Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
(Ireland, 1942)   
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Ní Chuilleanáin was born in Cork in 1942, educated there and at Oxford before spending all her working life up to the present as an academic in Trinity College Dublin. Ní Chuilleanáin’s first book Acts and Monuments was published in 1972 and her work has been much admired ever since, resulting in her being described variously as one of Ireland’s best poets and Ireland’s best woman poet.

Frequently a subject of academic attention Ní Chuilleanáin was subject of a full issue of Irish University Review in 2007 with contributions from academics and critics from Europe, Ireland and America. She has won numerous awards, including the Patrick Kavanagh Award and the prestigious O'Shaughnessy Poetry Award by The Irish American Cultural Institute, which called her “among the very best poets of her generation.” As well as a poet in her own right, Ní Chuilleanáin has been crucial as a periodical editor on the Irish literary scene. Since 1975 she has been an editor and publisher of Cyphers – Ireland’s longest established literary periodical, more recently she has accepted the position of current editor of Poetry Ireland Review – the publication of national record.

She has translated poets from Irish, Italian and Romanian. Every summer she resides in Italy with her poet husband Macdara Woods. Gallery Press and Faber are co-publishing her Selected Poems in June 2008.

Ní Chuilleanáin comes from a family of writers and musicians. Her father, a famous academic and combatant in the Irish War of Independence, her mother, a classic children’s author. She said she became a poet because her mother wrote prose and because she thought poetry was more difficult. Music is important in her poetry not only as a subject but as a source of texture and form. Her upbringing on the campus of University College Cork appears to have instilled in her from an early age an appreciation for architecture, its imagistic and metaphorical possibilities. From her earliest work to the latest, the ambience of certain built interiors affects her poems’ scenery; and architectural motifs recur even more frequently than cats and sometimes, as with one of the poems here, together with cats.

Religious themes and imagery populate her poems under the influence of so much great ecclesiastical architecture and so many relatives having taken the veil. Folklore is important to her work, possibly because of the folkloric elements in her mother’s children’s fiction but also possibly because folklore allows her to approach subjects from an oblique, non-confessional perspective. Her interest in folklore also appears to have influenced some of her choices of poets to translate, most noticeably Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and the Romanian poet Ileana Malancioiu.

© Patrick Cotter

Selected Bibliography

The Magdalene Sermon Gallery Press, Dublin 1989
The Brazen Serpent Gallery Press, Oldcastle 1994
The Girl Who Married the Reindeer Gallery Press, Oldcastle 2001
Selected Poems Gallery Press, Oldcastle and Faber, London 2008

Verbale by Michele Ranchetti (with others) Instituto Italiano di Cultura, Dublin 2003
After the Raising of Lazarus by Ileana Malancioiu Southword Editions, Cork 2005 

Links in English

Author’s homepage

Another poem

Critical article

Author’s original publisher

Author’s American Publisher


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