Professor Michael O’Neill dies aged 65

By Blundell

Professor Michael O’Neill, a professor in the Department of English Studies at Durham University, passed away on 21st December, aged 65.

In an email to staff, Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge said: “Michael had come through the initial phase of his illness with immense courage, and continued to give lectures and supervise his PhD students until the week before his death.”

The scholar and poet began his career as a lecturer at the University in 1979 and had worked in Durham ever since.

Professor O’Neill was Head of Department from 1997-2000, and again from 2000-2005. In addition, he has Directed the Institute of Advanced Study in Durham and established or contributed to various research groups.

Outside of his work at the University, Professor O’Neill was a widely published and respected scholar and poet. His specialism was Romantic poetry, in particular, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

He was a Founding Fellow of the English Association and sat on various editorial boards, including the Keats-Shelley Review, Romantic Circles and The Wordsworth Circle.

His first published work was in 1989, entitled, The Human Mind’s Imaginings: Conflict and Achievement in Shelley’s Poetry. Most recently, his latest collection of personal poetry: Return of the Gift. In between, he can be credited with co-editing works such as The Oxford Handbook of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Dante Rediscovered: From Blake to Rodin, with S. Hebron and D.Bindman as well as numerous other credits.

His long career at Durham University and high-profile scholarly reputation has seen tributes flood in for Michael O’Neill.

Current English student, Emily Colquhoun, told Palatinate: “This is very sad of the passing of an intellectual, warming and lovely man. I am sure that everyone who had the pleasure of being lectured, tutored, or met him in one way or another will share my response.”

Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge wrote: “He will be remembered by generations of students and scholars as an inspirational lecturer and mentor.

“Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with Michael’s family at this extremely sad time. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”

Former student Alexander Larman tweeted: “Very sad to hear about the death of great literature scholar and professor Michael O’Neill. I remember him lecturing on Milton’s Sonnet 23 and his engagement and enthusiasm made the poem seem unforgettably, overwhelmingly moving. Which, of course, it is.”

Dr Anna Mercer also expressed her sorrow at his passing, tweeting: “very saddened by the death of the wonderful Michael O’Neill: inspiring poet, extraordinary Shelley scholar, a mentor to me in my studies and an incredibly kind, generous man. He will be sorely missed,” before recalling his memorable reading at Keats House last year.

Donations, if desired, should be made to The Northern Oesophago-Gastric Cancer Unit at The Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle, or to The Marie Curie Team at St Cuthbert’s Hospice, Durham.

Featured photograph: Anna Gibbs, Photograph in article: Durham University

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