‘Master poet’ Derek Mahon inspired pupils at Belfast High

One of Ireland’s best-known poets roused a ‘keen interest’ in his subject during his time teaching at a Newtownabbey school.

Monday, 12th October 2020, 3:32 pm
Derek Mahon. Picture credit: John Minihan / The Gallery Press

The award-winning writer Derek Mahon died earlier this month at the age of 78, following a short illness.

Mahon, praised as a “master poet” by his publisher, The Gallery Press, was born and raised in north Belfast.

He attended Royal Belfast Academical Institute and, later, Trinity College Dublin.

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He also had links to the Newtownabbey area, having moved with his family to Glengormley in his later teens.

Mahon was welcomed onto the teaching staff at Belfast High School in September 1967, with the headmaster noting in the school magazine for that year: “[He is] arousing a keen interest in poetry in his classes, and it is pleasing to note that a further selection of his own poems is being published in connection with Festival ’67.”

And while he is not mentioned on the magazine’s staff list for 1968, the school nonetheless congratulated him on the success of his book ‘Night Crossing’, published that same year.

Mahon’s poem ‘Glengormley’ is named for the greater Belfast suburb where he spent his younger years.

He later relocated to the Republic of Ireland, settling eventually in Kinsale, Co Cork.

More recently, his poem ‘Everything Is Going to be Alright’ gained new fame when it was featured in a RTE news bulletin at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Paying tribute to Mahon following his death on October 2, The Gallery Press said: “To his partner Sarah Iremonger and his children Rory, Katy and Maisie, we send heartfelt condolences.

“We will miss him forever as a friend and beloved author.”