Reflection: Rory Rapple

I first met Seamus Deane when I was a graduate student at the University of Cambridge. At the time, I was running the seminar of the Cambridge Group for Irish Studies (CGIS). Naturally, I asked him—a man of great reputation whom I had never met—to give a paper. He agreed. He said his talk would be on Edmund Burke and Ireland; no surprise there, I knew that he was working on Burke, but other than that I did not know what to expect. 

On the day in question I vividly remember Deane walking into the Solarium in Queens' College. He had with him about thirty impeccably aligned pages, a paperclip at the top. I looked at it, thinking, "That'll take an hour and a half to get through". The seminar met late, so a long paper could really be a drag. Then, to my surprise, he put the paper down on the table away from him, and began. What followed was sublime. He just . . . spoke. Thought seamlessly followed on thought, all in impeccable prose. In the past, I had heard sports journalists dictating fully-formed  articles down the phone to news-rooms and always been impressed, but this was an achievement of a higher order: a man without prompts, slides, or props giving the most lucid, arresting treatment of a complex academic paper that I had ever heard. It was clear. It was methodical. It was exciting.

And that's my abiding memory of Seamus Deane. Sometimes stars in the academy trade on their reputations, Seamus Deane never did. He is a great, great loss.

Rory Rapple is Associate Professor of History at Notre Dame and a Faculty Fellow of the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies.