Development & Alumni Relations Office 


Professor Seamus Deane, MA (died 12 May 2021, aged 81)


Obituary available online at:


Deane was also a distinguished poet. His first collection, Gradual Wars, was published in 1972, winning the AE Memorial Award for Literature, although a pamphlet, While Jewels Rot, had appeared in 1966, in the famous Festival Publications series at Queen's. Rumours was published by Dolmen Press in 1977; then History Lessons with the Gallery Press in 1983 and Selected Poems in 1988.


It was as a critic, however, that he made his name, with works such as Celtic Revivals: Essays in Modern Irish Literature 1880-1980 (1985), A Short History of Irish Literature (1986) and The French Enlightenment and Revolution in England (1998), and Foreign Affections: Essays on Edmund Burke (2004), subject of his PhD. His final book, Small World: Ireland, 1798–2018, will now be published posthumously by Cambridge University Press on June 3rd.


He was also general editor of the Penguin Classic James Joyce series and Critical Conditions, a book series in Irish Studies co-published by the University of Notre Dame Press and Cork University Press. With historian Breandán Mac Suibhne, he was a founding editor of Field Day Review, a journal of political and literary culture, and the Field Files book series, which included major works by, among others, critics David Lloyd, Joe Cleary, Marjorie Howes and historian Kerby Miller.


However, it was his Booker-shortlisted novel, Reading in the Dark, winner of the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Irish Literature Prize, and the Guardian Prize, which brought Deane’s name to a much wider audience. Published in 1996, the year after Heaney won the Nobel Prize in Literature, it is a powerful, deeply moving portrait of a Derry childhood under the shadow of sectarianism and a dark family secret.


Earlier, as a teacher in Derry, he had taught Martin McGuinness, a future IRA leader and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, who recalled in an interview with Irish America: “One teacher who was great was Seamus Deane. He was gentle, kind and never raised his voice at all, an ideal teacher who was very highly thought of.”


Writer and political activist Eamon McCann once said: “Seamus Deane was the best soccer player in St Columb’s, then he fell in with the wrong crowd – and became a poet!”


Deane was also a popular raconteur. While at Berkeley in the 1960s, he famously enjoyed more than his fair share of devilled eggs at a party, whose topping was not paprika but mescaline.


He is survived by his partner, the author and academic Emer Nolan, their daughter Iseult, his first wife Marion and their children Conor, Ciarán, Cormac and Émer.


Back to list


Top of Page