Gibbon, (William) Monk (1896–1987), poet and writer, was born 15 December 1896 in Dundrum, Co. Dublin, son of Canon William Gibbon, a rural dean in Taney parish, Dundrum, and Agnes Gibbon (née Pollock), who had four children from a previous marriage. Gibbon was educated at St Columba's College, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, and won a history exhibition to Keble College, Oxford, where he attended briefly before joining the British army as an officer, serving in France during the first world war. On leave in Ireland during the 1916 rising, he witnessed the murder of Francis Sheehy Skeffington (qv) in Portobello barracks and was also so appalled by the execution of James Connolly (qv) that it inclined him towards Sinn Féin. His later memoir, Inglorious soldier (1968), shows a keen understanding of J. C. Bowen-Colthurst (qv), yet with no element of condonation. Disillusioned with the war, he was invalided out of the army as a neurasthenic in 1917, commenced a farm-teaching course in Jersey, and then taught briefly in Switzerland before becoming a master at Oldfield School, Swanage, in Dorsetshire, where he remained for twelve years before returning to Ireland. In Wales he began to write poetry, and in 1928 he won a silver medal for poetry at the Tailteann games, being narrowly beaten for the gold medal by Oliver St John Gogarty (qv).
As a writer and poet Gibbon was prolific, and his subject matter recognised few boundaries: his output included autobiography, memoirs, biographies, travel books, and film and ballet criticism. Although his poetry was by no means critically acclaimed, some of his earlier work was influenced by the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins (qv), and he was viewed in some quarters as a minor, conventional, and conservative poet who could occasionally rise to unexpected heights in such collections as The tremulous string (1926), The branch of hawthorn tree (1927), 17 sonnets (1932), and The insubstantial poet (1972). His poetry, dominated by themes of the dispossessed romantic, was regarded by other critics as terse, immediate, and strong, and he was credited with handling conventional sonnets with ease and fluency. Autobiographical work included The seals (1935), a narrative of a hunting expedition in the west of Ireland and a meditation on human cruelty; Mount Ida (1948); Inglorious soldier, a searing account of his wartime experiences; and The pupil (1981), which tells of a chaste romance between teacher and student. His prose, marked by a nineteenth-century style of argument, was well-structured but occasionally marred by self-indulgence and excessive length. The dominant themes in his writing were the human personality, destiny, and dynasties, often set against a pageant of visual images, where even the most apparently insignificant detail formed an integral part of experience. It was art based on suggestion; or, as he put it himself in the romantic autobiographical novel Mount Ida, which recreated three tentative love affairs of schoolteaching days, ‘the best moments in life are often indefinable, fragile, inexpressibly slight; a compound of mood, condition and time, defying analysis’. All his material was highly personal, chronicling his life and times over more than a quarter of a century (he was still teaching and writing at the age of 80), displaying his ability for incisive self-scrutiny. He maintained that what interested him most was truth, and ‘an objective love of truth’, and admitted: ‘As a conservative by nature I distrust change’.
Gibbon remained preoccupied with W. B. Yeats (qv), with whom he had frequently disagreed, critically questioning him about his cryptic phrases and defensiveness under scrutiny, annoying the older poet with his youthful verbosity. He wrote an unflattering account of him in The masterpiece and the man (1959), which he regarded as an attempt to express the duality of his attitude to Yeats, to whom he referred as ‘that wrong-headed old man whose phrase is always right’. An associate of George Russell (qv), whom he regarded as having more human sympathy and benevolence than Yeats, Gibbon published Russell's writings in The living torch (1937). His other publications included The tales of Hoffmann (1951), An intruder at the ballet (1952), and The Rhine and its castles (1957); after the death of his friend Michael Farrell (qv), he edited Farrell's mammoth novel Thy tears might cease for publication (1963). Gibbon was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Irish Academy of Letters, of which he was appointed vice-president in 1967. He died 29 October 1987 at his home in Sandycove, Dublin, survived by his wife Mabel Winifred (née Dingwall, daughter of a Church of Ireland dean), whom he met travelling in Europe in the 1920s and married in 1928, and their two sons and four daughters.