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Poet who died of motor neuron disease had 'gift for friendship'

By Olivia Kelleher

Aosdána poet Matthew Sweeney had a gift for friendship and his mischievous smile and warm bear hugs led him to be much treasured by family, friends and his peers a ceremony celebrating his life at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork city has heard.

Mr Sweeney (66), who died on August 5th at Cork University Hospital, was described by his daughter Nico as a person with a "remarkable mind and buckets of imagination."

Matthew Sweeney.

She said her father was a "true artist."

Her childhood in Dombey Street in London with her parents Matthew and Rosemary and brother Malvin was "colourful, vibrant and exciting."

She said they shared their home with a wide range of colourful friends who dropped by for her father's legendary cooking and his gift of entertaining.

She said he deserved a Michelin star for his cooking.

"Our childhood was enriched with delicious meals and a delightful soundtrack.

[quote]We are so proud of who he was as a person and of his legacy of work. Dad will continue communicating with us through his poems. There are no words to describe how immensely you will be missed.[/quote]

Her young daughter Nell read out a poem written specially written for her by her grandfather when she was born.

Mr Sweeney also wrote a second poem for his grand child Jude which was also featured in the ceremony.

In the poem titled "Hey Jude" he said that if his grandchild was to think of him at all he should imagine a brown bear in an office looking for a way out.

But Jude was told not to worry as the bear would have his his own jar of honey and would be resplendent in a pair of blue sunglasses and a pork pie hat.

Mr Sweeney's son Malvin joked that one of the great joys of his father was that they shared maturity levels when he was young.

He regaled family and friends with a story of how his father livened up dull dinner parties by devising a shooter to fire corks from bottles back and forth with his kids.

It was similar to a game of conkers only with corks from wine bottles.

"The winning shot was the one between the eyes Eastwood style."


He said he once got in trouble for coming in to school as a teenager having failed to shave.

The school contacted his father Matthew who said that if a beard was good enough for Jesus it would work for young Malvin Sweeney.

Meanwhile, Mary Noonan, who was the partner of the late Matthew Sweeney, said he was a man who lived "lightly over the earth."

She said Matthew was a "magnetic forcefield" who drew poets together. She told mourners that the Donegal native had given himself fully to his art.

[quote]It is clear, Matthew, that your writing and your teaching had and will continue to have an impact on the life of poetry infusing it with provocative energy, disturbing playfulness and colour.[/quote]

Friends and fellow poets including amongst others Jo Shapcott, Thomas McCarthy, Gerry Murphy, Maurice Riordan and Padraig Rooney recited poems by Mr Sweeney and shared memories of him during the ceremony.

Light hearted tales were told of how poetry editors could now "sleep easy in their beds" with his passing.

Mr Sweeney was known for writing trenchant and spirited replies when his work wasn't to the taste of certain individuals.

Friends and relatives at the ceremony were joined by the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Mick Finn.

The President's aide de camp Colonel Liam Condon was also in attendance.

Mr Sweeney had published numerous collections of poetry during his lifetime and had been shortlisted for and had received a number of poetry awards.

He had launched his most recent collection of poetry, My Life as a Painter, in April.

During his life he lived in London, Berlin, Timisoara in Romania and in Cork.

He was a writer in residence in a number of universities including UCC and taught extensively.

He particularly enjoying mentoring new poets.

Matthew Sweeney was diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year. He wrote a poem just three days before he died.

His burial will take place tomorrow at 2pm in Clonmany New Cemetery, Co Donegal.