Reflection: Patrick Griffin

Seamus Deane had that rare combination of talent, erudition, quiet passion, and confidence that made him a towering intellectual. That word intellectual can be often over-used, but for Deane it fit. I have never seen someone so able to hold an audience spellbound with one simple idea. Seamus could, at the drop of a hat, deliver a beautifully woven address on most any subject, tying together threads that lesser minds would have left dangling. 

The effect on the listener could be exhilarating. He could speak passionately about abstractions and great thinkers, but I have seen him inspire students to embrace the life of the mind though his ability and desire to reach people. For him, all revolved around the conversation. He could banter with anyone— students, colleagues, patrons—and you understood that you were in the presence of a first-rate mind and world-class raconteur. No one ever forgot a conversation with Seamus. 

Seamus Deane put Irish Studies on the map in the United States. His decision to come to Notre Dame made Irish Studies not only a serious enterprise but an indispensable one. Because of his presence, scholars in other disciplines gravitated toward it. His ability to tie power—and oppression—to ideas made both what he wrote and Irish Studies in the United States so compelling. He was a once-in-a-generation talent.

Patrick Griffin is Madden-Hennebry Professor of History and Director, Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame

This reflection was first published in the Irish Times on 13 May