Leland Bardwell

1922-2016 [vars. 1926 & 1928; née Leland Hone]; b. 25 Feb. 1922, in India of Irish parents, her father being born employed on the railways [the ‘descendency’]; childhood spent in family house in Leixlip, Co. Kildare; her father’s furniture factory venture burnt to the ground; ed. Alexandra College, Dublin until age 16 when she left to care for dying mother (d.1941); suffered in childhood from her parents. open preference for her sis. Paloma and disparaged as ugly; spent wartime in Birmingham and London, later moving to Scotland; met her husband Michael Bardwell, and settled in rural Cambridgeshire; returned to live in Kilkenny, also cottage-style; travelled to Paris with husband's brother, with whom a child; settled in London's Soho, and met Anthony Cronin and Patrick Kavanagh; formed a relationship with Finton McLachlan and suffered after botched abortion; returned to Dublin in late 1959;
settled in Leeson St. basement flat with dg. Jacky and son Nicholas and, occasionally, McLachlan; went to Wexford with McLahlan, and separated again; moved to Hatch St. with her family, 1970, and later still to a Tallaght housing estate on sale of house; contrib. reviews to Hibernia; met Macdara Woods, Paul Durcan, Michael Hartnett and others in McDaids and the Bailey; first poetry published in Arena; issued Girl on a Bicycle (1977) - a novel, written in the 1960s - That London Winter (1981), The House (1984), and There We Have Been (1989), but considers herself primarily a poet; wrote a musical about Edith Piaf (No Regrets, 1984), produced at the National Stadium with Anne Bushnell as Piaf; fnd. Cyphers with Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, Macdara Woods and Pearse Hutchinson; radio and stage plays; member of Aosdána;
raised six children, her first two remaining with her husband; lived in rented house at Annaghmakerrig [Co. Fermanagh]; edited Borderlines (1989, 1994, 2000, 2004), poems by young people on the border; issued Mother to a Stranger (2002), a novel dealing with unwanted pregnancy and adoption; wrote Jocasta, a co-production of Sligo-based Dha Ean and the Belltable Arts Centre, Limerick; issued The White Beach: New and Selected Poems (1998) and The Noise of Masonry Settling (2006), more poems; issued A Restless Life (2008), a memor; lived in northwest Sligo on the western seaboard;. d. aet. 94, June 2106; there is an obituary in The Guardian by Richard Pine (24 Juy 2016; as infra). ATT OCIL DIL

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  • The Mad Cyclist (Dublin: New Writers Press 1970), 20pp. [ltd. edn. 300];
  • The Fly and the Bed Bug (Dublin: Beaver Row Press 1984), 48pp.;
  • Dostoevsky’s Grave: Selected Poems (Dublin: Daedalus 1991), 69pp.;
  • The White Beach: New and Selected Poems, 1960-1998 (Knockevin: Salmon Publishing 1998), 115pp.;
  • The Noise of Masonry Settling (Dublin: Dedalus Press 2006), 76pp.
  • Girl on a Bicycle: A Novel (Dublin: Irish Writers Co-operative Press 1977), 160pp.;
  • That London Winter (Dublin: Irish Writers Co-operative Press 1981), 183pp.;
  • The House (Brandon Press 1984; rep. 2006), 156pp.;
  • There We Have Been (Dublin: Attic Press 1989, 1990), 96pp.;
  • Mother to a Stranger (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2002), 186pp.
  • A Restless Life (2008)
Short stories
  • Different Kinds of Love (Dublin: Attic Press 1987), 121pp., trans. into German by Ilse Bessen Berger (Berlin: Verlag Ullstein 1991).
  • Thursday; Open Ended Prescription [both unpublished]. See also radio plays, The Revenge of Constance; Just Another Killing; also a musical on Edith Piaf.


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Listen at Scoop It > Poetry - curated by Hugh McFadden - online.

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David Norris, ‘Imaginative Response versus Authority: A Theme of the Anglo-Irish Short Story’, in The Irish Short Story, ed. Terence Brown & Patrick Rafroidi (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979), briefly notes of The Real Charlotte by Somerville and Ross that ‘it is by no means so accurate, complete or convincing an account of Protestant, Anglo-Irish life as, for example, Leland Bardwell’s Girl on a Bicycle [1977].’ (p.49.)

Sue Leonard, review of Leland Bardwell, Mother to a Stranger (Belfast: Blackstaff Press), 192pp., in which a contented middle age couple are confronted by the undisclosed early child of the wife, come back in his thirties in search of his birth-mother. Leonard writes with some indignation at the publisher’s promise of an ‘exceptional novel about the devastating power of secrets’: ‘If only Leland had made a plan [...] Leland has already published four novels, so should surely understand her craft by now? It’s not that she can’t write. There is some poetic thoughtful writing in the novel, but it gers drowned in the torrent of half-formed ideas and morass of four-letter words.’ (Books Ireland, Summer 2002, p.165.)

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Mary Leland, review of Leland Bardwell, Mother to a Stranger, review in The Irish Times (8 June 2002), Weekend: Nan, a concert pianist, and Jim, a small farmer in a very elective way, have to come to terms with the arrival of Nan’s only child, born 30 years earlier in a home for unmarried mothers in London; while Nan makes an emotional tiphead of her life with Jim, Jim retreats to the pub; ‘Bardwell is marvellous at this: as the marriage emerges as fundamentally barren so the farming life reveals the contradictory relationships between people force together by a mixture of dependence and scorn.’ Further, ‘The intimacy of Bardwell’s grip on the reader cannot be rejected; her techniques of displacement and her insinuations of something to hope for have an almost theatrical quality.’

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J. Ardle McArdle, review of The House [rep. edn.], in Books Ireland (Oct. 2007): ‘In The House, the Stewarts, a Protestant family living near Killiney, are not happy. The prodigal (in his parents’ eyes) son, Cedric, a philandering historian plagued by his non-relationship with his father and his hatred of his mother, returns physically to see his fatherwho is dying and mentally to relive the ups and downs of being part of a snobbish, mentally besieged family in an alien Catholic world. In spite of the title, this is not a run of the mill Big House story of impoverished eccentricity but a meticulously drafted exposure of human inability to cope with a new world, which obliges the reader to criticise and to pity at the same time. If there are heroes in the book, they are the quiet ones, Cedric’s father, a hard working solicitor making out deeds and wills for old Protestant ladies living in Glenageary or Greystones and Theresa, the Catholic maid, who was Cedric’s lover. Cedric, himself damaged goods, writes to her from Malaya after a suicide attempt [quotes]: "I should never have done what I did to you. I gave you hope. People like you and me shouldn’t have hope. My father is the only hero. He stayed at home and worked. Every day. Punctual. Fair. Will you look after him for me? He never made the mistake of giving people hope." / Leland Bardwell’s prose has never been so precise and so cutting. Not a word is superfluous and yet everything is covered.’ [Quotes as infra; end] (p.214.)

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[Shirley Kelly,] ‘I Never Planned to Write a Memoir’ [interview-article], in Books Ireland (Sept. 2008), gives account of her early life, viz., 1928- [née Leland Hone]; b. in India of Anglo-Irish parents, her father being employed on the railways; spent her childhood in the crumbling family home at Leixlip, Co. Kildare [‘the descendency’]; her father’s furniture factory burnt to the ground; educated at first by a maiden aunt at home, later travelling with her to other gentry houses where she was taught with other children; solitary child, her siblings being sent to boarding-school; read novels from penny library and played piano in empty wing of house; ignored by her social-climbing mother, who told her she was a ‘mistake’; formed friendship with a succession of house-maids; once attacked her mother with a pitchfork; ate broken glass in frustration; sent to Alexandra College at 12; befriended the only Catholic girl there; excelled at hockey and piano, winning prizes for poetry and fiction; formed ambition to be a concert pianist; her mother died in 1941; fell in love with a first cousin of her father (Christopher Cooper); became pregnant by another man; travelled to English ‘to help with the war effort’; worked in Birmingham factory and gave up son for adoption (‘I’ve known girls who killed themselves when they discovered they were pregnant’); spent remainder of wartime in London; near escape in air-raid; began writing for magazines, unsuccessfully; moved in Scotland, 1945; joined alternative teaching community; met her husband Michael, though still in love with Cooper; returned to Ireland and lived life of self-sufficiency in Kilkenny; had twins; family moved to Cambridgeshire, once again living in a cottage; became increasingly estranged; commenced affair with his br. Brian; moved with Brian to Paris, leaving the twins in a London nursery; returned pregnant to London; became friendly with Anthony Cronin and Patrick Kavanagh, frequenting Soho; her flat a hangout for artists (‘a crescendo of madness ... hectic, funny, wonderful, painful; all those emotions stretched the limits’); became pregnant with playboy Finton McLachlan, and suffered botched abortion; back in Dublin in 1960; children living with their father in England; basement flat in Leeson St., with dg. Jacky and son Nicholas; Finton occasionally visiting; contrib. reviews to Hibernia; met Macdara Woods, Paul Durcan, Michael Hartnett and others, often in McDaids and the Bailey; poetry published in Arena (‘more and more poems came tumbling out, one after another, like sheep going through the gap’); wrote Girl on a Bicycle; six children; Finton stealing money from her; moved to Hatch St., 1970; on landlady selling up, moved to Tallaght housing estate; rented a house at Annaghmakerrig; now lives alone in northwest Sligo; issued memoir, A Restless Life. (p.171.)

Adam Wyeth - homage ...

“Leland Bardwell”
night I could not sleep
I came to read you in lamplight
poking out the rushes
of books festooned on my shelves
that I look upon as family.
But Leland, you were the least familiar
of kith and kin, given me
by your son, Nicholas in Dingle.
And so, Leland Bardwell,
I stretched out your pages like arms
and undressed you
with my eyes, my ears, my nose, my hands,
my mouth – watering inside –
devoured you! Night I could not sleep,
Leland Bardwell
I came to you out of the rushes of bed sheets,
and held your slender spine
tenderly as the first time I found poetry
singing in me.
The lines of your life on Lower Leeson Street
opened and closed like doors
in my mind, and the sun and moon rose
at the same time.
Leland Bardwell, night I could not sleep
I came to raise the dead
weight of my head from its rushes of knots
and lay it on your lap
where your lyrics ran like fingers through my locks.
Night cannot contain
the strain of thoughts that fly between these walls –
so I have come
to settle them in words
plucking them
from the air, where all things come.
Such thoughts
I had while reading you Leland Bardwell,
night I could not sleep.


—from Adam Wyeth, Silent Music (2011); contributed by the author to 746 Books - online, 11 July 2015; accessed 15.07.2015.

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Another life ...

Born in India of Irish parents in 1922, Leland was brought to Ireland at the age of two where she spent a bleak childhood. In her memoir A Restless Life, she details the mental and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother who favoured her elder sister Paloma. She longed to attend Trinity College but the money had been spent on her sister’s education and there was nothing left, her parents being unaware of how bright their youngest child was. Left to her own devices, she read and wrote stories from an early age. She escaped her restless existence in Ireland by falling pregnant while in a relationship with her cousin Christopher (who was not the father of the child) and using the “war effort” as an excuse fled to London where she gave birth to the baby and gave it up for adoption.

Her love life continued to be tumoultous throughout her life. She met and married Michael Bardwell (brother-in-law of Kingsley Amis) and they had twins. She left Michael for his brother Brian, with whom she had a daughter before beginning an affair with another man who lived in the flat upstairs. All the while she continued to see her cousin Christopher on and off. It seems that her neglected childhood made it difficult for her to sustain relationships and she says in her autobiography “ I, always expecting to be the one to be hurt, never believed I could hurt others”.

In the late 50s she found herself at the centre of the Soho literary scene, with friends like Anthony Burgess and Francis Bacon. Patrick Kavanagh was her lodger and between famous wild drunken parties, she began to write in earnest. She moved back to Dublin with a new partner, Finton McLachlan and had three more children, living in relative poverty for the next ten years, scraping by writing reviews. She created another literary “salon” around herself, with Paul Durcan amongst others in attendance and continued to write, but was not published until the end of her relationship with Finton in the 1970s.

Despite being published later in life, she has written 5 collections of poetry, 5 novels, a collection of short stories and several stage, radio and musical plays. She was one of the founder editors of the literary journal Cyphers and established the Irish Writer’s Co-operative with Desmond Hogan and Neil Jordan and has become an influential figure in the Irish literary world without receiving the accolades of her male counterparts.

Now aged 93, Leland lives and works in Sligo and has fulfilled the literary promise that was stifled throughout her life by her sex, and consequently by her relationships and her domesticity. She is a woman who has lived by her own rules often at a time when that was not an easy or acceptable thing to do and she never let go of what she wanted to do. Leland Bardwell is a survivor. I, for one, would love to see her brought out of the shadows.


— Extract from 746 Books: Confessions of a Book-buying Addict [by “Cathy”]; posted 23.03.2015 - online; accessed 10.07.2015. Cathy goes on to give a full account of Mother to a Stranger (2002) which she calls a ‘[t]his vibrant, earthy and often funny book [that] smartly explores how fragile our sense of self can be and how secrets from the past can never fully be buried.’ (Ibid.)

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Guardian obituary by Richard Pine

The Irish poet and novelist Leland Bardwell, who has died aged 94, realised from childhood that a writing life was inevitable. In her memoirs she recorded: “Since the age of six writing had been not an ambition but a condition.”

However, there were years of editorial rejections before Bardwell blossomed into a writer of the poetry, short stories for radio, plays and autobiographical novels that flowed, due in part to the encouragement of the coterie assembled there, from her basement flat in Dublin. Utterly impervious to her near derelict surroundings, she entertained artists and writers, including Patrick Kavanagh, and the poets with whom in 1975 she founded the magazine Cyphers: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Macdara Woods.

At the same time, she co-founded, with Neil Jordan and Steve McDonagh, the Irish Writers’ Co-operative, publishing new writers such as Desmond Hogan, Philip Davison and Sebastian Barry.

Her five volumes of acclaimed poetry were The Mad Cyclist (1970), The Fly and the Bed Bug (1984), Dostoevsky’s Grace (1991), her “new and selected” The White Beach (1998), and finally The Noise of Masonry Settling (2005).

The Mad Cyclist might have been a leitmotif for her literary as well as her personal life: her first novel was Girl on a Bicycle (1977), set in the 1940s. This led to That London Winter (1981), the story of her seven-year affair with a married man. The House (1984), arguably her masterpiece, places her own emotional life in the context of the Protestant-Catholic confrontation in a changing Ireland. Retracing her roots was a constant compulsion, demonstrated in There We Have Been (1989), while Mother to a Stranger (2003) may well be Bardwell’s speculative reverie on the fate of her first child, given up for adoption.

The daughter of Pat and Mary (née Collis) Hone, she came from a family over the centuries had included two distinguished painters, Nathaniel Hone the Elder and the Younger, the stained glass artist Evie Hone, and two Joseph Hones, one a biographer of Yeats, and the other a writer of thrillers. On her mother’s side, her uncles John, Robert and Maurice Collis were all distinguished writers, Robert’s play Marrowbone Lane (1939) having spearheaded the fight against tuberculosis in Ireland.

Born in India, where her father was a railway engineer, Leland never knew stability, as reflected in the title of her memoir, A Restless Life (2008). Deprived of parental love, she declared: “I longed to be an orphan.” The search for love became a career path. “I craved affection as though it were an item to be found on a market stall.”

The family returned to Ireland when Leland was a toddler and settled in County Kildare. She attended the private Church of Ireland Alexandra college in Dublin, but left at 16 when an unwanted pregnancy led her to England, where her baby, Sean, was adopted. She took various menial jobs during the second world war, in which she narrowly escaped death from a German bomb, after which she taught, briefly and unsuccessfully, at Kilquhanity House, near Castle Douglas, in Scotland.

This led to marriage, in 1948, to the poet Michael Bardwell. With Bardwell she had twins, Billy and Anna. An affair with Michael’s journalist brother, Brian, led to the birth of a daughter, Jacqueline.

Back in London, she plunged into the bohemian world of Soho. It was a chaotic, almost phantasmagoric life, in which she met writers and artists including Anthony Cronin, George Barker and Francis Bacon, and gave house room to a drug-crazed baronet.

But love, other than her vixenish concern for her children, eluded her. “In love, I’m a genuinely sick person,” she wrote. “Love aborts my intelligence.” She was, nevertheless, intensely passionate as both friend and writer. Her short story collection Different Kinds of Love (1987) chronicles the advances towards, and retreats from, family, children, passions and friends.

Moving back to Dublin in the late 50s, she met Finton McLachlan, with whom she had three sons, Nicholas, Edward and John. McLachlan was “the most beautiful young man I had ever seen” but also, she recorded, also serially unfaithful who “treated his hangovers with care”. To support herself and her sons, Bardwell took work as a film extra, sometimes with the boys. Her last such appearance was in Educating Rita (1983).

She concluded her memoir with the words: “With the end of the sixties, ‘La Vie de Bohème’ ended.” But Bardwell herself upheld the bohemian life to the last. In 1986 she left Dublin for the gate lodge of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig, and in the 90s finally settled on the coast of County Sligo, where she befriended Dermot Healy and founded the literary festival Scriobh.

Her ramshackle lifestyle outraged many in Catholic Ireland, while she was regarded by her own class as an outsider. While the Hones had produced misfits and several dissolute members, Leland outdid them all in her capacity for rebellious freedom. Her morality lay in her faithfulness to the craft of writing and in bearing witness to the different kinds of truth and love with which she was confronted. Her lifelong indenture, equally to the pen and to the search for love, was expressed as: “If it’s bad enough, you might get a poem out of it.”

She is survived by Billy, Anna, Jacqueline, Nicholas, Edward and John.

— Available at The Guardian online; accessed 24 July 2016.


The House (rep. edn. 2007): ‘The door opens and Maria [Cedric’s sister] enters, dressed in riding clothes. She, all bustle and worry, is at the mercy as usual of her freedom. A strange paradox. She was free because she was unfree. She had no choice. Her life was a blueprint of the horsey girl who turns into a horsey woman. I think I said earlier that she might have been a suffragette if she had been born a little sooner. But as it was, her mind was padlocked behind generations of stiff Protestant notions, prim as a governess yet she would never even achieve that status. She’d disapproved of everything. She would spend her life waiting from Monday to Thursday for the weekly meet of the Bray Harriers. During the weekend she read what we used to slay as middle-brow books, but the romance in them, or rather the effect of the romance in them, was something she hid within herself. I pitied her more than Jess. Especially afterwards when I discovered that she secretly painted stacks of water-colours, mostly views of the bay, which were tinted with nostalgia that would break your heart were you to see them today. So why could she not share any of this agony with the rest of us? For the same reason, I suppose, that we were all cut off from each other; like points in a field [.]’.

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Anthologies: Edmund Lenihan, ed., Ferocious Irish Women (Cork: Mercier 1991) and Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares, and Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland’s Women (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994).

The House (1984) concerns Cedric Stewart who returns to post-WWII Killiney to visit his dying father; illustrates conservatism of Protestant society and explores personal relationships with others incl. a Catholic housekeeper. (Books Ireland, “First Flush”.)

COPAC [in 2004] lists Different Kinds of Love (1987); Dostoevsky’s Grave: Selected Poems (1991); The Fly and the Bedbug (1984); Girl on a Bicycle: a novel (1977); The House (1984); The Mad Cyclist (1970); Mother to a Stranger (2002); That London Winter (1981); There We Have Been (1989); The White Beach: New and Selected Poems 1960-1998 (1998); Ed., Borderlines: Poems by South Ulster Youth (1989); Borderlines 2: Poems by Young People in the Border Area ([County Monaghan Vocational Education Committee] 1994); Borderlines 3: poems by young people in the Irish border region (2000); Do. (2004).

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