Valentin Iremonger (1918-91)


Life
b. Sandymount, Dublin; ed. Christian Brothers, Synge St., and Coláiste Mhuire; trained at the Abbey School of Acting; joined Abbey Company, 1939-40; moved to Gate, 1942-44; won AE Award, 1945; joined Foreign Service [Foreign Affairs], 1946; suspended on writing letter to Irish Times deploring American incarceration of Ezra Pound in St. Elizabeth’s Mental Asylum, and again for publicly demonstrating from the audience with Roger McHugh against low standard of production of Plough and the Stars, Nov. 1947; posted with Ministry for Local Government and acted as Private Secretary to Seán McBride, then minister for the Department of External Affairs, in 1949; estab. Envoy with John Ryan and J. K. Hillmann, Dec. 1949; later appt. Ambassador to Sweden, 1964-68; India, 1968-73; Luxembourg, 1973-79; then Portugal until retirement in 1980;
 
with Robert Greacen, ed. Contemporary Irish Poetry (1949); served as poetry editor of Envoy, 1949-5 - the magazine that issued his first collection, Reservations (1950); prob. author of profile of Kavanagh in The Leader, leading to an unsuccessful suit by the poet in Feb. 1954; appt. Ambassador to Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, 1954; unhappy as ambassador in posts outside of London; increasingly alcoholic; trans. into English Micí Mac Gabhann’s Rothaí Mor an tSaoil as The Hard Road to Klondike (1962), and Dónal Mac Amhlaigh’s Dialann Deoraí as An Irish Navvy (1964);
 
obliged by illness to hand over editorship of Faber Book of Irish Verse to John Montague, 1967; issued Reservations (1950), and later Horan’s Field and Other Poems (1972), a selection of his poetry; survived by Sheila Iremonger; his “Icarus” poem has been anthologised most frequently; Iremonger was the probably author of the anonymous Leader article on Patrick Kavanagh which induced the poet to sue the paper in 1954; called the "quiet man" of Irish poetry by Seán Haldane, principal of Rún Press which issued his Collected Poems in 2014. DIW DIL IF HAM OCIL

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Works
Poetry
  • with Robert Greacen [and Bruce Williamson], On the Barricades (New Frontiers Press 1944) [var. One Recent Evening, 1944)];
  • Reservations (Dublin: Envoy 1950);
  • Horan’s Field and Other Poems (Dublin: Dolmen 1972);
  • Collected Poems (Cork: Rún Press 2014), q.pp.
Translations
  • The Hard Road to Klondyke, by Micí Mac Gabhann [MacGowan] (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962) [orig. Mac Gabhann, Rotha Mór an tSaoil];
  • An Irish Navvy, The Diary of an Exile, by Donall MacAmhlaigh (London: Routledge & Kgan Paul 1964) [orig. MacAmhlaigh,  Dialann Deoraí].
Miscellaneous
  • ed., with Greacen, Contemporary Irish Poetry (1949);
    ed. Irish Short Stories (London 1960).
Discography
  • By Sandymount Strand (Claddagh Records n.d.) [early 1970s], with sleeve-notes by John Montague and Richard Ryan.
National Library of Ireland lists Valentin Iremonger’s review of The Clay Verge, by Jack R. Clemo; of Collected Poems, by Marianne Moore, and of Poetry and Drama, by T. S. Eliot, in The Bell, Vol. XVII, No. 10 (Jan. 1952), pp.62-68.

Also numerous other items in The Bell including:

    • Poem beginning ‘Locked under the clay, the seed uncoils’ [see details online];
    • Review of Lough Derg and other poems, by Denis Devlin [see details online];
    • “Waterford (for Violette)”, a poem beginning ‘A friendly town. Even the prim pylone gibber’ [see details online];
    • “The Dog”, a poem beginning ‘All day the unnatural barking of dogs’ (Biographical note, No.2, p.96) [see details online];
    • “The pride of the O’Donnells: A Poem” (translated by Valentin Iremonger) beginning ‘Feeble now is Clan O’Donnell’ [see details online].

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Bibliographical details
On The Barricades (New Frontier Press [135 Tritonville Road, Sandymount, Dublin 1944), 37pp. [Robert Greacen, Bruce Williamson, Valentine Iremonger]; Iremonger’s contributions, pp.31-37 [Longer poem in ten canto-parts (I-X) of 3-5 quartrains, the first entitled ‘Well, I do Declare’, the ninth (’Evening - Storm Coming Up’, and the tenth ‘The Choice’.] (See also under Greacen, supra.)

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Commentary
Donagh MacDonagh, ed & intro.., Poems from Ireland, with a preface by R. M. Smylie (Dublin The Irish Times 1944), bio-note: ‘a civil servant who has acted, studied stage production and written a great deal of verse. His first book of poems, Reservations, is due soon from Poetry: Scotland publications.’

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Brian Inglis, Downstart: The Autobiography of Brian Inglis (London: Chatto & Windus 1990): Inglis writes of Conor Cruise O’Brien in company at O’ Dwyer’s pub on St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, with ‘as un-diplomatic a bunch of colleagues as one could hope for, among them the poet Val Iremonger. Val was to gain the distinction of twice being banished from the Department [of Foreign Affairs], once for writing a letter to the Irish Times, in his own name, deploring the American government’s decision to sentence Ezra Pound to incarceration in a mental hospital for aiding and abetting Mussolini during the war; the second time for standing up in the Abbey Theatre during an interval, along with Professor Roger McHugh, and denouncing the management for the policies which, they [161] claimed, were destroying the theatre’ s reputation. On both occasions this led to Val being sent to the civil service equivalent of Siberia, the Ministry of Local Government; but as his superiors privately agreed with him about the iniquity, in both cases, he was soon brought back.’ (pp.161-62.)

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John Montague, ‘The Impact of International Modern Poetry on Irish Writing’, in Irish Poets in English: The Thomas Davis Lectures on Anglo-Irish Poetry, ed. Sean Lucy (Cork: Mercier Press 1972): ‘The main opposition to the new-Gaelic lobby during and after the war years was Valentin Iremonger, whose jazzy rhythms and use of urban slang can be seen in “Icarus” [quotes - as infra] / More effective, because less programmatically modern, was his beautiful adaptation of John Crowe Ransom’s “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter” to record another, very Irish death [quotes “Elegy”, as infra].’ (p.154; for full text, see RICORSO Library, “Critical Classics”, infra.)

See also Frank McNally, ‘Poetic Justice’, in The Irish Times (16 June 2014) [“Irishman’s Diary” col.] - writing on ‘the 60th anniversary of a certain famous libel trial, and a still-unsolved mystery [which] centred on another poet, Patrick Kavanagh, who in 1954 took an ill-judged action against a journal called the Leader over an anonymous profile of him it had published. A media sensation, the case nearly broke Kavanagh, physically and mentally. It would have broken him financially too, if he hadn’t been broke already. / The prospect of money was his main motivation for taking the case, in fact. But opportunism aside, he did also feel genuinely aggrieved, even though the profile’s criticism was mild compared with the treatment he himself inflicted on rivals. In any case, during the run-up to the trial, he was hell-bent on fingering the unnamed author or authors. / An early suspect was Iremonger. [...]’

McNally goes on to speak of Seán Haldane, the Irish-Canadian retired neuropsychologist, poet and crime writer, who has reprinted Iremonger’s Collected Poems in his Rún Press, and who cites John Montague’s experiment: ‘[A]s fellow poet John Montague, who, knowing all the suspects, once conducted the experiment of reading the piece aloud to see if it reminded him of anyone. It was, he decided, the “terse, intelligent, caustic’ voice of Iremonger.”’ (Available online; accessed 13.07.2014.)

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Robert Greacen, Brief Encounters (1991): Valentin Iremonger, Dept of Ed., with Joseph O’Neill; lived in Sandymount; Member of the New Theatre, inclined to the Left; produced a collection, On the Barricades (New Frontiers Press) with Greacen [and Bruce Williamson]; from Catholic Irish stock; learned Irish, and translated Michael McGowan’s The Hard Road to Klondike; Irish diplomatic service; also with Greacen, ed. Contemporary Irish Poetry (1949), for Faber - Uncle Tom’s Cabin - but without a contribution from Kavanagh. [26-27]

Patricia Boylan, All Cultivated People (1988) - November 1982: ‘Val Iremonger read from his work [at the United Arts Club]; his wife, Sheila, sang to her own musical arrangement ... the poem ‘Wrap Up my Green Kackety’ from Val’s verse-play on Robert Emmet ...’ [258].

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Quotations
“Icarus”
But star-chaser, big-time-going, chancer Icarus,
Like a dog on the sea lay and the girls forgot him
And Daedalus, too busy hammering another job,
Remembered him only in pubs ...

Elegy
Elizabeth, frigidly stretched,
On a spring day, surprised us
With her starched dignity and the quietness
Of her hands clasping a black cross.
The foregoing both quoted in John Montague, ‘The Impact of International Modern Poetry on Irish Writing’ (1972), as supra.

Crossguns Bridge
Once too often for my taste I shall cross
That bridge two miles north of Dublin where
On one side an orphanage, other, a gas-station,
Stand like twin guardian demons on this undoubting road.
[...]
Quoted in Eyewear [blog] (25 June 1014); accessed 13.07.2014.

The group(s): ‘One group of our established writers denounce you if you are not foreward-moving in a sociological sense. Another group denounce you if you do not write in what they imagine to be an Irish ‘tradition’, but which, in fact, is nothing more than a ‘mode’ which was evolved and popular during the period from the end of the nineteenth century to about 1930, the fraying ends of which are still limply flying. Neither group seems to be interested in the young writer as writer only, as endeavouring to formulate and answer the fundamental question that present themselves to all humanity. The result is that whatever the vitality, communal or personal, that urges a young person to express his conceptions, he often abandons writing in despair at the lack of interest or encouragement.’ (Valentine Iremonger, ‘The Young Writer’ [a symposium], The Bell, Vol. XVII, No. 7, Oct. 1951, p.15; quoted in Terence Brown, Northern Voices, 1975, p.149-50.)

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Reviews (Catholic Herald)

W. B. Yeats: Review of Lady Gregory: A Literary Portrait, by Elizabeth Coxhead, Essays and Introductions, by Yeats, and O'Houlihan's Jest, by Rohan O’Grady, in Catholic Herald (30 June 1961): ‘[...] “What are are Yeats?”, the apocryphal American is said to have demanded after a week in Dublin in the ’twenties. The publication of his essays (after an interval of, I think, twenty-seven years) may help us to findout. For myself, I find his languorous prose very trying but the study of his views as expressed in his essays and introductions is essential to an understanding of his poetry and his plays. Like most poets, he was cranky, eccentric and thoroughly unreliable in his judgements on his contemporaries. His views. however, are interesting not for the understanding they give us of those poets he deals with but for the way in which they illuminate the development of his own genius. The omission of his introduction to the Oxford Book of Modern Verse is a serious one but we can he grateful for the essays on the theatre which still retain their importance and from which many of our advanced theatrical practitioners still have a lot to learn.’

Green beer: Iremonger dismisses the last title with these remarks - ‘[...T]his book is about as Irish as the green beer they sell in New York on St. Patrick’s Day. / It is a novel set in the 18th century and concerns the fight between a local hero and the English garrison commander. The Irish neither think, speak or behave. Now or at any other time, like the characters in this book indeed, by changing the names, it could have made a neat tale of tribal warfare in central Africa. [...]’. (Full-text available online; see also remarks on Lady Gregory - supra.)

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‘The Great Hunger’: review of The Great Hunger 1845-49, by Cecil Woodham-Smith, in The Catholic Herald (16 Nov. 1962): ‘I grew up myself on scattered tales of the famine retailed from the childhood memories of my grandmother who was born in those years but, with the scepticism of my generation, I regarded them as inaccurate folk-memories and, indeed, as ultra-nationalist propaganda. The full horror of those years has only now become clear to me in Mrs. Woodham-Smith’s majestic volume, documented as it is in the main from the writings of the officials caught up in the machinery of the Irish diaspora. / The details she gives of starvation, evictions. and exile are harrowing in the extreme, and one can only marvel that the millions who bore these sufferings emerged from them with their faith stronger than ever both at home and abroad. The descendants of those who found a reluctant refuge in Britain form today the major portion of the Catholic population here, while those who found a haven in America have now given the first Catholic President to the United States.’ (p.13; see full-text version - attached.)

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The Literary Scene’, in Catholic Herald (18 Jan. 1963): ‘Hotch-potch of reminiscence, anecdote, ribaldry, snatches of remembered verse, original poems, a radio play and a couple of short stories, Brendan Behan’s Island was probably the most noticed publication by an Irish writer in the past year. But Brendan, being sui generis, has little to do with the general scene of writing in Ireland and indeed he would be the first to excoriate any attempt to fit him into any such picture. So we must leave him weaving his way towards the ending of his promised new play, Richard’s Cork Leg (the allusion being to a sentence in James Joyce’s play, Exiles), and took elsewhere to see what has been happening. / Since the demise of the magazines The Bell, Irish Writing and the Dublin Magazine some five or six years ago, young writers have lacked somewhere to publish their work. The Kilkenny Magazine gallantly endeavoured to fill the gap but somehow a provincial magazine lacks the sophistication of those edited in the metropolis.’ [Also cites Thomas Kinsella, Richard Murphy, John Montague, and John McGahern.] (p.13; see full-text version - attached.)

Further ...

‘Irish Writing To-day’ (Catholic Herald, 26 Jan. 1962), p.7: ‘Though creative literature in Ireland today is in a somewhat moribund state - most of our younger intellectuals are at last ...’ [see online].

‘Vanished Ireland of the Past’ (Catholic Herald, 18 Nov. 1960), p.3: ‘the senior poet of ...’, [online].

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References
Desmond Clarke
, Ireland in Fiction: A Guide to Irish Novels, Tales, Romances and Folklore [Pt. 2] (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985), lists Irish Short Stories (1961), and anthology incl. Moore, Somerville and R, Joyce, Corkery, O’Flaherty, O’Connor ... Plunkett ... Montague [presumably ed. with Greacen].

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Anthologies
KATHLEEN HOAGLAND, ed., 1,000 Years of Irish Poetry: The Gaelic and Anglo-Irish Poets from Pagan Times to the Present (NY: Devin Adair 1947), selects “Icarus”. LENNOX ROBINSON & Donagh MacDonagh, eds., Oxford Book of Irish Poetry (1958), selects “This Houre her Vigill ...”; “Hector”; “Time, the Faithless”; “Icarus’ [pp.322-25]. BRENDAN KENNELLY, ed., Penguin Book of Irish Verse (1970), selects “Icarus”. SEAMUS DEANE, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3: selects from Horan’s Field and Other Reservations, poems including “Icarus”, 1329-20; 661; BIOG 1431. PATRICK CROTTY, ed., Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), selects “This Houre Her Vigill” [130]; “Clear View in Summer” [131]; “Icarus” [132].

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Notes
Denunciation: At a production of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars in 1947 Valentin Iremonger, the Irish poet and diplomat, stood up in the audience to denounce the incompetence of the Abbey’s artistic policy [var. the standard of production], ‘Having seen what they did to O’Casey’s masterpiece tonight in acting and production, I, for one, am leaving this theatre as a gesture of protest [...]’ (Stephen Fay, in the [English] Independent on Sunday, 6 Sept. 1992, p.16’; cited also in Anthony Roche, Contemporary Irish Drama, Gil & Macmillan 19956, p.40.)

Oratory: Iremonger delivered an oration at the funeral of Carl Marstrander (d.23 Dec. 1965), Norwegian Professor of Celtic at Univ. of Oslo, who in 1908 visited the Blaskets to learn Irish, who forewent his place on the Olympic team to do so and was later active in resistance against the Nazis.

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Contra Kavanagh: That Iremonger was indeed the author of the profile of Kavanagh in The Leader which led the latter to sue unsuccessfully is confirmed in John Montague, The Pear is Ripe (2007) - as reviewed in Books Ireland (April 2008), p.76.

Giordano Bruno: a copy of Isabella Frith's Life of Bruno (1887) - being the work reviewed by Joyce for the Daily Express in October of that year - is held in the National Library of Ireland as the sole copy of that work. In June 2012 I found two-thirds of the pages of that unique copy uncut and returned it to the desk for suitable treatment in the Restoration Department. The copy is inscribed by its former owner with his name and the date 1943, presumably being the date of purchase. The gift to the Library must have been made after his death in 1991, again presumably as a bequest. [BS]

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