Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

1942- ; b. 28 Nov. 1942; Cork, dg. of Eilís Dillon [q.v.] and Prof. Chuilleanáin, Prof. of Irish, UCC, who was active in the War of Independence; ed. UCC [NUI], proceeding on a scholarship to Oxford; B.Litt in Renaissance English (Oxon.); TCD English lecturer in medieval and renaissance literature from 1966, and later Assoc. Professor and Fellow; Irish Times award for poetry, 1966; her early poetry collections incl. Acts and Monuments (1972), winning Patrick Kavanagh award, 1973; Odysseus Meets the Ghosts of the Women (1973), winner of Patrick Kavanagh Award; Site of Ambush (1975), for the first time explicitly identifying the central figure as female; The Second Voyage (1977); her Selected Poems appeared in 1978; m. to Macdara Woods [q.v.], with whom a son, Niall;
fnd. and jointly ed. Cyphers, with Macdara Woods, Pearse Hutchinson, and Leland Bardwell, 1975 - all associates in poetry readings at Sinnott’s pub (S. King St.); issued further collections, The Rose Geranium (1981), and The Magdalene Sermons (1991); ed. Irish Women: Image and Achievement (1985), an authoritative work dealing in Irish mythology and female archetypes; her “Swineherd” (from The Second Voyage) was included in the British Arts Council Poems on the Underground series in 1986; became a forthright critic of The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing’s ‘false inclusiveness’ (in Cyphers, 35); winner the O’Shaughnessy Award, 1992;
her poetry encompasses both contemporary and historical, physical and spiritual dimensions and is marked by a wide range of references and symbols, expressed in distinct images; appt. Dean of Faculty of Arts (Letters) at TCD, 2001; subject of a special issue of the Irish University Review, ed. Anne Fogarty (2007); issued Selected Poems (2008) - initially by Gallery and afterwards by Faber (2008); and The Sun-Fish (2009), which won the International Griffin Trust for Excellence’s International Poetry Prize (Canada, 2010) and was shortlisted for the Poetry now Award; issued The Boys of Bluehill (2015), a new collection - named after the Irish reel; appt. Ireland Professor of Poetry, May 2016; retired from TCD as Fellow as Prof. of English, 2011; her Collected Poems were published by Gallery Press in May 2021; married to Macdara Woods with whom a son Niall. DIW DIL FDA OCIL

The Irish Times (photo credit) John Hewitt Soc. (Belfast) P. Redmond for Outra Ingles Es Imposible - Buenos Aires)

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  • Acts and Monuments (Dublin [10 Oakdown Rd.]: Gallery Press 1973), 44pp.) [also in ltd. edn. of 125 bound in cloth and signed by author];
  • Site of Ambush [Gallery Books, 26] (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1975), 3-37pp. [1,000 copies of which 250 are bound in cloth and signed];
  • Cork, drawings by Brian Lalor and poems by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin [Gallery Books, No. 37] (Loughcrew: Gallery Books 1977), 3-103pp., ill [2 lvs. of pls.; map, 28cm.];
  • The Second Voyage (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1977), 68pp. [23cm.]; NC: Wake Forest UP 1977), and Do. [2nd edn.] (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1986);
  • The Rose Geranium (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1981), 44pp.;
  • The Magdalene Sermons and Earlier Poems (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1991), 40pp.;
  • The Brazen Serpent (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1994), 47pp. [22cm.]; and Do. (NC: Wake Forest 1995), 47pp. [bound in blue cloth; title stamped in silver on spine; blue endpapers; ill. dustjacket];
  • The Girl Who Married a Reindeer (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2001), 58pp. [hb. and clothbound];
  • The Sun-fish (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2009), 64pp.
  • The Boys of Bluehill (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2015), q.pp.
Selected & Collected Poems
  • Selected Poems (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2008), 119pp., and Do. ( London: Faber 2008), 119pp.;
  • Collected Poems (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 2021), 422pp.
  • ‘Gaelic Ireland Rediscovered, Courtly and Country Poetry’, in Irish Poets in English, ed. Seán Lucy (Mercier 1972), pp.44-59;
  • with Joseph Pheifer, Noble and Joyous Histories (IAP 1993), 292pp.;
  • ‘Borderlands of Irish Poetry’, in Contemporary Irish Poetry: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Elmer Andrews (Macmillan 1996), pp.25-40.;
  • Heresy and Orthodoxy in Early English Literature 1350-1680 [Dublin Studies in Med. and Renaissance Ser, 3] (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2010), 174pp.

Books reviewed by Ní Chuilleanáin in Cypher incl. Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea by Seamus Deane, in Cyphers, 21 (1984), pp.50-52 and The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed. Seamus Deane (1991), Vols. I-III, in Cyphers, 35 (1992), p.52.

  • Preface to Irish Poetry Now: An Exhibition of Books, Periodicals, Broadsheets, Manuscripts, Recordings, Drawings and Portraits since 1939 [Cat. of exhibition held during Feb.-March 1972] (Dublin: Project Arts Centre 1972), 28pp., ill. [cover by Michael Kane; ills. within by Liam Miller; 22cm.].
  • ed. Irish Women: Image and Achievement, Women in Irish Culture from the Earliest Times (Dublin: Arlen House 1985) [incl. her own essay, ‘Women as Writers: Danta Grá to Maria Edgeworth’, pp.111-26, and Nuala O’Faolain, ‘Irish Women and Writing in Modern Ireland’, cp.129];
  • ‘The Debate between Thomas More and William Tyndale, 1528-33: Ideas on Literature and Religion’, in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 39, 3 (July 1988), pp.382-411;
  • ‘Poetry in Translation’, in Irish Translators’ Association Newsletter, 1, 1 (1987), cp.5;
  • Contrib. [translations], to The Pharoah’s Daughter, by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1990), pp.71, 121 & 141;
  • with Medbh McGuckian, The Water Horse: Poems in Irish, by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (Oldcastle: Gallery Books 1999), 129pp. [22cm.];
  • ed., Belinda [orig. 1801], by Maria Edgeworth (London: J. M. Dent: Everyman 1993), 474pp.;
  • with J[oseph] D. Pheifer, Noble and Joyous Histories: English Romances, 1375-1650 (Dublin: IAP 1993), [256]pp.;
  • ‘Acts and Monuments of an Unelected Nation: The Cailleach Writes About the Renaissance’, in Southern Review, 31, 3 (1995) [cp.572];
  • interview with Kevin Ray and ‘New Poems’ in Éire-Ireland, XXX, 4 (Winter 1996), pp.62-73; 74-77;
  • ‘Renaissance and Seventeenth-century Poetry’, in Introduction to Literary Studies, ed. Richard Bradford (London & NY: Harvester Wheatsheaf; Prentice Hall; 1996), [Unit 7] pp.143-70 [incl. bibl. 169f.]
  • ‘Borderlands of Irish Poetry’, in Contemporary Irish Poetry: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Elmer Andrews (London: Macmillan 1996), pp.25-24 [see extracts]:
  • Ed. & intro., “As I Was Among the Captives”: Joseph Campbell’s Prison Diary, 1922-1923 [Irish Narratives Ser.] (Cork: UP 2001), vi, 137pp. [20cm.];
  • ed., The Wilde Legacy (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2003), 172pp.[see under Oscar Wilde, Criticism, for details];
  • trans., After the Raising of Lazarus, by Ileana Mäläncioiu [1940- ], with an introduction by Raluca I. Radulescu (Cork: Southword Editions 2005), 67pp. [2nd of 13 books pub. for Cork: European City of Culture Programme, 2005];
  • with Deirdre Serjeantson, ‘The Petrarch they tried to ban’, in Eiléan Ní Cuilleanáin, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin & David Parris, eds., Translation and Censorship: Patterns of Communication and Interference [Conference held in Trinity College Dublin, Oct. 2005] (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2008), 256pp. [see details];with Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin & David Parrish, ed., Translation and Censorship: Patterns of Communication and Interference (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2009), 256pp.
  • ed., with John Flood, Heresy and Orthodoxy in Early English Literature, 1350-1680 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2010), 174pp.
  • Material Poetry [Galway Arts Festival, 11 -24 July 2011](Clonmel: Coracle Press 2011), [88]pp., ill. by Liam Flynn [some col.; 25cm.].
  • ed., with Susana Bayó Belenguer, Translation: Right or Wrong (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2013). [Benenguer is Ass. Prof. in the Spanish at TCD].
  • ed., The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation (NY: W. W. Norton & Co. 2010) [q.p.; unlisted COPAC]
  • Contrib. to Dublin: Renaissance City of Literature [The Manchester Spenser, ed. Kathleen Miller, Crawford Gribben & Theresa O'Byrne (Manchester UP 2017) [other contribs. Raymond Gillespie, Andrew Hadfield, Mícheál Mac Craith, & 9 more [also available in Kindle].
See also ...
  • Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin & Gabriel Rosenstock, Verbale/Minutes/Tuairisc, from the Italian of Michele Ranchetti (Dublin: Istituto Italiano di Cultura 2002), 176pp.
  • The Poets’ Chair: Readings and Interviews with Ireland's Poets from the National Poetry Archive, Vol. 2. (Dublin: Poetry Ireland [2008]), 1 video [Archive contains contribs. by Dennis O'Driscoll, John Montague, Colm Breathnach, Ní Chuilleanáin, and an introduction by Declan Kiberd.  

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TCD Censorship Conference:
Translation and Censorship: Patterns of Communication and Interference, ed. Eiléan Ní Cuilleanáin, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin & David Parris [Proceedings of a Conference held in Trinity College Dublin, Oct. 2005] (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2008), 256pp., 24cm. - CONTENTS:
‘Introduction’ [by eds.]. PART 1 - Theory: Maria Tymoczko, ‘Censorship and self-censorship in translation: ethics and ideology, resistance and collusion’; Piotr Kuhiwczak, ‘Censorship as a collaborative project: a systematic approach’; Elisabeth Gibbels, ‘Translators, the tacit censors.’ PART 2 - Classical and renaissance: Carol O’Sullivan, ‘Censoring these “racy morsels of the vernacular”: loss and gain in the translation of Apuleius and Catullus’; Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin & Deirdre Serjeantson, ‘The Petrarch they tried to ban’. PART 3 - Censoring regimes: Jane Dunnett, ‘Translating under pressure: censorship of foreign literature in Italy between the wars’; Aoife Gallagher, ‘Pasternak’s Hamlet: translation, censorship and indirect communication’; Cristina Gómez Castro, ‘Censorship in Francoist Spain and the importation of translations from South America: the case of Lawrence Durrell’s Justine’. PART 4 - Sensitivities: Filipe Alves Machado, ‘The case of Don Quixote: one hundred years of Portuguese translations’; Gerri Kimber, ‘Translation as hagiographical weapon: the French perception of Katherine Mansfield’; Angelika Nikolowski-Bogomoloff, ‘More than a childhood revisited?: ideological dimensions in the American and British translations of Astrid Lindgren’s Madicken’; Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, ‘... comme des nègres: whitewashed in translation’; Sarah Smyth, ‘“Razom nas begato, nas ne podolati”: remixes of the orange revolution anthem’. Bibliographical references [pp.221-36]’; and Index.

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  • Patricia Boyle Haberstroh, ‘A Conversation with Eiléan Ní Chuillleanáin’, in Four Quarters, 2, 3 (!989), cp.19.; Edna Longley, in Irish Review 8 (Spring 1990);
  • Sheila C. Conboy, “‘What you have seen is beyond speech’”: Female Journeys in the Poetry of Eavan Boland and Eilean Ní Chuilleanáin’, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 16, 1 (July 1990), pp.65-72;
  • Patricia Boyle Haberstroh, ‘An Interview with Eileán Ní Chuilleanáin’, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 20, 2 (Dec. 1994), pp.63-74;
  • Maurice Harmon, ‘Writing for the Gallery’, review of The Brazen Serpent, in Books Ireland (Oct. 1995), p.249 [see extract];
  • Patricia Boyle Haberstroh, Women Creating Women: Contemporary Irish Women Poets (Syracuse UP 1996);
  • Dillon Johnston, ‘“Our Bodies’ Eyes and Writing Hands”: Secrecy and Sensuality in Ni Chuilleanain’s Baroque Art’, in Gender and Sexuality in Modern Ireland, ed. Anthony Bradley & Maryann Gialanella Valiulis (Amherst: ACIS 1997), pp.187-211;
  • Inés Praga, interview with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, in Ireland in Writing: Interviews with Writers and Academics, ed. Jacqueline Hurtley, Praga, et al. (Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi 1998), pp.83-92;
  • Kevin Ray, ‘Interview with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’, Eire-Ireland, 31, 1 & 2 (Spring/Summer 1999), pp.62-73 [see extract];
  • Alexander G. Gonzalez, ed., Contemporary Irish Women Poets: Some Male Perspectives (Westport/London: Greenwood 1999), 184pp.;
  • Guinn Batten, ‘Boland, McGuckian, Ní Chuilleanáin and the Body of the Nation’, in Matthew Campbell, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry (Cambridge UP 2003), pp.169-88;
  • Irene Gilsenan Nordin, ‘The Weight of Words: An Interview with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies/Revue canadienne d’études irlandaises, 28, 2/29, 1 (Fall 2002/Spring 2003), p.74-83;
  • David Wheatley, ‘Closely glossed’, review of The Girl Who Married a Reindeer, in Times Literary Supplement (6 Sept. 2002), p.24 [see extract];
  • Irish University Review [Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin Special Issue], ed. Anne Fogarty (Summer 2007), 289pp. [see contents]
  • See also Eamon Grennan, ‘A meeting of history and mystery’, review of Irish University Review, /iléan Ní Chuilleanáin Special Issue, in The Irish Times (21 July 2007), Weekend [q.p.].
  • Lucy Collins, ‘Architectural Metaphors: Representations of the House in the Poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Vona Groarke’, in Irish Literature since 1990: Diverse Voices, ed. Scott Brewster & Michael Parker (Manchester UP 2009) [Chap. 6].
  • Lucy Collins, ‘Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin's Spaces of Memory’, in Contemporary Irish Women Poets: Memory and Estrangement (Liverpool UP 2016) [Chap. 4].

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Bibliographical details

Irish University Review, 37, 1 [Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin Special Issue], ed. Anne Fogarty (Spring-Summer 2007), 289pp. CONTENTS [available at JSTOR - online]: Fogarty, Introduction’ [viii-xii]; Guinn Batten, ‘“The World Not Dead after All”: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s Work of Revival’ [1]; Nicholas Allen, ‘“Each Page Lies Open to the Version of Every Other”: History in the Poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’ [22]; Patricia Boyle Haberstroh, Interview with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’ [36]; Ní Chuilleanáin, “The Sister”’ [50] & “The Cold”’ [52]; Dillon Johnston, ‘“Hundred-Pocketed Time”: Ní Chuilleanáin’s Baroque Spaces’ [53]; Borbála Faragó, ‘“Alcove in the Wind:’ Silence and Space in Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s Poetry’ [68]; Patricia Boyle Haberstroh, ‘The Architectural Metaphor in the Poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’ [84]; Irene Gilsenan Nordin, ‘Like a Shadow in Water”: Phenomenology and Poetics in the Work of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’ [98]; Jefferson Holdridge, ‘“A Snake Pouring over the Ground”: Nature and the Sacred in Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’ [115]; Catriona Clutterbuck, ‘Good Faith in Religion and Art: The Later Poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’ [131]; Patricia Coughlan, ‘“No Lasting Fruit at All”: Containing, ‘Recognition, and Relinquishing in The Girl Who Married the Reindeer ’ [157]; Aidan O’Malley, ‘“Praeteritio”: (Non-) Possession and the Translational Impulse in Ní Chuilleanáin’s Work’ [178]; Carla de Petris, ‘Italian Dialogues: An Interview with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’ [197]; Poems by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin in Italian: “Oltre la Loira / Crossing the Loire”, trans. by Carla de Petris [202]; “Quel che amor vede / Fireman’s Lift”, trans. by Maria Stella [203]; “Il chiostro delle ossa / The Cloister of Bones”, trans. by Riccardo Duranti [204]; Anne Mulhall, ‘Forms of Exile: Reading Cyphers’ [206]; Thomas McCarthy, ‘“We Could Be in Any City”: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Cork’ [230]; Anne Fogarty, Borbála Faragó, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin: A Select Bibliography’ [244-50].

[ Note that the links provided in the present table of contents lead directly to a PDF copy of the journal at JSTOR Ireland. An Athens password is required to read more than the first page of each item. ]

Book Reviews: Michael O’Rourke reviews Horror and the Irish Anglican Imagination in the Long Eighteenth Century, by Jarlath Killeen’ [252]; Eamon Maher, review of Le Livre en Irlande: l’imprimé en contexte, by Jacqueline Genet; Sylvie Mikowski; Fabienne Garcier’ [257]; Eoin O’Malley, review of Irish Social and Political Attitudes, by John Garry, Niamh Hardiman & Diane Payne’ [261]; Deirdre Mcmahon, Made Holy: Irish Women Religious at Home and Abroad, by Yvonne McKenna’ [266]; Jana Fischerova, review of Kate O’Brien: A Writing Life, by Eibhear Walshe’ [269]; Susan Cahill, review of The Body and Desire in Contemporary Irish Poetry, by Irene Gilsenan Nordin’ [273]; Derek Hand, review of A Guide to Irish Fiction, 1650-1900, by Rolf Loeber, Magda Loeber & Anne Mullin Burnham’ [277]; Victor Sage, review of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: une écriture fantastique, by Gaïd Girard’ [281]. Books Received [287-89].

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Maurice Harmon, ‘Writing for the Gallery’, review of The Brazen Serpent, in Books Ireland (Oct. 1995), p.249, ‘the tantalising beauty of this poetm (‘Studying the Language’) and of this kind of poem is the way it both defines something and leave the full significance open. We go back over the lines to gather in the implications, to assess the weight of particular words , to take in the significance of heritage and succession, the sense of a source acknowledged, claimed and exactly meaure ... sturdy in their underpinning of image and sound and equally strong in implication ... [&c.]

Patricia Boyle Haberstroh, Women Creating Women: Contemporary Irish Women Poets, Syracuse UP 1996): ‘Degendering the hero, she challenges traditional concepts of heroism and demonstrates the value of simple actions and the human scale. While her numerous images of water, travellers, and pilgrims reminds us of the deepest human fears and needs, images also catalogue the importance of the ordinary and the domestic … [as] new metaphors for human experiences and emotions.’ (p.120; quoted by Joyce C. East, review of same, in Irish Literary Supplement, Fall 1996, p.12.)

Kevin Ray, ‘Interview with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’, in Eire-Ireland, 31, 1 & 2 (Spring/Summer 1999): ‘Ní Chuilleanáin herself refers over and over again to the importance of secrecy in her poems, both thematically and in the method of their composition. She writes with an intricate layering, building, in the Renaissance fashion she admires, toward what she has described as “copiousness”.’ (p.62.)

David Wheatley, ‘Closely glossed’, review of The Girl Who Married a Reindeer, in Times Literary Supplement (6 Sept. 2002), p.24: ‘Evasiveness and concealment are both themes and tropes in Ní Chuilleanáin, deliberate strategies in the “poetics of secrecy” that John Kerrigan has found in her work. If Medbh McGuckian’s poems defy the reader to piece together a bare minimum of narrative sense, Ní Chuilleanáin’s are no less mysterious in their apparent repleteness, a repleteness that on closer inspection turns out to be full of those mysterious crannies and alcoves. [...] Ní Chuilleanáin has not received the acclaim of some of her Irish contemporaries, but to the mysteries of her work can be added what is by now an open secret: that she has written some of the most skilfully crafted and rewarding poetry of the past thirty years, a verdict only confirmed by The Girl Who Married the Reindeer.’ (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index or direct.)

Sean O’Brien, review of The Sun-Fish, by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, in The Guardian [Saturday] (6 February 2010): ‘Although she has long been famous in Ireland, it is perhaps only in the last 10 years or so that Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin has begun to receive due recognition in Britain. Ní Chuilleanáin’s work often eludes categories (and sometimes interpretation too) but it might be said that she is a storyteller before she is a moralist, and one who both invites and challenges the reader to accept the primacy of imaginative life. [...] At its most densely enigmatic – for example in “The Clouds”, “The Water” and “Where the Pale Flower Flashes and Disappears” – Ní Chuilleanáin’s work is cousin to the bejewelled, mesmeric poems of Medbh McGuckian, though its dynamic and pacing are often more urgent. Sometimes, out of its flux, there emerges a sudden arresting authority. In “The Water” Ní Chuilleanáin suddenly turns to apostrophise: “O, Hundred-pocketed Time, the big coat lined / With lazy silk pinched close as finger and thumb / Various as oceans, precious-tinted like skies, / What upset you to empty them all at once [. . .]?” Somewhere in the background here is Ulysses’s image of Time in Troilus and Cressida, seen carrying “a wallet at his back, / Wherein he puts alms for oblivion”, but where Ulysses is dealing pragmatically with the political problem of Achilles’s withdrawal from battle at Troy, Ní Chuilleanáin reads Time’s contrasting prodigality in aesthetic terms. (See full text in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index or direct.)

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The Second Voyage

Odysseus rested on his oar and saw
The ruffled foreheads of the waves
Crocodiling and mincing past: he rammed
The oar between their jaws and looked down
In the simmering sea where scribbles of weed defined
Uncertain depth, and the slim fishes progressed
In fatal formation, and thought
If there was a single
Streak of decency in these waves now, they’d be ridged
Pocked and dented with the battering they’ve had,
And we could name them as Adam named the beasts,
Saluting a new one with dismay, or a notorious one
With admiration; they’d notice us passing
And rejoice at our shipwreck, but these
Have less character than sheep and need more patience.

I know what I’ll do he said;
I’ll park my ship in the crook of a long pier
(and I’ll take you with me he said to the oar)
I’ll face the rising ground and walk away
From tidal waters, up riverbeds
Where herons parcel out the miles of stream,
Over gaps in the hills, through warm
Silent valleys, and when I meet a farmer
Bold enough to look me in the eye
With ‘where are you off to with that long
Winnowing fan over your shoulder?’
There I will stand still
And I’ll plant you for a gatepost or a hitching-post
And leave you as a tidemark. I can go back
And organize my house then.
But the profound
Unfenced valleys of the ocean still held him;
He had only the oar to make them keep their distance;
The sea was still frying under the ship’s side.
He considered the water-lilies, and thought about fountains
Spraying as wide as willows in empty squares,
The sugarstick of water clattering into the kettle,
The flat lakes bisecting the rushes. He remembered spiders and frogs
Housekeeping at the roadside in brown trickles floored with mud,
Horsetroughs, the black canal, pale swans at dark:
His face grew damp with tears that tasted
Like his own sweat or the insults of the sea.

FromThe Second Voyage (1977); available at Wake Forest Press - online; accessed 28.11.2022.


When all this is over, said the swineherd,
I mean to retire, where
Nobody will have heard about my special skills
And conversation is mainly about the weather.

I intend to learn how to make coffee, as least as well
As the Portuguese lay-sister in the kitchen
And polish the brass fenders every day.
I want to lie awake at night
Listening to cream crawling to the top of the jug
And the water lying soft in the cistern.

I want to see an orchard where the trees grow in straight lines
And the yellow fox finds shelter between the navy-blue trunks,
Where it gets dark early in summer
And the apple-blossom is allowed to wither on the bough.

—Posted on Facebook by Eunice Yeates [01.08.2016.

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“Deaths and Engines”

We came down above the houses
In a stiff curve, and
At the edge of Paris airport
Saw an empty tunnel
— The back half of a plane, black
On the snow, nobody near it,
Tubular, burnt-out and frozen.

When we faced again
The snow-white runways in the dark
No sound came over
The loudspeakers, except the sighs
Of the lonely pilot.

The cold of metal wings is contagious:
Soon you will need wings of your own,
Cornered in the angle where
Time and life like a knife and fork
Cross, and the lifeline in your palm
Breaks, and the curve of an aeroplane's track
Meets the straight skyline.

The images of relief:
Hospital pyjamas, screens round a bed
A man with a bloody face
Sitting up in bed, conversing cheerfully
Through cut lips:
These will fail you some time.

You will find yourself alone
Accelerating down a blind
Alley, too late to stop
And know how light your death is;
You will be scattered like wreckage,
The pieces every one a different shape
Will spin and lodge in the hearts
Of all who love you.

Rep. in Patrick Crotty, ed., The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry (2010), [qp.].

Borderlands of Irish Poetry’, in Contemporary Irish Poetry: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Elmer Andrews, (London: Macmillan 1996), pp.25-24: ‘The options open to Irish women writers, then, include the absurd, the outspoken, and the crafty use of the borderlands between the two, as also of the borderlands between two languages (Gaelic and English) and between two traditions (male and female) which overlap intriguingly. It was not by chance that a generation of women writers, of whom I am one, emerged in the 1960s, when pressures to allow women to have a profession, to control their lives, their finances and their fertility were mounting, eventually to bring the legislative changes of the 1970s. The politicisation of women’s issues coincided with their poeticising, and they became poetic subjects both in Gaelic and English. [...] The late Caitlín Maude could be at once a singer with powerful folksongs on women’s lives in rural society, and write acutely angry poetry about a woman’s life in a Dublin suburb. The poetry reading, that unquantifiable late-twentieth-century phenomenon, revealed to numbers of women poets that they had a special, female audience as well as the more general one which they had probably begun by going in serve of. Gaelic poetry too had its own audience, accessible to writers and readers - not only native speakers of the language but also the many Irish men and women who have studied it at school. [...]’

Borderlands of Irish Poetry’ (1996), - cont.: ‘What is it about the political and cultural condition of the Southern state which made it impossible to begin there a literary enterprise with a label like The Honest Ulsterman? What elements of irony, of compromise, of would-be metropolitan sensibility on the one side, of aggresssive localism on the other, ruled it out? How do the tensions between gender, person and place differ on opposite sides of the border, so that the very title, not to mention the promise if contains of a no-nonsense, anti-rhetorical compact between writer and reader as males inhabiting a recognisable and real place, seem suspect to Southern readers? (p.26). Quotes final issue of Kavanagh's Weekly: ‘It is the need of the audience which produces the [poet’s] voice ... although there is no ultimate audience there is [in Ireland] just enough coquetry to draw out writers who are then left with a hunger which cannot be satisfied within that society.’ (1, 2, 5 July 1952, p.i; here p.27.) Bibl., W. J. McCormack of Nightwalker: ‘That read-sea dividing collection’ (‘Politics or Community’, in Tracks, No. 7 [Kinsella Special Issue] (1987, p.63.

Translations: ‘His [the translator’s] essential expertise is as necessary for the higher virtues of civilised man - broadmindedness, enterprise, assurance - as for the man [in] luxury of civilised life - uninterrupted human communication, and the endless satisfaction of the human curiosity. Translator and plumber, though, both capitalise on basic needs of man, whether civilised or not, and thus inevitably demonstrate the unity of peoples. Languages, histories and traditions, which seem impervious to one another, are revealed as modes of communication.’ (‘Poetry in Translation’, Irish Translators’ Association Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1987, cp.5; quoted in Michael Cronin, Translating Ireland: Translations, Languages, Cultures, Cork UP 1996, p.185.)

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Anthologies: ‘Every anthology published in my lifetime has been worthless as an account of contemporary literature [...] because of the form’s spurious claim to completeness.’ (Quoted in John Kerrigan, review of Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry, in Irish Review, No. 20, Winter/Spring 1997, p.131).

Launching Cyphers ...

Late September 2010 saw the launch of the seventieth number of Cyphers. The Biblical figure made some of our friends assume this would be our last. The editors preferred to focus on the thirty-five year span since the magazine’s first appearance and to see ourselves in Dantean terms as still in the middle of our journey. Cyphers 71 is in preparation now.

In 1975 the four editors, Leland Bardwell, Pearse Hutchinson, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Macdara Woods, produced the first number. When we started up, The Dublin Magazine had closed and The Lace Curtain’s penultimate issue had appeared. We wanted to be as regular as the first and as open to the wide world as the second. People assumed we wanted to encourage new writers – nothing was further from our thoughts, though in fact we were to assist with several emergences. We did want to keep faith with the poets we admired, who might not be, or might not stay, in fashion: we felt strong enough to back our own judgement. Our first Cyphers contained only poetry. In the second we included fiction (a piece by the late Jimmy Brennan, followed in No. 3 by one from Adrian Kenny who also has a story in No. 70), and for a long time we were the only magazine in Ireland publishing literary fiction.

Our first Cyphers felt like quite an achievement, after struggles to raise funds in a recession, much wondering about the title, and long enjoyable meetings discussing the content. That was the easy bit – we wrote to our friends, and to the contacts we had made when we had run a series of poetry readings in Sinnott’s pub in South King Street, abetted by the late Justin O’Mahony. We had admitted defeat there when the price of drink rose, so that the audience came later; also, the noise of a hostile regular inhabitant of the pub and the crash of the cash register combined to make some voices inaudible; also, Pearse left for a stint as Gregory Fellow in the University of Leeds. His return was the signal for the new project.

I asked the Arts Council for money. They gave us half of what we wanted for the first two issues. Some friends, John Buckley, Benedict Ryan and Katherine Kavanagh, helped out, and we decided to go ahead and try our luck. For years afterwards we depended on the patience and good humour of our printer, Pat Funge of Elo Press, as we struggled to pay off the bills for those first issues. But the Arts Council was impressed with our determination and funded us, so that in the end we got out of debt. Pat’s old letterpress machines were damaged by vandals, and he used the insurance money to shift to the newer offset litho technology, so we learned about paste-ups and light-boxes; nowadays I make pdfs using Open Office. After Pat’s death when Elo closed, Christy, Mark and Richard, who had all worked there, started a new firm, and they are our printers today.

More important than the six pounds that Patrick Kavanagh’s widow could afford to donate to the founding, she taught me to keep accounts properly. It was the beginning of my long career as amateur book-keeper and administrator. For fourteen years I took care of the business end of Cyphers, haunted by bundles of invoices, dead chequebooks, and stacks of back numbers and unpublished submissions waiting to be returned. All four editors would gather for a meitheal of writing rejection letters. I had card-indexes of subscribers and battered concertina files of stamped envelopes. Then FÁS came to the rescue, with a lovely worker, and we got our first second-hand Amstrad computer (it came with a flowery oilskin dust-cover). All of the succession of nice clever people who worked for us through FÁS schemes, and the later equally nice and clever ones whom the Arts Council helped us to employ, were frightened by accounts, so I still do that part. But they were willing to log and list and copy and post the manuscripts and look after subscribers and see that the writers were eventually paid their fees.

In 1975 we swore that we would always pay a fee, however miserable. Quite often the cheque has arrived so late as to surprise the recipient, but we reckon that, small as it is, a fee is never an unpleasant surprise. It is also a marker of our opinion of the pieces we publish, that we have considered and weighed them carefully and think them worth money. (But what of the writers we didn’t publish? Some of them too have made it, but not all. Our archive is rich with pompous letters of self-introduction from people who wrote a poem about their holiday in Ireland; these contrast with the admirable brevity of the man who began his letter ‘Dear Shits’ …)

The early issues had a masthead with lettering by the late Ruth Brandt. It was the arrival in early 1975 of her husband, Michael Kane, to get the details for the cover, that pushed us to decide on the title. We had thought of Landrail, The Blackbird, Waterhouse Clock … Michael liked cats and asked us what our black cat’s name was. She was called (after a series of poems by Macdara) Cypher, a name derived from, among other things, the Arabic word for zero, but it also means a code. We thought that would do, though we were annoyed later when some critic thought we were being modest, taking the sense ‘nonentities’ – which it hadn’t occurred to us is one of its meanings too.

When we saw that first issue it was clear we’d got some things wrong. The card for the cover was a paleish yellow, the format looked like a child’s copybook, and so we realised we must make changes, and a long evolution began. From the second issue onward we used a stronger, cleaner colour, from the fourth we put the contributors’ names on the cover (all of them – we refused to pick out the bigger names); we moved to glossy card and acquired a spine at issue 5. The black cat is in her grave in the back garden of Selskar Terrace, but her name lives on.

Orig. in Poetry Ireland News (Jan.- Feb. 2010); rep. on the Cyphers website - online; accessed 06.09.2011.

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James Simmons, ed., Ten Irish Poets (Manchester: Carcanet 1974), selects “Early Recollections”; “Death and Engines”; “Evidence”; “The Apparition”; “The Second Voyage”; “A Poem on Change”; “Ferryboat”; “Letter to Pearse Hutchinson”; “Swineherd”.

Chez Penguin: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin has appeared in Penguin Book of Irish Verse, ed. Brendan Kennelly (Harmondsworth 1970, 1981) and also in The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry, ed. Patrick Crotty (London: Penguin 2010), pp.763-77 [“Death and Engines”; “Macmoransbridge”; “Fireman’s Lift”; “The Real Thing”; “A Capitulary”; “Glos/Clós/Glas”.] (See further details on Crotty, 2010, infra.)

Peter Fallon & Seán Golden, eds., Soft Day: A Miscellany of Contemporary Irish Writing (Dublin Wolfhound; Notre Dame UP 1980), selects “Swineherd”; “Death and Engines”; “The Lady’s Tower”; “Odysseus Meets the Ghosts of the Women”; “A Gentleman’s Bedroom”.

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Seamus Deane, gen., ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, selects poems from Acts and Monuments; Site of Ambush; The Second Voyage; 1434 [no commentary.]

Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), selects “The Second Voyage” [266]; “Deaths and Engines” [267; as supra]; “The Informant” [268]; “The Real Thing” [269]; “Saint Margaret of Cortona” [270].

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Translation Cork: Cork poets incl. Bernard O’Donoghue, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Theo Dorgan, Greg Delanty, Robert Welch, participated in Cork 2005 European translation series directed by Pat Cotter of the Munster Literature Centre.

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