in Ballyconnell, Co. Sligo.
It was in Sligo where some of his best works were completed including The Bend for Home and A Goat’s Song(1994). Patrick McCabe called The Bend for Home “probably the finest memoir written in Ireland in the last 50 years” and Anne Enright commented that A Goat’s Song was “one of the big Irish novels…a wrangle, an existential tussle, one of those books that makes its own language.” Healy was also a noted poet and playwright, his last completed work was the poetry collection “A Fool’s Errand” in 2011 that had taken over 12 years to write and his plays included The Long Swim and On Broken Wings. Throughout his career he received the Hennessy, the Tom Gallon and the Encore literary prizes. He is survived by his wife Helen and two children.
Upon hearing of his death, Ireland and the world continued to mourn the loss of Dermot Healy. President Michael D. Higgins said of Dermot that he was a “prolific and most original poet, novelist, and playwright” adding he “had received the recognition and tributes which his work long deserved.” Minister of Arts Jimmy Deenihan released a touching tribute to the legacy of Healy remarking he was a “wonderful” talent and that he will be “remembered alongside the greatest Irish writers of any age.”