Obituary of Dardis Clarke, poet (1939-2013) Image

Whenever I met Dardis Clarke, walking the capital as he did, he would ask me about the death mask of his father, the poet Austin Clarke, which my own late father, the sculptor, Edward, had done, and which Dardis was due a bronze version of.  On the commission of Garech de Brun, of Claddagh Records, who had recorded the poet, a death mask of Austin Clarke was done in 1974. Clarke was a major figures of Irish poetry, famous for his poems, ‘The Lost Heifer’ and ‘The Planter’s Daughter’, as well as the memoir ‘Twice Round the Black Church’. A cast bronze version of the death mask was hung in the Abbey theatre, and the original clay mask is today in the Irish Writers Museum. But Dardis was waiting for his own copy.

It was a somewhat surreal exchange, but one typical of Dardis who was mindful of his father’s legacy as well as given to such Joycean street chats. He was an utterly unmistakable figure, almost always dressed in black, just like his father, except whereas for his father it was a formal suit and trilby, for his son it was a black leather jacket and wide-brimmed leather hat. Along with his probing eyes, and bushy white beard, it made for a striking figure, like a figure from an old Western.

Dardis was the youngest of three sons. His brother Donald died in 1976 and another brother Aidan Browne, is the noted TCD historian. In 1974, Dardis helped to produce a Collected Poems edition of his father, for which he wrote an essay, along with an introduction by the critic Christopher Ricks. The latter described Clarke’s poetry is being as of ‘delicate and dancing interlacings’ but also as ‘simple as join-hands’ and the book consolidated Clarke’s reputation and the way he bridged the influence of Gaelic poetry with a political sensibility and an idiosyncratic but robust modernism.

However, Dardis was far from just a watchful minder of his father’s reputation. Far from it.  He led a busy life, and his funeral notice describes him as ‘formerly of the N.U.J, Liberty Hall and Poetry Ireland.’ To which can be added early morning swimming, Porterhouse ales, and working for the European Parliament, where he collated Irish news stories for European consumption at an ungodly hour, going into the EU’s office at 4.30am!. He had a long involvement with the NUJ and with its predecessor, the ITGWU, for whom he edited the union’s ‘Liberty’ newspaper.  He was a chairman of Poetry Ireland, and attended all their readings.

He also led a full life, in terms of family and relationships. Separated from his most recent partner, Orla, he was the father of Aoife, and proud grandfather of Adam. But there had also been his first partner, also Orla, with whom he raised two step daughters, now in their late 40’s, Vanessa Clarke and the writer Victoria Mary Clarke. Dardis would eventually divorce Orla Clarke and later lived with Barbara Kelly for over 12 years.


Dardis Clarke centre with Seamus Heaney, who also died in 2013, and Dr Padraic Conway of UCD, on left.

To celebrate his life, a humanist ceremony was held in the Victorian Chapel at Mount Jerome Crematorium and attended by a large gathering. He will be sadly missed by his loving family, daughter, grandson, brother Aidan, nieces Caoimhe, Sheelagh, and Su, nephews Aidan and Oisin, and extended family and friends.

In his powerful poem ‘Father and Son’, Austin Clarke remembers with sadness his own deceased father but then describes his consoling pleasure that ‘even in my reckless way, are living shades of his rich calms and passions.’ And so the Joycean cycle of life continues