President Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to Desmond O’Grady, who passed away today aged 78, describing him as one of Ireland’s best-known poets.
Dubbed ‘the great outsider’ due to the recognition he received overseas , Mr O’Grady produced 19 collections of poems and translations and rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest names in the Irish and European arts scene, including Samuel Beckett, Pablo Picasso, Federico Fellini, Ezra Pound and Jean Paul Sartre.
He also appeared in a scene in the 1960 Oscar-winning blockbuster La Dolce Vita, alongside the film’s star Anita Ekberg.
Born in Limerick in 1935, Mr O’Grady went to secondary school at the Cistercian College Roscrea before leaving Ireland at the age of just 18 to embark on a six decade-long career which saw him take up residence in a number of cities including Paris and Rome, as well as stints in Greece, north Africa and the US.
President Higgins said Mr O’Grady was “deeply committed” to his work as a poet which he said “had rightly received international attention” and paid tribute to his sense of humour.
“From wherever he was writing, be it Cairo or Kinsale, his work invoked a sense of what was Irish in both heritage and contemporary life,” President Higgins said.
“He leaves a fine collection of work, reflecting both his migrant experience and his affection for his homeland, that will be studied and cherished by future generations. Those of us who knew him as a friend will never forget his rich sense of humour and his deep commitment to friendships which he valued and enriched,” he added.
Mr O’Grady’s daughter Deirdre said her father embraced “a Bohemian lifestyle” and lived a life dedicated to his work, poetry and the arts and became a contemporary to some of the greatest names in literature.
“He left Ireland when he was 18 and went to Paris, and from there he travelled the world. He had a few pounds in his pocket at the time and thought he would give it a go. He got in with all the literati and, of course, he was very charming.
She added: “He was the young pretender out to follow in their footsteps. They really took to him.”
Mr O’Grady had three children and six grandchildren. He returned to Ireland and had been living in Kinsale until recently when his health began to fail. He died today, two days before his 79th birthday.