Máirtín Ó Direáin (1910-88)

b. 29 Nov., Sruthán, Inishmore, Aran Island; son of small-farmer (d.1917); spoke Irish only to mid-teens; joined postal service in Galway, Jan. 1928; acted in Gaelic Theatre (Taibhdearc), 1928-37; transferred to Dublin, 1938; Postal Censorship, 1935-45; transferred to Dept. of Education, Dublin, 1937; appt. Register of National College of Art, 1948-55; chance attendance at lecture in 1938 inspired him to write poetry; issued Coinnle Geala (1942) and Dánta Aniar (1943), at his own expense, both expressing nostalgia for Aran life; Rogha Dánta (1949), adding fourteen poems to earlier pamphlets, and regarded as a landmark in modern poetry in Irish; increasingly concerned with conflict of rural and urban, traditional and modern, laced with contempt shading into self-contempt;
issued Ó Mórna agus Dánta Eile (1957), the title poem being an apologia for an oppressive native landlord and hereditary chieftain an account of his cattle driven over a cliff by the islanders during the Land War (as narrated in Feamainn Bhealtaine) having inspired the poet to learn more of him; influenced by his examination of the bardic poetry of Pádraíg Ó Haicéad and Dáibhí Ó Bruadair; attached to Bedell’s Bible of 1685 and Dineen’s Dictionary (new edn. 1934); Feamainn Bhealtaine (1961), autobiographical essays; Ar Ré Dhearóil (1962) – ‘our wretched era’, in which the title poem is a lament and a satire of modern conditions set in Dublin, much influenced by reading Eliot Spengler;
issued collections Coch Choirnéil (1966), and Crainn is Cáirde (1970); awarded Hon Litt. NUI, 1977; awarded Ossian Prize for Poetry of the Freiherr von Stein Foundation, Hamburg, 1977 [£5,000]; represented Ireland at Warsaw Autumn Poetry Festival, 1977; issued Ceacht an Éin (1980) and Dánta, 1939-1979 (1980), the first collected poems of any Irish-language poet published in his lifetime; issued Béasa an Túir (1984) and Tacar Dánta/Selected Poems (1984), the latter edited and translated by Tomás Mac Síomáin and Douglas Sealy, with the object of getting the tone rather than the literal meaning; issued Craobhóg Dán (1986), his last collection; d. 19 March 1988; a brother Tomás is also a poet. DIW DIB OCIL

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  • Coinnle Geala (priv. 1942); D
  • ánta Aniar (priv. 1943).
  • Rogha Dánta (Sáirséal & Dill 1949) [ltd. edn. 1200].
  • Ó Mórna agus Dánta Eile (1957), ill. Nano Reid.
  • Ar Ré Dhearóil (1962).
  • Coch Choirnéil (1966).
  • Crainn is Cáirde (1970); Ceach an Éin (1980).
  • Dánta 1939-1979 (1980) [containing a revised and slightly abbreviated version of “Ó Mórna”].
  • Béasa an Túir (1984).
  • Tomás Mac Síomáin & Douglas Sealy, trans. & ed., Tacar Dánta/Selected Poems (Newbridge: Goldsmith Press 1984), 138pp. [bilingual edn.].
  • Craobhóg Dán (1986).
  • Feamainn Bhealtaine (Dublin: An Clóchamhar Tta. 1961).
  • contrib. autobiographical note to Innti, 7.


Isabel Ní Riain, Carraig agus Cathair: Ó Direáin (Dublin: Cois Life 2002), 146pp.; Frank Sewell, ‘Between Two Languages: Poetry in Irish, English and Irish English’, in Matthew Campbell, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry (Cambridge UP 2003), pp.149-68. See also a section in Andrea Mayr, The Aran Islands and Anglo-Irish Literature: a Literary History and Selected Studies (Peter Lang: Frankfurtg am Main 2008).

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Tomás Mac Síomáin & Douglas Sealy, eds., Máirtín Ó Direáin, Tacar Dánta/Selected Poems (Newbridge: Goldsmith Press 1984), bilingual edn.: Introduction [i-xv]: ‘His work, traditional in many of its attitudes, themes and perceptions, original in its techniqes and individualism, marks the watershed between the old and the new in Irish poetry.; (Introduction, p.[i].) ‘“Cranna Foirtil” is basically about the realisation that for the poet there can in the end be nothing as important as his “craft or sullen art”. In its five short stanzas it brings together a number of the poet’s pre-occupations – his search for certainty, his backward look towards a prelapsarian world, his respect for traditional ways – and it makes use of some of his favourite [v] symbols – the tree for strength and stability, the redshank for the solitary artist, and the coal of fire for the artist’s imagination.’ (pp.v-vi.) ‘Just as Yeats needed his Phases of the Moon and Eliot his mystical apprehension of the still point in the turning world, so Ó Díreáin has needed [this] oileán rúin, his secret island, not only as symbol but also as a yardstick against which to measure the fallings off of life.’ (vii.) Quotes: ‘Coinneod féin an t-oileán/Seal eile I mo dhán/Toisc a ionraice atá/Clock, carraig, is trá. [I will keep the island/A little longer in my poem/Because of the truth of Stone, rock and strand.]’ (“Ionracas [Guilelessness, Truth, Integrity]”); words written in response to praise from Seán Ó Riordáin).‘[Of Ó Mórna:] the eponymous hero is a thug and a bully, but he is treated with sympathy and even admiration, for he was a proud and passionate man; Ó Díreáin’s dislike and contempt is reserved for the philistines, the opportunists, the apathetic, the scurrying lilliputians of the metropolis, the seangánfhear or ant-people.’ (ix.) [Cont.]

Mac Síomáin & Sealy, eds., Máirtín Ó Direáin, Tacar Dánta/Selected Poems (1984), Introduction - cont.: ‘The Irish psyche has yet to recover completely form the distortion caused by centuries of economic and cultural domination – the beaten Irish maintain an ambivalent attitude towards their Anglo-Irish landlords: a sullen vengefulness co-existing with an almost hysterial need to imitate the [x] “quality” (the very designation is significant). Ó Díreáin’s poetry faithfully mirrors this ambivalence and its cloak of servility also insists that we reconsider the only too easily dismissed contribution of the Anglo-Irish to our present nation-state.’ (p.x-ii); speaks of Ó Díreáin’s poem on Berkeley’s immaterialism and the doubt about the ‘reality’ of the island of his imagination: ‘This could have been a fruitful perception, but the weakening of Ó Díreáin’s governing myth left him floundering for direct and his two last books, Crainn is Cáirde (1970) and Ceacht an Éin (1979), though not without felicities, contain few poems that match the resonance and appeal of the earlier “island poems”.’ (p.xii.) [Cont.]

Mac Síomáin & Sealy, eds., Máirtín Ó Direáin, Tacar Dánta/Selected Poems (1984), Introduction - cont.: ‘In the poem entitled “Neamhionraic gach Beo”, the poet, having discovered in ‘Berkeley’ that the “island” was only a construction of the mind, seems to have come to the conclusion that the real island, the nucleus around which his ideal island dhad formed, is a reduction of the island of his youth to a congeries of inanimate matter (cloch, carraig, is trá). In this mood of despair he feels compelled to dismiss the warmth of human association as neamhionraic (impure, not of the essence) and only recognises ionracas (purity, integrity) in two ancient portraits. This extraordinary bitterness is directed at himself and his poetry. The island, he says, has left his poem; its dead but sure integrity can have nothing to do with the impurity of life as seen by the poet. … Only a deep and growing dissatisfaction with his creative work could have occasioned it [the poem “Neamhíonraic Gach Beo”]’ (xiii.) [Cont.]

Mac Síomáin & Sealy, eds., Máirtín Ó Direáin, Tacar Dánta/Selected Poems (1984), Introduction - cont.: ‘Ó Díreáin has observed, with dismay, the transformation of a primarily agrarian society into a primarily urban one, the attenuation of traditional values, the rejection of the political and cultural ideas that sustained those who fought for an independent Ireland and, most of all, the creeping disappearance of the Irish language itself, the very medium of his art. Such fundamental and far-reaching change has not occurred without causing its share of psychological trauma, without making strangers in their own land of those whose allegiance is to the older vision./ Máirtín Ó Díreáin, by virtue of his background and [xiii] and sensibility, is uniquely qualified to speak for such “strangers” and the most enduring part of his poetry gives vivid expression to the anger and pain attendant on this state of internal exile which he suffered and continues to suffer.’ (xiii-xiv); adds remarks on translation, citing Lowell on translating Pasternak; ends in Irish.

Máire Mac an tSoai: ‘Language of the Heart’ [interviewed by Mary O’Malley], in The Irish Times (26 Feb. 2000), Weekend: remarlks on Máirtín Ó Direáin, ‘He’s a very underestimated poet even by his admirers [...] this idea that he’s only a nostalgic poet. There’s a poem of his that opens: “Trua ar fireann ar an uaigneas / sad to be male in solitude”. And because, I think he belonged to, and was writing for, a puritanical generation of English speakers nobody, but nobody, that Iknow of, has spoken of the passionate cry that comes through in that. That isn’t any soft nostalgia. How can we live on this bare stone without women,’ is what he’s saying.’

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Níor chabhair mhór d'éinne againn san aois seo an aon uaill ná mac alla ó na filí a chuaigh romhain inár dteanga féin [No cry or echo from the poets who went before us in our own tongue would be of help to any of us in this time ].’ (Quoted in Theo Dorgan, ‘Twentieth-century Irish Language Poetry’ [essay], in An leabhar mór/The Great Book of Gaelic; rep. in Archipelago [link].

Arainn 1947”: ‘Ní don óige feasta / An sceirdoileán cúng úd. [Not for the young any more / That narrow windswept island.]’‘D’iminn sa deireadh / M’aghaid lasta is mé gonta / Ach is mairg nach bhfanainn; / Nuair a smaoinim naois air / Cá bhfois cén rúndiamhair / Nach eol d’aon fhear beirthe / A phiocfainn ó mhná / Scartha thart ar thine / Iad ag ól tae / Is seálta ar a gcloigne? [I left in the end / Blushing and hurt / But I wish I had stayed: / When I think of it now / Who knows what secret lore / Unknown to any man alive / I’d have snatched form the women / Ranged round a fire / Drinking tea / With their shawls on their heads?’ (Rogha Dánta, 1949; in Tomás Mac Síomáin & Douglas Sealy, eds., Tacar Dánta / Selected Poems, Newbridge: Goldsmith Press 1984, pp.10-11.)

Foreign light: ‘I never knocked back light / from anywhere it came / but I asked the foreign light / not to put out my own.’ (“Solas”, in Craobhóg Dán, 1986, p.23; trans. Frank Sewell, ‘Between Two Languages’, in Matthew Campbell, ed., Cambridge Companion to Contemp. Irish Poetry, 2003, p.151; quoted in Callum Boyle, ‘Tradition and Transgression in the Poetry of Michael Hartnett’, MA Diss., UUC, 2005.)

Deanglicisation: ‘[G]o ndí-nbéarlaíonn an file an tábhar ina aigne agus go gcuireann sé de chomaoin ar an nGaeilge é a chumadh inti ansin [so the poet de-anglicises such material in his imagination, before submitting it to the imprint of the Gaelic mind.]’ (Feamiann Bhealtaine/Maytime Seaweed, quoted in Declan Kiberd, ‘Anglo-Gaelic Literature: Sean Ó Ríordáin, Irish Classics, London: Granta 2000, p.610; cited in Boyle, op. cit. 2005.).

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Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), selects “Deireadh Ré” [108]; trans. by Patrick Crotty as “Era’s End” [109]; “Cuirahne an DomImaigh” [108], trans. by Patrick Crotty as “Memory of Sunday ” [109]; “Cranna Foirtil” [110], trans. by Patrick Crotty as “Strong Beams ” [111].

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