Conleth O’Connor was born in Co Kildare in 1947.
His plays were produced in the 1970s by the Lantern Theatre, Dublin, including The Reincarnation of Mr Dogsbody; Two Letters; and Overtime. His novels are the unpublished Manus, and the unfinished Peregrine St John Corcoran.
His poetry collections are Trinities (Dublin, Profile Press, 1976); The Judas Cry (Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1979); Behind the Garden Gnomes (Raven Arts Press, 1982); and A Corpse Auditions Its Mourners, New & Selected Poems (Raven Arts Press, 1987). He was preparing a second new & selected poems before his death, published posthumously as Nights Without Stars Days Without Sun (Dublin, New Island Books, 1997).
He died in Dublin in 1993.
Appreciation: Conleth O’Connor
CONLETH O’CONNOR was a difficult poet, and in ways, he was a difficult man. Anyone who cared as he did – about people, poetry and principles – was bound to come across as such. He had his ghosts, as do we all, and there were times when they were too much for his sensitive nature to cope with; but to those who knew him well, he was also the most genuine, the gentlest, and funniest of men. He worried about many things – as to whether he was a good father, for instance; but he adored Breffni, his son.
Whether they realise it or not, many have benefitted from his practical abilities grounded in a former occupation as an accountant. He did much incisive committee work for the Irish Writers’ Union and Irish Writers’ Centre, and for Aosdána.
He cared passionately for the disadvantaged and neglected, for those who gave of themselves without stint, as he did, and for authentic genius. Beckett, Holub and Celan were among those few whom he revered, and a radio programme on Japanese poetry was a model of its kind. Outside literature, he loved painting and graphics, although again he was choosy. He had a high regard for the integrity of craftworkers, and the work of his wife Frances, a noted ceramicist, was a source of particular pride.
As for his own vocation, he was that provocative, lonely, and astringent voice so necessary for the health of poetry, producing a small but distinctive and original corpus. As such, he was classically neglected, although there was the occasional perceptive review from as far away as New Zealand, and one or two such in Ireland. Michael O’Loughlin noted in Books Ireland: “In his successful attempts at grafting an imported poetic technology on to a native temperament, Conleth O’Connor has managed to produce one of the most interesting and resonant bodies of work in the last decade.”
His recurring trinity of birth, sex and death harboured the banality of suburbia, the wildly funny, and the bizarre, as the title of his last book, A Corpse Auditions Its Mourners, suggests.
His last publication, Purdah, in memory of the artist Mary Earl Powers, appeared in this paper. He had fallen ill at her funeral 13 months before, but despite the prognosis, he fought back with amazing strength and courage. Most inspiring of all, he was writing again, with a new insight and power.
“Peace to his ashes.”
The Irish Times, June 10, 1993