Mary O’Malley was born in Connamara and educated at University College, Galway. She spent many years living in Portugal before returning to Ireland in the late 1980s and beginning a poetry career in 1990 with the title A Consideration of Silk from Galway-based publisher Salmon. She has since published six other books including a New and Selected. Her latest books have all been published by British house Carcanet. She is a popular reader of her own work and is frequently invited abroad to read or to teach. Her poems have been translated into several languages.
As late as 1990 it was practically impossible for an Irish woman poet to publish a first collection with any Irish publisher other than Salmon. Salmon is not a feminist press but has always proved a good home for women and male poets who write outside the patriarchal tradition. In spite of this, O’Malley’s work has sometimes been appropriated by Feminist ideologues, even though she has always showed herself as sensitive to the trials of some men as to those of women.
O’Malley’s early work reflected the struggles between modernity and tradition in Irish culture which prevailed at that time. At the vanguard of such struggles were women because many of the issues surrounding the establishment of a modern society (such as divorce, contraception and gay rights) were perceived by a political intelligentsia to affect women more than men. For generations most progressive individuals in Irish society emigrated, leaving a modernising rump continuously outnumbered by an aging, conservative majority. As emigration slowed through the 1990s, the culture wars came to a head and O’Malley’s early work details the lives of those restricted in their personal and public freedoms, itching to break free while valuing some of the traditional aspects of the disappearing heritage.
O’Malley’s latest work from the volume, A Perfect V, reflects the new reality of a woman reborn and self-actualised not only in her private sphere but in the public sphere. Many of the poems are set in Paris and treat the city not as an endstop for economic and liberal asylum, as it would have been twenty years earlier, but as a metaphor for the freedom and new-found identity of a free-travelling, twenty-first century Irish person, who just so happens to be a poet and a woman.
A Consideration of Silk, Salmon Poetry Galway, 1990
Where the Rocks Float, Salmon, Galway, 1993
The Knife in the Wave, Salmon Co.Clare, 1997
Asylum Road, Salmon Publishing, 2001
The Boning Hall (New & Selected), Carcanet Press, Manchester, 2002
A Perfect V, Carcanet Press, Manchester, 2006.
O’Malley’s page with British publisher
O’Malley’s page with Irish publisher with more poems
O’Malley broadcast on BBC (7 minutes long)