A Tribute to Michael O'Neill (d. 21 December 2018)

The IABS is sad to announce the passing of a renowned poet, critic and Shelley scholar Michael O’Neill, who helped lead the International Association of Byron Societies for many years.

In addition to serving as chair of the Elma Dangerfield Prize for many years, Michael helped organize meetings for the IABS in London, Tbilisi, Beirut, Athens/Messolonghi, and, most recently, Paris, where he chaired sessions and gave a typically moving and inspirational lecture.

Michael had the ability to bring people together. His exchanges with Bernard Beatty and Timothy Webb in Paris stand out in my mind, as do his comments on transatlantic travel, and his spontaneous recitation of scraps of poetry in Parisian cafes. After one session in Paris, Michael quoted a line from John Berryman, then another from Percy Shelley, relishing their gifts with the authority and appreciation of a poet.

I remember him crossing a bridge in London, intently discussing a book project with Madeleine Callaghan. I remember him walking back alone from a session at the Paris conference, organized so well by Olivier Feignier, because he needed to make a call to his family. Tall, elegant, and soft-voiced, Michael could light up a road with his conversation, as he did on one occasion in Messolonghi, when several people were walking back to the Theoxenia Hotel on a dimly lit road after a Byron session. He was generous to other scholars, asking questions to panelists who did not receive one, and offering insights and suggestions that raised the level of the conversation. When Sarah Wootton won the Elma Dangerfield book prize, he looked up from a pile of papers and said, “do call her, she’ll be so happy to hear the news.” He advocated for the inclusion of younger scholars at conferences, noting, with an impish smile, that “they have so much more to say than we do.”

Michael may have been a poet at heart, but he also knew how to run a meeting. I watched with admiration for 3-4 years as he brought people together so we could arrange our conferences in Beirut, Tbilisi, Gdansk, Paris, and Ravenna. He set a standard for decency, humility, and professionalism, recusing himself from committees where he knew a member’s books, and earning the admiration of everyone with whom he came into contact. I remember him as a Shelley scholar about whom Donald Reiman said, “he’s the best critic on Shelley writing today.” And that was more than twenty years ago.

His stature and reputation have only grown, as his most recent award by the Keats-Shelley Association in Chicago (2019) has shown. He was a humanist in the best sense of the word, a deeply valued and admired friend of Byron and all Byronists, and will be missed around the world. The officers and members of the IABS are deeply saddened by his passing and grateful for his selfless service to the Association.

Professor Jonathan Gross, Joint President of the International Association of Byron Societies


"We Live the Lives We Lead Because of the Thoughts We Think" by Michael ... https://youtu.be/ng---HrFLIo thanks for this great recording @Shelley_at_224