Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1929, John Montague was raised in Co. Tyrone, and educated at University College Dublin, and Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley. He co-founded Claddagh Records, and became president of Poetry Ireland in 1979. He has taught at UCD, University College Cork, the Sorbonne. He has also lectured at several American universities, and served as Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the New York State Writers Institute.
His poetry includes Forms of Exile (1958); Poisoned Lands (1961); A Chosen Light (1967); Tides (1970); The Rough Field (1972), which was performed with music by the Chieftains at the Roundhouse in London and the Peacock Theatre; A Slow Dance (1975); The Great Cloak (1978); The Dead Kingdom (1984); Mount Eagle (1988); The Love Poems (1992); Time in Armagh (1993); Collected Poems (1995); Smashing the Piano (1999); Carnac (a translation of work by the French poet Guillevic published in 1999); Drunken Sailor (2001); Speech Lessons (2011) and New Collected Poems (2012). The Lost Notebook , a novella set in Florence, won the first Hughes Award in 1987.
In 2000, he wrote a memoir, Company , and Penguin published his Selected Poems, and in 2007 he produced a second volume of memoirs, The Pear is Ripe. He has published three collections of stories: Death of a Chieftain (1964), An Occasion of Sin (1992) and A Love Present (1997). He won the Marten Toonder Award in 1977, a Guggenheim fellowship in 1980, and the Ireland Funds Literary Award in 1995.
He was the first Ireland Professor of Poetry from 1998 to 2001. He lives in Co. Cork.