Michael Davitt

Life
1950-2005 [Micheál Davitt]; b. 20 April, in Cork; third child of Joe Davitt, a bus-conductor, and his wife Hilda, who was from Stoke-on-Trent; ed. North Monastery, Co. Tipperary, where he was taught by Dr. S. E. Ó Cearbhaill, and later at UCC [ Celtic Studies]; infl. by Prof. Seán Ó Tuama and by Seán Ó Ríordáin, then in the department; guitarist known for rendering of Bob Dylan songs; organised march against Dept. of Education plans to close Scoil Dhún Chaoin, Co Kerry; responds poetically to influence of Beat generation and popular culture and fnd., with others, Innti, 1970; directed Gael Linn’s Slógadh Youth Festival, 1974-78; moved to RTÉ as a reporter and presenter; issued Gleann ar Ghleann (1982), a first poetry collection; also Bligeard Bráide (1983) and An Tost á Scagadh (1993); ed., Innti 14 (1994); his poems have been translation by Paul Muldoon and Dermot Bolger; issued Lipstick on the Host (London: Vintage 1998), 304pp., pb., stories; conducted public relations for Gael Linn during the 1970s and worked in RTE during the 1980s; producer-director of RTÉ books programme ‘Undercover’; retired from RTE to write; issued Scuais (1998), poems; a Corca Dhuibhne Gaeltacht, he lived in Ireland and later part time in France; issued Fardoras (2004) [anglic. lintel]; d. 19 June 2005, in Sligo; m. Máire, with whom three children; later lived with partner Moira Sweeney. OCIL FDA

[ top ]

Works
‘Iar-fhocal le’ [Afterword] to Dermot Bolger, ed., Padraic Pearse, Rogha Dánta/Selected Poems, with foreword by Eugene MacCabe (New Island Bks. 1994) [reviewed Poetry Ireland, 41, Spring 1994]; contrib. to Gabriel Rosenstock & Gearailt Mac Eoin, eds., Byzantium (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnachta 1991) [poems of W. B. Yeats]; Fardoras (Cló Iar-Chonnachta 2004), 101pp. Michael Davitt, Dánta: 1966-1998 (Coiscéim 2005), 218pp. Also Sruth na Maoile (Coiscéim; [q.d.]).

Contribs., “Revival”; “Marcaíocht roimh Aifreann”; “Slán; Tina G”; “Faoi Anáil”; “File gan Seift”; in Fortnight 333 (Nov. 1994), p.49 [“New Poems”]; marginal note records that Alan Titley spoke of the pungency and sass of his style and wordhoard; ded. to Sean Ó Tuama: ‘when Irish poets were engaged in a type of abstract writing such as practised by many Latin authors in the middle ages, Davitt led the young poets in another direction, he was their pied piper’

Miscellaneous, [ed.], Lipstick on the Host (London: Vintage 1998), 304pp., pb., stories.

[ top ]

Criticism
Frank Sewell, ‘Between Two Languages: Poetry in Irish, English and Irish English’, in Matthew Campbell, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry (Cambridge UP 2003), pp.149-68; See also Pól Ó Muirí reviews An Tost a Scagadh (Coiscéim), and Davitt with Iaian MacDhomhnaill, eds., Sruth an Maoile: Modern Gaelic Poetry from Scotland and Ireland Coiscéim/Canongate), in Fortnight, Dec. 1994, p.46; Máirín Nic Eoin, review of Fardoras, in The Irish Times (4 Sept.2004), Weekend.

[ top ]

Commentary
Máirín Nic Eoin, ‘One journey, two roads’, review of Michael Davitt, Fardoras, in The Irish Times, 4 Sept.2004), Weekend: ‘[...] The dominant mood throughout the collection is elegiac, best represented in poems such as “Treabhsar m’Athar”, where an item of apparel can reflect the value system of a whole generation. Even the humorous satirical poems for which Davitt is well-known - a good example from this collection being “em … tv” - fail to disguise an element of nostalgia for a former era, before the Irish became big-time consumers, tainted by their exposure to, and desire for, commercial globalised cultural products. The irony of using the zapper to escape from Rupert Mutdoch’s Sky News, only to discover that all TG4 can offer at the time is an an American produced Western, is not lost on the poet as critic. One feels, however, that the kind of critique offered in the poem “Sínte Fada” gives little recognitio to the various levels of contemporary cultural confusion and less still to their fundamental causes. This poem refers to the mis-spelling on a public signpost of the placename Móta (where it appeared as Motá) and such an example of official carelessness is then laid at the door of our political leaders, “An teashock, An Tawnishita,/ is Na Tocktee Dawla uile sa Dawl./ idir Feena Gale is Feena Fawl”, who are in turn implicated in the colonisation of Bray Town Hall by McDonald’s. The poem goers on to ridicule the kinds of English and Irish now spoken in Ireland. People who say “Cheers”, “Oh My God!”, or “I was, like ...” are only as annoying.as those whose grammatically inaccurate Irish, as exemplified in phrases such as “Cad a bhfuil sé” or”An rud gur féidir a dhéanamh”, grates on the ear of the linguistically discerning poet. Before the end of this poem the poet has rehearsed his response to a query about his way of life posed by a fellow-passenger on a train: “and before you tell me / that you’re basically in favour / but it was beten into you in school / I want to say that I’m allergic to people like you!” We are then presented with an image from a Sky News bulletin viewed on a television screen (located as a queue pacifier in the bank) of the bombing of Afghanistan and the surreal face of Tony Blair emerging as the pacifier of the Arab World, before being reminded of the cause of the Irritation in the first place, that errant síneadh on a signpost. Such juxtapositions, while they create a humorous impression, are far less effective than those presented in the more politically focused “Deora do Mheiriceá” (which seeks to contextualise the bombing of the Twin Towers) or in the jocose ‘52 Focal Comhairle don Ábhar File” (which ends with the following acceptance of changing linguistic standards: “Féach ar an gcaighdéan mar chárta credmheasa /Féach ar an gcríol mar chash / Iompaigh gach ar múineadh riamh duit / Droim ar ais”).’

Obituary (n.a.; Irish Times, 25 June 2005): ‘[...] Davitt was to discover himself in Irish and mould his adult life according to the language's cadences. [...] The poet Seán Ó Ríordáin worked in the department [at UCC], the pioneering influence of the musician Seán Ó Riada was ever present, and Prof Seán Ó Tuama offered Davitt profound intellectual stimulus. / All three were steeped in the Irish language, but each in his own way sought to modernise and to re-invigorate tradition - Ó Ríordáin through his poetry, Ó Riada through music and Ó Tuama through literary criticism. / It is no surprise then that Davitt embraced this trinity of creativity in his own time. Poetry was his calling and the Munster dialect his medium; he was an accomplished guitar player (famed for his renditions of Bob Dylan songs) and, as a critic, he was never afraid to ask hard questions; be it in private conversation, in print or as a television producer. / He was not a prolific poet and his first collection, Gleann ar Ghleann, did not appear until 1982. Thereafter, he published another five volumes. However, each of Davitt's books was an event, an occasion to be cherished. / Davitt's work is the gold-standard of contemporary poetry. Few can match the originality of his language or the heart-wrenching compassion he displayed in so many poems. [...; &c.]

Notes
Obituary tributes: John O’Donoghue [Irish Minister for Arts, Sport & Tourism] called Davitt ‘the Bob Dylan of the Irish language’ in an obituary tribute: ‘He was central to the transformation of the Irish language into a form which allowed true expression of contemporary Ireland. The Blaskets and the Kerry Gaeltacht opened Michael’s imagination and were always at the heart of his writings. The Irish language has lost a true champion and hero.’ Alan Titley called him ‘the driving force behind modern Irish-language poetry. He drew poets from all around Ireland like a magnet. He believed in the creativity of the Irish language and encouraged others to believe in it.’ (Irish Times, 21 June 2005.)

[ top ]