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Denis Donoghue, Humanist Literary Critic, Dies at 92 | Press "Enter" to skip to content

Denis Donoghue, Humanist Literary Critic, Dies at 92

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He was equally proud of his skills in the classroom. He could speak for an hour without pause or notes, dominating the lectern with his 6-foot-7 frame.

In a 2003 speech, the writer Colm Toibin, who studied with Professor Donoghue in the early 1970s, described his “heightened tone, the lack of hesitation, the thinking aloud as fierce and eloquent activity, and the sense also that this mattered more than anything else mattered — this attempt to analyze and define and almost imitate layers and levels of feeling, of imaginative energy, of tonal nuance.”

Credit…Columbia University Press

Denis Martin Donoghue was born on Dec. 1, 1928, in Tullow, a village in southern Ireland, and grew up in Warrenpoint, a seaside town just over the border into Northern Ireland.

His father, also named Denis, had been a sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary, a police force. After Ireland won independence in 1922, he was allowed to stay on with the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the north, though he had little hope for advancement as a Roman Catholic in the British-run and Protestant-dominated unit.

Young Denis’s mother, Johanna (O’Neill) Donoghue, was a homemaker who took care of him and his four siblings. They lived in the married quarters of the constabulary barracks, beside a tall concrete wall built to protect them from attack by Irish nationalists.

He took to reading early, and though his parents were not bookish, they encouraged his interests. In his memoir, “Warrenpoint” (1990), he wrote that his love for his stern but kind father set the tone for his love of the written word as something to be revered. “I am sure,” he wrote, “that the authority of a written sentence and the authority of my father were one and the same.”


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