- This article is about the poet, also spelled 'McGreevy'. For the Canadian politician, see Thomas McGreevy.
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Thomas MacGreevy (born McGreevy, 26 October 1893 – 16 March 1967) was a pivotal figure in the history of Irish literary modernism. A poet, he was also director of the National Gallery of Ireland from 1950 to 1963 and served on the first Irish Arts Council (An Chomhairle Ealaíon).
MacGreevy was born in Tarbert County Kerry, the son of a policeman and a primary school teacher. At age 16, he joined the British Civil Service as a boy clerk. At the outbreak of the First World War, he was promoted to an intelligence post with the Admiralty. He enlisted in 1917, and saw active service at the Ypres Salient and the Somme, being wounded twice.
After the war, MacGreevy studied at Trinity College, Dublin. He then became involved in various library organisations, and began publishing articles in Irish periodicals and wrote his first poems.
In 1924, MacGreevy was first introduced to James Joyce in Paris. The following year he moved to London, where he met T. S. Eliot and began writing for The Criterion and other magazines. He also began publishing his poetry.
In 1927, MacGreevy moved to Paris to teach English at the École Normale Supérieure. Here he met Samuel Beckett and resumed his friendship with Joyce. His essay The Catholic Element in Work In Progress was published in 1929 in Our Exagmination round His Factification for Incamination of Work In Progress, a book intended to help promote Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Along with Beckett, he was one of those who signed the Poetry is Vertical manifesto which appeared in issue 21 of transition.
In 1934, Poems was published in London and New York. The work shows that MacGreevy had absorbed the lessons of Imagism and of The Waste Land, but also demonstrates that he had brought something of his own to these influences. The book was admired by Wallace Stevens and the two poets became regular correspondents.
Unfortunately, although MacGreevy continued to write poetry, this was the only collection published in his lifetime. Since his death there have been two Collected Poems issued, one in 1971 and the second twenty years later.
As already noted, MacGreevy published regular articles in London. These were mainly reviews of books, opera, and ballet. In addition to these, and the essay on Finnegans Wake, he also wrote two book-length studies of other writers, T.S. Eliot: A Study (on T. S. Eliot) and Richard Aldington: An Englishman on Richard Aldington (both 1931).
In 1929 MacGreevy began working on Formes, a journal of the fine arts. He also published a translation of Paul Valéry's Introduction à la méthode de Léonard de Vinci as Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci. In the mid 1930s, he moved back to London and earned his living lecturing at the National Gallery there. From 1938 to 1940 he was the chief art critic for The Studio. He published several books on art and artists, including Jack B. Yeats: An Appreciation and an Interpretation (on Jack Butler Yeats) and Pictures in the Irish National Gallery (both 1945), and Nicolas Poussin (1960) on Nicholas Poussin. He was director of the National Gallery of Ireland from 1950 to 1963.
MacGreevy was a lifelong Catholic and his religion informed both his poetry and his professional life. On returning to Dublin during World War II, he wrote for both the Father Mathew Record and The Capuchin Annual and joined the editorial board of the latter. In this role, he contrived to bring something of the European Catholic intellectual tradition into a more conservative Irish environment.
- The Thomas MacGreevy Archive
- Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books, 6 August 2009, Who to Be (review of The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929-40 edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More. Overbeck)