Born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. He is the author of several books of verse including the long poems RMS Titanic, Reductionist Poem and The End of the Modern World, as well as various other collections, of which the latest is The Minotaur and Other Poems (1999). A novel, The Life of Riley, appeared in 1964 and was succeeded by Identity Papers in 1979. He has also written a memoir of literary Dublin and London, Dead as Doornails (1976); No Laughing Matter, The Life and Times of Flann O'Brien (1989); and Samuel Beckett, The Last Modernist (1996). His critical books include A Question of Modernity (1964) and Heritage Now, Irish Literature in the English Language (1981). Other collections of essays, largely selections from a column he contributed to the Irish Times between 1974 and 1987, are An Irish Eye (1985) and Art for the People? (1988). A play, The Shame of It, was produced at the Peacock in 1974. He has been associate editor of The Bell and literary editor of Time and Tide; has taught at Drake University and the University of Montana; and was cultural and artistic adviser to former Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey. In 1983 he received the Marten Toonder Award for his contribution to Irish literature. He was elected Saoi of Aosdána in 2003.
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