PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins paid tribute to Limerick poet Desmond O’Grady as “great, warm and wonderful” as he unveiled a plaque in his honour.
President Higgins was speaking at the White House Pub, where O’Grady gave his first reading 60 years ago.
The event was organised by the Limerick Writers’ Centre as a tribute Mr O’Grady - who died in August aged 78 .
A personal friend of Mr O’Grady’s, President Higgins recalled receiving postcards from the emigrant poet, who worked as a teacher and writer in Rome and Paris, and taught in Cairo.
“Desmond O’Grady’s commitment to poetry and to the arts in general, and his contribution to the cultural dimension of Irish society, was immense,” said the President.
“His legacy is a great and enduring one and he will be remembered as a gifted poet, an intuitive translator and of course as a generous friend to Ireland’s artistic community through his active role in the founding of Aosdána.
“He remained loyal to the county of his birth, and indeed to the White House Pub where he gave his first reading sixty years ago.
“I know he was an enthusiastic patron of the weekly readings which have been held here for over ten years and was, indeed, the first guest at the White House poetry night in 2003.”
Unveiling the plaque, President Higgins added: “It is uplifting to know that, just as he did not forget Limerick, Limerick has not forgotten him.
“This plaque will stand as testament to the man who Seamus Heaney described as ‘one of the senior figures in Irish literary life’, and to a poet whose dedication to his art has made its own unique contribution to Ireland’s international reputation for literary excellence.”
Speaking to the assembled crowd in the O’Connell Street pub, which included Mayor Kevin Sheahan, writers, poets and members of the O’Grady family, Desmond’s son Leonardo said it was a “great honour” to see the plaque unveiled.
“I have to say that Desmond, while being international, has always been definitively a Limerick man,” said his son.
Three students from University of Limerick read poems in Italian, Arabic and Greek - as well as English - to mark O’Grady’s prowess as a translator of literary works, while Dominic Taylor of the Writers’ Centre said the plaque would add to Limerick’s growing literary trail.
“Desmond has often been considered an outsider in Irish poetry, he left at a very young age in 1961 and he had been forgotten about to a certain extent,” he said.
“We felt that, if we didn’t do something immediately when he departed us, that it would never have been done and he would have been totally forgotten,” he added.