LOCALS knew him as ‘an absolute gentleman’ but in the world of letters John Montague, who died on Saturday 10th, was known as ‘a poet who gave history a voice.’
The Ulster-born poet lived in many places and made many friends, but it was at his rural idyll at Letter, two miles out the Durrus Road in Ballydehob, and his equally charming bolthole in Nice, that drew him most.
But at the age of 87, he and his wife, the American novelist, Elizabeth Wassell, had decided to sell their West Cork retreat, and local auctioneer, Martin Swanton, confirmed it was sold it at the end of November.
‘They hadn’t been here for a number of years so they decided to sell the house that John had bought over 40 years ago. John loved its traditional, country house style, its big open fireplace, and its open beam ceilings.
‘But what drew him to Ballydehob initially was the people,’ he noted. In the company of his great friend, the late John Verling, an artist, John Montague loved frequenting “Gabes”, which was owned by Gabe Hannon, another lifelong lover of art, music and literature.
Montague had published more than 30 books of poetry, essays and short stories and was presented with numerous awards here in Ireland and abroad, including France’s highest civil award, the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.
The fact that he taught at University College Cork from 1973 until the late 1980s also helped to shape a whole new generation of Irish poets.
In a tribute piece, poet Paul Muldoon wrote: ‘John Montague helped broaden the range of Irish poetry in the second half of the 20th century.’ Photographer, John Minihane, who visited John and Elizabeth in Nice in July, told The Southern Star: ‘Like everybody, I will dearly miss John. At times, he could be very mischievous, but he was never boring.’