Reflection: Robert Schmuhl
Seamus Deane was one of the first people I met during my first trip to Dublin in the summer of 1999. His novel, Reading in the Dark, which had come out a couple years earlier, taught many lessons about complexities of Ireland that someone getting ready to teach at University College Dublin found both illuminating and valuable. When I mentioned my regret that the copy I’d read and dutifully annotated never arrived back at Notre Dame after a teaching stint in Australia, he smiled as though to say: “We can fix that.” He picked a hardback edition off the shelf in his office at Newman House and ended his inscription with the words “welcome to Ireland.” A warmer welcome to this (in the title of another of his books) “strange country” would be difficult to imagine.
That treasured copy of Reading in the Dark could serve as a symbol of Seamus Deane’s generosity. During my time at UCD and in subsequent years, he was unfailingly willing to help this Irish innocent with either words of advice or deeds of kindness. When I told him I was planning to write a profile of Seamus Heaney, he went out of his way to copy the entire, unedited manuscript he’d submitted to The New Yorker for an essay about his close friend. (“The Famous Seamus,” March 20, 2000.) He said I might be able to draw on portions that hadn’t appeared in the magazine in what I was writing.
Seamus Deane will be remembered as an almost one-of-a-kind writer who mastered every genre he chose to try: criticism, poetry, fiction. More than that, though all those words will continue to serve as exemplars long into the future, he also put Irish Studies at Notre Dame on the academic map to a great degree because he epitomized what Irish Studies is—and should be. In that sense, his generosity extended to an entire intellectual field and went far beyond the individual acts that those who knew him will never forget.
Robert Schmuhl is the Walter H. Annenberg-Edmund P. Joyce Professor Emeritus of American Studies and Journalism at Notre Dame. His study, Ireland’s Exiled Children: America and the Easter Rising, was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.