Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin & Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
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Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin & Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

Past Event: Thursday, May 1, 1997

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, born in 1942, is one of Ireland’s most shining contemporary poets. Her work is distinguished by its incisive imagery, economy of words, and sense of mystery. Among her six volumes of poetry, The Magdalene Sermon was selected by the Irish Times/Aer Lingus Poetry Book Prize Committee as one of the year’s three best books of poetry. She has also been awarded the Patrick Kavanagh Prize and the O’Shaughnessy Award of the Irish-American Cultural Institute.

The citation for 1992 O’Shaughnessy Award reads: “Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin employs a poetic point of view that is displaced, unspecified, and often enigmatic; her poetry resonates with ancient rites and presences from a spiritual otherworld. She is a unique poet who has influenced younger writers, broadened the scope of Irish poetry, and earned her place among the very best poets of her generation.”

Educated in Cork and Oxford, Ní Chuilleanáin is now a lecturer at Trinity College in Dublin. She is a founding editor of the literary review Cyphers, and a member of Aosdána, an affiliation of Irish artists engaged in literature, music, and visual arts. She is married to Macdara Woods, with whom she has a son.

Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, one of Ireland’s foremost Irish-language poet, hasbeen hailed as among the “most significant Irish poetic achievements of thedecade” (Irish Literary Supplement, 1992). Ní Dhomhnaill writes withexuberance and wit, negotiating between older forms, fables, and idioms ofIreland and the contemporary world.

She was born in Lancashire, England, and at the age of five moved to anIrish-speaking area of Kerry. She received her B.A. from University CollegeCork, where she studied English and Irish. Her first collection of poems, Dealg Droighin, was published in 1981, and she has since published Féar Suaithinseach (1984), Rogha Dánta (1988), FeisThe Astrakhan Coat, and Pharoah’s Daughter (1991). Her two Irish collections, Dealg Droighin and Féar Suaithinseach, won the Séan O Riordain Award and the Arts Council Prize forPoetry. Many of her poems are available in translation. In 1998-99, NíDhomhnaill was the Burns Visiting Scholar at Boston College. As a field of academic inquiry, she is interested in contemporary Irish works in translation, tackling the issues of using Irish to express modern themes and the implications of translation.

Ní Dhomhnaill lives in Dublin and teaches at University College.


Wash man out of the earth; shear off
The human shell.
Twenty feel down there’s close cold earth
So clean.

Wash the man out of the woman:
The strange sweat from her skin, the ashes from her hair.
Stretch her to dry in the sun
The blue marks on her breast will fade.

Woman and world not yet
Clean as the cat
Leaping to the windowsill with a fish in her teeth;
Her flat curious eyes reflect the squalid room,
She begins to wash the water from the fish.

—Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Almost spent
the small bird landed
on my window-sill,
don’t know where from,
don’t know where gone,

a scantling,
he nested—circumspect—in my arms,
got back his strength, began to sing.

I lost myself,
lost day and night,
followed the music
east of the moon
and west of the sun
and oh red-ripe the garden-o . . .

when I awoke
he was gone,

I open my window,
I place on the sill
the bowl of water,
the reddened grain.

—Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
(translated by Tom Mc Intyre)

Page describing Ní Chuilleanáin’s works
Article on Ní Chuilleanáin
Interview with Ní Dhomhnaill
Page describing Ní Dhomhnaill’s work
The Guardian review: Ní Dhomhnaill’s The Fifty Minute Mermaid