On closer inspection, we can see that Thomas Dermody is also a poet whose work belongs to that period in Irish history, 1780–1800, when the Irish language and its surrounding culture had begun to retreat before English and the sectarian prohibitions. Dermody was dependent on a network of patronage, which in his lifetime was giving way to the contractual system between publisher and writer. He found patronage humiliating and hampering, although nothing undermined him so effectively as his alcoholism.
In the French revolutionary period, the language and hope of liberty gave a new impetus to his prose and poetry, alienating him further from his patrons to whom the derivative imitation and romantic aspiration of his verse seemed at one time so attractive that Thomas Dermody appeared to them as a budding genius. He is now seen in a more chastened spirit as a figure who flits uncertainly between Robert Burns and Thomas Moore, the great exemplars of those in whom a romantic nationalism and a liberal politics were key ingredients in the production of the new poetry. Michael Griffin’s edition of Thomas Dermody defines his achievement and status with an unprecedented authority and precision.
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