Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill


Life
1952- ; b. North of England; dg. of med. doctors, working Lancashire; brought to Kerry at aetat. 5; met Irish-speaking grandfather and learnt Irish as ‘the way to capture his heart’; raised in Irish-speaking area west of Ventry (Dingle Gaeltacht) in Co. Kerry from five; also lived in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary; attended first Merriman Summer School, held entirely in Irish, 1969, and there witnessed Seán Ó Ríordán’s ‘stunning impromtu riposte’ to Mairtín Ó Cadháin’s ‘Pápéirí Bána, Pápéirí Breaca’; entered UCC (grad. BA in Irish and English, 1972); Higher Diploma, Ed., 1973;
 
m. geologist Dogan Leflef, having been made ward-of-court by her parents to prevent the match; lived in Netherlands and Turkey during seven years; lived in Dingle Gaelteacht during the early 1980s, and settled in Dublin with her husband and their four children; her decision to being writing in Irish greeted by her mother as ‘mad’; issued An Dealg Droighin [The Thorn of the Sloe] (1981); isued Féar Suithinseach [Marvellous Grass] (1984); versions in English by Michael Hartnett in Raven Introductions (1984); full collection as Selected Poems/Rogha Danta (English edn. 1985; bilingual edn. 1986); Feis (1991); American-Ireland Fund Literary Award, 1991;
 
received several major awards and a Uí Ríordáin, and a Gulbenkian Foundation bursary; member of Aosdána; libretto for The Wooing of Eadaoin, opera by Gerard Victory (National Chamber Choir, 1994); also An t-Anam Mothála (The Feeling Soul), a TV film documentary directed by Frank Stapleton (RTE1 Summer 1995); awarded D.Phil, honoris causa, DCU (Glasnevin) 1995; Cead Aighnis (1998); spent part of 1999 as the John J. Burns Library Visiting Scholars in Irish Studies at Boston College, living at 29 Mill St., Newtown, MA; with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Medbh McGuckian, The Water Horse (1999); spending Spring Semester 2001 as Heimhold Visiting Fellow in Irish Studies, Villanova Univ., Philadelphia, PA;
 
appt. to Ireland Chair of Poetry, 30th May 2001-2003, with inaugural lecture on 6 Dec. 2003; editor of modern Irish poetry section of The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vols. 4 & 5 (2002), making a selection of 59 poets; her collected prose appeared in 2005 (Collected Essays); ed. The Incredible Hides in Every House (2005), an anthology emerging from a creative writing course at the Irish Writers’ Centre, published with benefit to Habit for Humanity; issued The Fifty Minute Mermaid, parallel trans. by Paul Muldoon (2007), with poems such as “Na Murúcha agus Galair Thógálacha [Menfold amd infectious Diseases]” she was awarded a DLitt by TCD in 2006; gave the Barra O Donnabhain Memorial Lecture at Glucksman Ireland Hse., NY, 18 Feb. 2010; read at the Courthouse Arts Centre, Tinahely, Co. Wicklow, as part of All Ireland Poetry Day, Thurs. 6th Oct. 2011. DIW FDA OCIL

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Works
Poetry
  • An Dealg Droighin (Cork: Mercier Press [BAC: Cló Mercier] 1981), 96pp.;
  • Féar Suaithinseach (Maynooth: An Sagart 1984), 114pp.;
  • Selected Poems/Rogha Danta, translated by Michael Hartnett [The Bright Wave Ser.] (Dublin: Raven Arts Press 1988, 1991), 159pp. [parallel text]; and Do. [new edn.], with afterword by Ní Dhomhnaill (2000), 168pp. [var. English edn. 1985; bilingual edn. 1986];
  • Pharoah’s Daughter (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1990), 159pp. [bilingual edn. with facing-translations by sundry Irish poets, as infra.];
  • Feis (Maynooth: An Sagart 1991), 132pp. [26cm];
  • The Astrakhan Cloak, trans. by Paul Muldoon, [bilingual edn.] (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1991; 1992), 103pp.;
  • Spíonáin is róiseanna, compánach don chaiséad CIC L21 (Indreabhan: Clo Iar-Chonnachta 1993), 95pp.;
  • Cead Aighnis (Maynooth: An Sagart 1998, 2000), 153pp.;
  • The Water Horse: poems in Irish, with translations into English by Medbh McGuckian and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin (Oldcastle: Gallery Press 1999), 129pp. [22cm.];
  • The Fifty Minute Mermaid, par. trans. Paul Muldoon (Gallery Press 2007), 166pp.
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Prose
  • Selected Essays, with an introduction by Oona Frawley (Dublin: New Island Press 2005), 300pp. [contents].

Also ‘Mis and Dubh Ruis: A Parable of Psychic Transformation’, in Irish Writers and Religion, ed. Robert Welch (Gerrards Cross 1992), pp.194-201 [see extract]

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Plays for children
  • Jimín (Dublin: Deilt Productions 1985);
  • An Ollphaist Ghranna (Dublin: Deilt Productions 1987);
  • Destination Demain (Paris: GES 1993).
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Film scripts
  • An Goban Saor (Ilanna Productions 1993);
  • An t-Anam Mothala (1995.)
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Journals (sel. contribs. - poetry.)
  • “Three poems” [‘An Mhurúch San Ospideal’, ‘Ruga De Chuid na n-Amaiseach’, ‘Fleur-du-Lit, après Tom MacIntyre’], in Irish Review, 14, Autumn 1993, pp.105-07;
  • poems from The Astrakhan Coat, trans. Paul Muldoon [‘The view from Cabintelly’; ‘Deep-Freeze’; ‘At Raven’s Rock’], rep. in The Celtic Pen, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Autumn 1993), p.8;
  • ‘Traduction ad absurdum’ [short piece], in Gerald Dawe & Jonathan Williams, eds., Krino [‘The State of Poetry’ Issue] (Winter 1993), pp.49-50;
  • Raven Introductions, 3 (Dublin: Raven Arts; Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1984), 80pp. [poems by Ní Dhomhnaill in versions by Michael Hartnett, with others by Sara Berkeley, Ciaran Cosgrove, Róisín Cowman, Padraig Rooney; fiction by Patrick McCabe, David Connaughton].
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Journals (sel. contribs. - prose)
  • ‘What Foremothers?’, in Theresa O’Connor, The Comic Tradition in Irish Women Writers (Florida UP 1996), pp.8-20 [in Poetry Ireland Review, Autumn 1992, pp.18-31];
  • with Greg Delanty, ed., Jumping Off Shadows: Selected Contemporary Irish Poets (Cork UP 1995), xxii, 257pp. [see details];
  • ‘An t-Anam Mothala: The Feeling Soul’, in James P. Mackey, ed., Cultures of Europe: The Irish Contribution [City of Derry’s International Meeting for the Appreciation of the Arts (QUB/IIS 1994], pp.170-83;
  • ‘Why I Choose to Write in Irish: The Corpse that Sits Up and Talks Back’, in New York Times (8 Jan. 1995), “Book Reviews” [sect.; see extract];
  • ‘On Being a Living Fossil: Writing in Irish’, in Derek Mahon, ed., Ireland of the Welcomes, ‘New Irish Writing’ [special issue] (Sept.-Oct. 1996), pp.24-28;
  • ‘Comrá [conversation]’ with Medbh McGuckian, in The Southern Review [q.d.; cited in Times Literary Supplement, 15 March 1996, p.27];
  • Afterword to Jan de Fouw, Amergin (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 2000), 40pp. [foreword by Micheal O’Siadhail].
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Miscellaneous
  • ed., The Incredible Hides in Every House: A Collection of Short Stories and Poetry (Dublin: Irish Writers’ Centre 2005), ix, 182pp.; ed. [eag.],
  • 100 bliain: Éire san 20ú h-aois / taighde pictiúr le Yseult Thornley; bunaithe ar smaoineamh a bhí ag Edmund Lynch (Dublin: TownHouse & CountryHouse [with Foras na Gaeilge & RTÉ 2001), vi, 368pp., ill. [bilingual].
  • with Paul Durcan & John Montague, The Poet’s Chair: The First Nine Years of the Ireland Chair of Poetry, pref. by Seamus Heaney; afterword by Sir Donal Deeney (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2008), 280pp. [‘Níl Cead Isteach ag an bPobal [Public Access Denied]/The Unrecognised Literary Landscape of Ireland’, ‘Kismet, or the Workings of Destiny’, ‘An Chailleach agus an Spearbhean agus an Saol Eile i gCoitinne’].

See also The Poet’s Chair: The First Nine Years of the Ireland Chair of Poetry, with a preface by Seamus Heaney; afterword by Sir Donal Deeney (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2008), xiv, 264pp. CONTENTS: John Montague - 1. ‘The Bag Apron: or The Poet and His Community’ (memoir of a writer’s apprenticeship); 2. ‘Short Thoughts on a Long Poem: Words and Music’; 3. ‘Challenge of Translation’; Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill - 4. ‘Nil Cead Isteach ag an bPobal: Tirdhreach Liteartha Neamhaitheanta na Gaolainne / Public Access Denied: or The Unrecognized Literary Landscape of Irish’ [Parnassus in Kerry]; 5. Kismet, or the Workings of Destiny’ [A Language Odyssey - account of the Irish poet’s arrival as a bride in Turkey]; 6. ‘Chailleach agus an Apeirbhean agus an Saol Eile / Hag, the Fair Maid and the Otherworld’. Paul Durcan - 7. ‘Cronin’s Cantos’; 8. ‘Hartnett’s Farewell’; 9. ‘[The Mountain and Mahomet: The Mystery of Harry Clifton’. Trustees 1998-2007. (Johns Hopkins UL - online; note vars. in COPAC, as given in Select Bibliography for 2008 - attached.)

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Bibliographical details
Pharoah’s Daughter (Oldcastle: Gallery Books 1990; reps. 1991, 1994, 1997), 159pp.; Poems in Irish / English: Geasa / The Bond’, translated by Medbh McGuckian [12]; ‘An Ceann / The Head’, Ciaran Carson [14]; ‘I mBaile an tSléibhe / In Baile an tSleibhe’, Michael Coady [20]; ‘In Memoriam Elly Ní Dhomhnaill (1884-1963) / In Memoriam Elly Ní Dhomhnaill (1884-1963)’, George O’Brien [24]; ‘Eirigh, a Éinín / Celebration’, Michael Hartnett [28]; ‘Féar Suaithinseach / Miraculous Grass’, Seamus Heaney [32]; ‘An Crann / As for the Quince’, Paul Muldoon [36]; ‘Oilean / Island’, John Montague [40]; ‘Caoineadh Mhoss Martin / ament for Moss Martin’, George O’Brien [44]; ‘Mo Mhíle Stór / Mo Mhíle Stór’, Seamus Heaney [48]; ‘Toircheas 1 / Ark of the Covenant’, Medbh McGuckian [50]; ‘Toircheas 2 / Gate of Heaven’, Medbh McGuckian [52]; ‘Ualach an Uaignis / This Lonely Load’, Michael Hartnett [54]; ‘Sceimhle / Paranoia’, Derek Mahon [56; ‘An Bhábóg Bhriste / The Broken Doll’, John Montague [58]; ‘An Bóithrín Caol / The Narrow Path’, Michael Coady [60]; ‘Iascach Oíche / Night Fishing’, Medbh McGuckian [64]; ‘Claoninsint / The Word on the Wind’, Peter Fallon [66]; ‘Aois na Cloiche / The Stone Age’, Derek Mahon [68]; ‘Madame / Madame’, Eilean Ni Chuilleanáin [70]; ‘Boladh na Fola / The Smell of Blood’, Ciaran Carson [74]; ‘Mac Airt / Mac Airt’, Tom Mac Intyre [76]; ‘Maidin sa Domhan Toir / Oriental Morning’, Michael Hartnett [80]; ‘Chomh Leochaileach le Sliogán / As Fragile as a Shell’, Derek Mahon [84]; ‘Gan do Chuid Éadaigh / Nude’, Paul Muldoon [90]; ‘An Rás / The Race’, Derek Mahon [94]; ‘An Fath Nar Phos Brid Riamh / Why Bridgid’, or Brid’, Never Married’, Peter Fallon [98]; ‘Hotline / Hotline’, Ciaran Carson [100]; ‘Mise ag Tiomáint / In Charge’, Tom Mac Intyre [102]; ‘An Bhean Mhídhílis / The Unfaithful Wife’, Paul Muldoon [104]; ‘Casad / Nine Little Goats Medbh McGuckian [110]; ‘An Boghaisín / Rainbow’, Tom Mac Intyre [114]; ‘Blodewedd / Blodewedd’, John Montague [116]; ‘Dún / Stronghold’, Eilean Ní Chuilleanain [120]; ‘An Taobh Tuathail / Inside Out’, Peter Fallon [124]; ‘An Fhilíocht / Poetry’, Tom Mac Intyre [126]; ‘An tSeanbhean Bhocht / The Shan Van Vocht’, Ciaran Carson [128] AgTiomáint Siar / DrivingTest’, Michael Coady [132]; ‘Cailleach / Hag’, John Montague [134]; ‘Iarúsailéim / Jerusalem’, Tom Mac Intyre [138] Fear / Looking at a Man’, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain [140]; ‘Comhairle ón mBean Leasa / The Heist’, Paul Muldoon [144]; ‘Aubade / Aubade’, Michael Longley [148]; ‘Mo Theaghlach / Household’, Eilean Ní Chuilleanáin [150]; ‘Ceist na Teangan / The Language Issue Paul Muldoon [154-55] Acknowledgements [157]; Index of translators [158].

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Jumping Off Shadows: Selected Contemporary Irish Poets , ed. by Greg Delanty [&] Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (Cork UP 1995), xxii, 257pp.: incls. Roz Cowman; Eilean Ni Chuilleanain; Aine Miller; Ciaran O’Driscoll; Robert Welch; Derry O’Sullivan; Paul Durcan; Augustus Young; Gabriel Rosenstock; Michael Davitt; Liam O Muirthile - Gregory O’Donoghue; Gerry Murphy; Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill; Theo Dorgan; Maurice Riordan; Thomas McCarthy; Catherine Phil MacCarthy; Sean Dunne; Greg Delanty; Liz O’Donoghue; Colm Breathnach; Louis de Paor; Pat Cotter [et. al.]

Selected Essays of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, with an introduction by Oona Frawley (Dublin: New Island Press 2005), 300pp. CONTENTS: ‘Why I choose to write in Irish, the corpse that sits up and talks back’; ‘Dinnsheanchas: the naming of high or holy places’; ‘An Bhanfhíle sa Traidisiún: the woman poet in the Irish tradition’; ‘Patterns’; ‘A ghostly Alhambra’; ‘Mis and dubh ruis: a parable of psychic transformation’; ‘Glendalough’; ‘Cé leis tú?’; ‘Dinnsheanchas: holy wells and psychic depths’; ‘The Field Day Anthology of Irish Women’s Writing - Introduction: contemporary poetry’; ‘Seal sa domhnan thoir: sojourn in the eastern world’; ‘Unalive beings and things that don’t exist’.

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Criticism
  • Michael Cronin, ‘Making the Millenium’, interview, in Graph, 1 (1986), cp.5-7;
  • Lucy McDiarmid & Michael Durkan, ‘Q. & A.: Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill’, in Irish Literary Supplement, 6, 2 (Fall 1987), pp.41-43 [rep. in James P. Myers, ed., Writing Irish: Selected Interviews with Irish Writers from the Irish (Syracuse UP 1999), p.99ff.]
  • Interview with Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, in An Nasc, 3, 1 (1990), pp.23-28;
  • Rebecca E. Wilson & Gillian Somerville-Arjat, eds., Sleeping with Monsters: Conversations with Scottish and Irish Women Poets (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1990), pp.148-57 [interview, with bilingual versions of ‘Aubade’; ‘Kundalini’];
  • Lucy MacDiarmid, ‘From Signifump to Kierkegaard’ [review of The Astrakhan Coat], in New York Times (28 July 1991), p.14;
  • Seán Ó Tuama, ‘The Living and Terrible Mother in the Early Poetry of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’, in Repossessions: Selected Essays on the Irish Literary Heritage (Cork UP 1995), pp.34-53;
  • Mary O’Connor, ‘Lashings of Mother Tongue: Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s Anarchic Laughter’, in Theresa O’Connor, ed., The Comic Tradition in Irish Women Writers (Florida UP 1996), pp.149-70;
  • Pádraig de Paor, Tionscnamh Filíochta Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (An Clóchmhar 1997), viii+303pp.
  • Michaela Schrage-Früh, Emerging Identities: Myth, Nation and Gender in the Poetry of Eavan Boland, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill and Medbh McGuckian [Mainz University Studies in English, Bd. 7 MUSE] (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität) (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier 2004), 228pp.
  • [...]
  • Eric Falci, ‘Ní Dhomhnaill along the spine’, in Continuity and Change in Irish Poetry, 1966-2010 (Cambridge UP 2012) [Chap. 5].
 

See also Anne-Marie Fyfe, ‘Woman and Mother Ireland’ in Image and Power: Women in Fiction in the Twentieth Century, eds., Sarah Sceats & Gail Cunningham (London: Longman 1996), pp.184-94; Vicki Mahaffey, ‘Heirs of Yeats: Eire as Female Poets Revise Her’, in The Future of Modernism, ed. Hugh Witemeyer (Michigan UP 1997), pp.101-17, and Patricia Boyle Haberstroh, Women Creating Women: Contemporary Irish Women Poets (Syracuse UP 1996); Alexander G. Gonzalez, ed., Contemporary Irish Women Poets: Some Male Perspectives (Westport/London: Greenwood 1999); Mitsuko Ohno, ‘Hokusai, Basho, Zen and More: Japanese Influences on Irish Poets’, in Journal of Irish Studies (IASIL-Japan), XVII (2002), pp.15-31; espec. p.25 [questionnaire-response]; 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.

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Commentary
Géaroid Denvir, ‘Decolonizing the Mind: Language and Literature in Ireland’, in New Hibernia Review, 1, 1 (Spring 1997), pp.44-68, incidentally argues that ‘much of her work is a rejection of Cartesian, intellectualised Western thought, a conscious and often unconscious effort to move into a different mode of feeling, seeing, and knowing culled from the Gaelic side of her heritage.’ (p.65.)

Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 1992), review notice of Nuala ní Dhomhmnaill, Feis (Má Nuad: An Sagart 1991), calls it a poem of 4 sections that delights in the sexual connotations of the term in the title, derived from Old Irish fo-aid, ‘to spend the night with’. Uses the 9th c. story of Mór Munhan as a preface, and underscores allusions to the archaeology and mythology of Brú na Bóinne; ‘Dún’ is a love-poem; also, ‘An Traein Dubh, ‘A Bhaitráil’, Na Tri Shraoth’, and ‘Stigmata’; images of subterranean confinement in ‘Mo Shaol faoi Ghloine’ and ‘An Poll sa Staighre’. Also present is Bean an Leasa. An earth mother gone wrong terrifies the speaker’s daughter in ‘Cailleach’, reinforced by references to the Kerry Babies Case.

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Robert Welch, Changing States: Transformations in Modern Irish Writing (London: Routledge 1993): ‘For Ní Dhomhnaill and Hartnett the loss of the Irish language was a cataclysmic blow to the psyche of the Irish people in that it ripped out and tore asunder all the secret interiors that sponsor the manifold activities that go to make up a culture. […] On the other side of the coin are the linguistic or cultural behaviourists. They say: language is merely a set of counters; and those mysteries to which the cultural nationalists lay claim are romanticism, mantra-seeking, bog-digging for treasure troves of words. [..] Why trouble ourselves over traumas that may or many not have taken place a century ago? This view, in its robust common sense, has certain attractions.’ / […] It may be that the way we pose the question is part of the problem’ (Ibid., p.4.)

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Gerardine Meaney, ‘Sex and Nation: Women in Irish Culture and Politics’, in Irish Women’s Studies: A Reader, ed. Ailbhe Smyth (Dublin: Attic Press 1993), pp.230-44: ‘[...] If the male Irish writer must speak from this Oedipal place of exile, what position as speaking and writing subject is available to the Irish woman? According to Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, “We’ve all internalised this patriarchal thing. It would be a lie for me to say that I’m out of the woods, because I’m not”. [Interview with Michael Cronin, Graph, 1, Oct. 1986.] / Ní Dhomhnaill here echoes the imagery of the French novelist and theorist Hélène Cixous. Cixous sees language as an agent of the internalisation of “the whole patriarchal thing” and argues that “as soon as women begin to speak they’re taught that their territory is black: because you are Africa, you are black, your continent is dark. Dark is dangerous” (1976). The image of the feminine as a colonised territory has now become almost banal, but Cixous’s association of language and colonialism is particularly resonant in an Irish context. / For both Ní Dhomhnaill and Cixous the language of patriarchy colonises women’s self-concept and world view. It presents the masculine as the norm and the feminine as an aberration. Words abound for experiences which are exclusive to or predominantly those of men. The public domain, which was for so long the domain of men, is also the domain where discourse proliferates. The private domain, women’s traditional “sphere”, is very often the realm of the oblique and unspoken. (Compare, for example, the proliferation of technical vocabularies in the twentieth century - mechanical, electronic, computer languages and jargon - with the scarcity of words relating to the experience of childbirth.) How then can women use language, particularly how can women write, without succumbing to the inherent masculine bias in the languages of patriarchal cultures? According to Ní Dhomhnaill the woman must write - and the man who would break out of the strait-jacket of patriarchal repression and “linguistic schizophrenia” must write - in “the language of the Mothers” which she calls Irish. / This latter assertion has caused considerable controversy. Ní Dhomhnaill herself admits, “There’s a level of hurt involved in the language.” This is especially so for women. The question of Irish identity and the question of feminine identity often - as we have seen - have [241] mutually exclusive answers. Moreover the political exclusion implicit in this valorisation of the Irish language is undeniable and runs the risk of a return to the same old insular Irishness. The most productive way to understand Ní Dhomhnaill’s assertion is as an attempt to revise the significance of the language she chooses and an assertion that she has a choice. The use of Irish by a woman poet to write in ways which challenge the basic assumptions and myths of patriarchy is an attempt to wrest authority, not only from patriarchy and misogynist myth, but from that formulation of national identity to which the Irish language and the silence of women were fundamental. That is an exercise which can only be beneficial to those many women. writers in Ireland who do not see Irish as their mother tongue and who instead grapple with the problem of looking back through literary mothers who are as often as not Anglo-Irish and excluded from that narrow definition of Irishness which Ni Dhomhnaill challenges.’ [For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Critical Classics”, infra.]

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Bernard O’Donoghue, review of Cead Aighnuis (Sagart), in Irish Times (17 April 1999): ‘Ní Dhomhnaill at the moment looks the most likely of the brilliant constellation of Irish-language poets of her generation to be mentioned in history in the same breath as Órathaille. her forte is not as a representative, as much as a voice of extraordinary and unmissable personal force, however affectingly she enters into contemporary issues, from the political condition of women to Bosnia; quotes from “Aurora Borelais”: ‘Tá’s agam nach bhfuil sé ceart, cóir ná cothrom/rud beag chomh suarach lem’ chroise a chur i gcomparáid/le feiniméan sioraí, le rud atá chomh dosháraithe/le soilse na bhFlaitheas, le hiomrothlú na bplainéd’, and remarks: ‘The constituency represented by poetry which combines the personal and universal to this degree is the human species. And the expression of it through a language of few speakers is one of the great miracles of modern Ireland.’

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Patricia Boyle Haberstroh, cites Angela Bourke’s observation that even in Irish legends, women did not speak in the first person and that Ní Dhomhnaill’s speaking women are extraordinary; Haberstroh further suggests that ‘Ni Dhomnaill and Bourke stress the importance of the oral tradition as distinct from the Fenian stories, which constitute a different kind of Irish mythology. This oral tradition, very much alive in Ní Dhomhnaill’s poetry, works against the notion of an ideal, romanticised past articulated in a language monopolised by men.’ (Joyce C. East, Patricia Boyle Haberstroh, quoting Women Creating Women: Contemporary Irish Women Poets, Syracuse UP 1996, in review of same, in Irish Literary Supplement, Fall 1996, p.12.)

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Catriona O’Reilly, review of The Water Horse: Poems in Irish translated into English by Medbh McGuckian and Eilean Ni Chuilleananin (Gallery), 112pp.: ‘happy merging of styles ... a model of what translation should be.’ (Irish Times, 22 Jan. 2000, Weekend, p.8.)

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David Wheatley, review of The Waterhorse, with trans. by Eiléan Ní Chuillleanáin and Medbh McGuckian (Loughcrew: Gallery 2000), 129pp., in Times Literary Supplement (2 June 2000), p.7: poems mostly taken from Cead Aignhnis (1998); cites “Devil’s Tatoo”, “Behemoth”, ‘Slaughter”, “Eithne Uathach”, “Muintir m’Athar [My Father’s People]”, “Plutonium”, “Persephone Suffering from SAD”; notes that “Mo Mhaistir Dorcha”, in Cead Aighnis, trans. by Muldoon as “My Dark Master”, is notably missing from the new collection.

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Quotations
The Pharoah’s Daughter”: ‘Cuirim no dhóchas ar snamh / im mbáidin teangan / faoi mar a leagfá naíonán / I gcliabhán / a bheath fite fuaite / de dhuilleoga fealastraim … [I place my hope on the water / in this little boat / of the language, the way a body might put an infant / in a basket of intertwined iris leaves …] (Trans. Paul Muldoon; quoted in The Irish Times, 31 May. 2001.]

You would not accept me when I came
a queen, like a tree be-garlanded.
My womanness overwhelmed you
as you admitted after to a friend
over a mutual drink.
Fear, certainly of castration
fear of false teeth in my cunt
fear my jaws would grind you
like oats in a mill.
Quoted in Anne Kelly, ‘A Feminist Reading of the Plays of Tom Murphy’ [Pt. 2], in Theatre Forum, 2, 3 (Autumn 1998) [online; accessed 14.02.2010]

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The Marianne Faithfull Hairdo”: ‘Having washed their hands of water forever, / they can no longer even have a shower. / They scour the household vessels with a Fairy Liquid purée of ash and urine, / plus a grain of sand thrown in, / and use so much elbow-grease, / you’d have to give it to them, / they finish up like the TV ads. // They exfoliate with oils in attar of rose / and scrub their scalps with a man-made / dry shampoo supplied by Boots, / or ordinary talc. // The few-and-far between times / that they wet a hair of their heads, / it’s with lukewarm tap water. / Which must be applied before sundown / for the following very good reason: // A while back a local woman / was threshing flax with two girl-helpers, / and would only allow them to wash their hair / when the evening shift was over. / The work went on till late in the night, / and since there was no sign of a break, / one of the girls put a flake of ash in her mouth, / the other a pinch of the chaff. // Around midnight there came a knock to the door, / and a voice cried: “Away to hell / with the belly of ash! But spare / the belly of chaff - and straight out the door / with the belly that’s empty!” // The woman of the house and the ash-girl / turned into thin air, / leaving the girl of chaff / to tell the tale: // which has been handed down from that day to this, to put the heart across the breasts of the teenage mermaids.’ (Trans. Medbh McGuckian; quoted on US Navy Academy Irish Literature website at here.)

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The Mermaid in the Labour Ward”: ‘Something stirred in her not / the swishing meteor of her fin, / but in the pit of the bed, / a body-long split of ice, / languid as dulse tentacles, / flaccid as fishbait. // “Lord Bless Us, isn’t this a hoot - / some kind of Night of the Long Knives - / half a staff as pissed as a newt, / and the rest of them you couldn’t trust / as far as you could throw them. / I’ve had it up to here.” / And she upped and yanked the sea-legs / out the door. // The crunch came / when she found herself / head over heels in their wake: / were these creatures joined to her, / or was she hinged on to them? / It took the nurse / to give her the low-down / and put her in the picture: / “What you have there, dear, / is called a leg, and another one to boot. / First leg, / second leg, / left, right, / one goes in front of the other.” It’s little wonder / in the long months that followed, / as her instep flattened and her arches dropped, / if her mind went with them.’ (Trans. Medbh McGuckian; quoted on US Navy Academy Irish Literature website at here.)

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What Foremothers?’ in Theresa O’Connor, ed., The Comic Tradition in Irish Women Writers (Florida UP 1996), pp.8-20: “Did you see an old woman go down the path?” “I did not, but I saw a young girl, and she had the walk of a queen.” This image galvanised a whole population at the beginning of this century and is still shockingly alive in the collective psyche for all that an unholy alliance of Marxist-Freudian reductionist intellects may seek to deny it. Eavan Boland is dead right to engage polemically with this image because, as Marina Warner has shown most comprehensively in her book Monuments and Maidens, there is a psychotic splitting involved where, the more the image of woman comes to stand for abstract concepts like justice, liberty, or national sovereignty, the more real women are denigrated and consigned barefoot and pregnant to the kitchen. […] (p.16); If nothing else, the practice of poetry has taught me that there is a psycho-emotio-imagistic dimension to our being, a feeling soul, which has fallen through the interstices of the mind/body polarities of the dominant discourse so that it is become quite literally unspeakable. A whole realm of powerful images exists within us, overlooked by, and cut off from, rational consciousness. This is very dangerous because, if Freud has taught us anything, it foreshadows the inevitable return of the repressed. If these images are not engaged with in playful dialogue, if we do not take them seriously, then they will wreak a terrible revenge by manifesting somatically as illnesses or by being acted out blindly and irrationally, as we see them being acted out at this very moment in the sack of Sarajevo, as ethnic and historic tensions, long brushed under the carpet of a monolithic Marxism, explode to the surface.’ (p.17); ‘I think in the long run, though, that we are lucky that for one reason or another on this island the door between the [n]ation and this other world has never been locked tight shut. There was always someone - the bard in the hall, the seanchaí by the fireside, or the balladeer in the pub - who kept his foot in the door. Later Ong calls it our “high degree of residual orality” [...] I love this aspect of our culture. It is one of the main things that drew me back to live here, after seven years on the shughrawn. It is infinitely more exciting and much more of a human challenge to live in a country that is even just intermittently in touch with the irrational than to live in one that has set its face resolutely against it./But this gift of ours is not without its inherent dangers, one of which is that in the absence of a responsible intelligentsia, this permeability [17] of the collective ego-boundaries can be manoeuvred and choreographed for very dubious purposes. The moving statues is a case in point.’ (p.17). [… &c.; including remarks on the irony of Mairead Farrell who was killed in Gibraltar on IRA active serviee denying the hold on her psyche of the ‘mother Ireland’ topos, and remarks on the X case, and the emotional bludgeoning of Annie Murphy by Bishop Casey.] [After respectful allusion to Edward Said:] ‘But enough” This postcolonial thing is getting out of hand and anyway it seems too easy: everyone is doing it.’ (p.19.)

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Irish Language: ‘Irish is a language of enormous elasticity and emotional sensitivity; of quick and hilarious banter and a welter of references both historical and mythological; it is an instrument of imaginative depth and scope, which has been tempered by the community for generations until it can pick up and sing out every hint of emotional modulation that can occur between people. Many international scholars rhapsodize that this speech of ragged peasants seems always on the point of bursting into poetry.’ (‘Why I Chose to Write in Irish: The Corpse That Sits Up and Talks Back’, in The New York Times, 8 Jan. 1995; quoted at US Navy Academy Irish Literature Website [link])

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Basic myth: ‘Myth is a basic, fundamental structuring of our reality, a narrative that we place on the chaos of sensation to make sense of our lives [...]. I feel about myth what you said about poetry, Medbh, that some level of crystallisation has occurred that is timeless. This crystallisation is, at a deep level, the Muse energy, and that’s why myth and poetry feed so wonderfully into each other.’ (See ‘Comhrá: Medbh McGuckian and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’, foreword and afterword by Laura O’Connor, in The Southern Review: Special Issue on Irish Poetry, V, 31, 3 1995, pp.581-614; p.604.) Further, ‘I think it is downright pernicious to underestimate myth; it’s like pretending the unconscious does not exist, and that we are just composed of rationality. Myth is a basic, fundamental structuring of our reality, a narrative that we place on the chaos of sensation to make sense of our lives. The myth of the end of myth-making is the worst myth of all; it means that the unconscious has been finally cut off and is irretrievable.’ (Idem.)

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Sexist poetry: ‘At the deepest level - you may say at the level of ontological underpinning - the Irish poetic tradition is sexist and masculinist to the core’ [on RTE 1, Dec. 1993; quoted in Poetry Ireland, 41 Spring 1994), p.109].

Language & history: ‘Because of a particular set of circumstances, Irish fell out of history just when the modern mentality was about to take off. So major intellectual changes like the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Victorian prudery have never occurred in it, as they did in the major European languages. One consequence is that the attitude to the body enshrined in Irish remains extremely open and uncoy. It is almost impossible to be “rude” or “vulgar” in Irish. The body, with its orifices and excretions, is not treated in a prudish manner but is accepted as “an nádúir” or “nature” and becomes a source of repartee and laughter rather than anything to be ashamed of. Thus little old ladies of quite impeccable and unimpeachable moral character tell risqué stories with gusto and panache. Is there a word for sex in Irish, indeed! Is there an Eskimo word for snow?’ (‘Why I Choose to Write in Irish: The Corpse That Sits Up and Talks Back,’ in The New York Times Book Review, 8 Jan. 1995, pp.27-8 [also printed at this date in The Irish Times [Weekend]; supplied by David Gardner, Loyola Univ.)

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Jung & All That: ‘James Hillman and these post-Jungian psychologists [...] talk about the ‘other world’ as if they had just discovered it […] like Columbus felt when he discovered America. But that doesn’t mean that America wasn’t there before, and there weren’t aboriginal Americans living here—quite happily’ (Interview, An Nasc, 3, 1, 1990, pp. 23-28m p.25; cited in Csilla Bertha, ‘That Other World’: The Mythic and the Fantastic in Contemporary Irish Drama’, in Transactions of Princess Grace Irish Library Conference, Whitsun 1998.)

Seamus Heaney: ‘[S]ometimes I think about Seamus that his great strength is that he is actually a woman - a great big benevolent mountain, standing protectively behind you, like your mother should ...’ (In The Southern Review; cited in Times Literary Supplement review of same, 15 March 1996, p.27.)

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Women Poets: ‘It seems to be that the hysteria with which the whole subject of women poets is attacked in Ireland has all the hallmarks of far more than the fear of loss of a privileged male vantage point. It goes much deeper than that. It basically cloaks a dep and fundamental ontological terror. If the archetypal Feminine … gerts up off her butt, and has a go writing about you, then boy oh boy have you had it.’ (Quoted by John Hildebidle, MIT; IASIL 1999.)

Hereditary Gift: ‘There was a widespread belief that if poetry which was a hereditary gift (feith no treith duchais) fell into the female line, then it was gone from that particular family for seven generations to come. There is a story about the poet Giuisti from An Leitriuch who, mindful that some such calamity had occurred, asked his daughter for a glass of ale in a spontaneous leathrann [half quatrain]. When she equally spontaneously and deftly finished the quatrain, while handing him back the beer, he knew that the poetry in the family was finished. A similar taboo existed against women telling Fenian tales; - trathaire circe no Fiannaí mna [a crowing hen or a woman telling Fenian tales], but that did not stop women being storytellers or filiúil (poetic) though a better translation for this word might perhaps be witty or quick at repartee.” (The Hidden Ireland: Womens Inheritance [q.d.]; cited on Local Web, 12 Oct. 1999.)

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Watching the River: Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, ‘explains who she picked, and why’ (feature-article on Duffy & Dorgan, eds., Watching the River Flow: A Century of Irish Poetry [anthology], in The Irish Times, Weekend, 27 Nov. 1999): “Tell the truth but tell it slant”, was Emily Dickinson’s dictum and I tink tha tone of the great strengths of Irish poerty in our time is the necessary reticence in the face of the personal, a refusal to follow the straight in-your-face confessional mode which, fuelly originally by TV sound-bites, has come to dominate most of the art forms of our time, including, sad to say, much of modern American poetry. I say unfortunatley, because, though it has its moments, ultimately its very topicality and closeness to the facts of any particular individual’s life leaves it very one-dimensional and often trite. / I know I am going against the spirit of the age, which is that of the apotheosis of the memoir, but unless the commonplace details of our lives are shot through by something of more permanence, our poems are built on sand, and on them we can build no lasting city. / This Irish preference for obliqueness and the great artistic advantages to be gained by speaking of the personal and the here and now through an “objective correlative” or a distancing lens of some kind, is best exemplified by one of the great poems of the 1990s, Michael Longley’s “Ceasefire” ... its effect was dynamic, and rippled right through the community, both North and south, having a galvanising effect that can only be imagined of some lines of Yeats, perhaps, at the turn of the century - the “Did you see an old women going down the road”, of of “Kathleen Ni Houlihan” or the “terrible beauty is born” of “Easter 1916. / Trusting the words of the Odyssey to speak to us through the ages, Longley has Priam sigh: “I get down on my knees and do what must be done / And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son” - lines which have been taken to hear by many on this island and are among those most quoted in conversation or in print during this last decade. [The poets she choses are Mebdh McGuckian, Paula Meehan, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, Michael Longley, Cathal O Searchaigh, Peter Sirr, Ciaran Carson, Derek Mahon, Paul Muldoon. (Feature article on Noel Duffy & Theo Dorgan, eds., Watching the River Flow: A Century of Irish Poetry (Dublin: Poetry Ireland/RTE 1999.)

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Mike Murphy, interview with Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (‘Irish Writers in Conversation with Mike Murphy’):
:Q: ‘[...] Frank McGuinness once said to you, and you agreed with his sentiment, that “Irish is our language of humiliation and pain”.’
A
: ‘I think the emphasis has changed a little bit since then. What was happening that day was that I was going on about the way I saw Irish changing, and Frank said, “Ah go on, Nuala”. Then he gave that great line. I had to agree with him. Irish was part of a coercive agenda that was pouring our whole generation into vessels that were too small for us. My great advantage was that I knew another Irish, the Irish of home and of the Gaeltacht, which was different, not the official Irish, the sort of school Irish, “Gaeilge na leabhar” or “book Irish”, which was punitive and coercive. Everyone, from taxi-drivers to people I go into workshops with, is prepared to give me a harangue the length of my arm any time I talk about the nice sides of Irish. They have been through this very unpleasant system where Irish was used as a stick with which to beat small children. I would like to think the agenda that was laid on Irish, and which has actually nothing to do with the language intrinsically, has now been cleared and that people can see it without having to carry all this baggage. I would like to think this has to do with my work, that of a whole generation of people in my time, and that of the pioneering generation of Máire Mhac an tSaoi, Máirtín Ó Direáin, Seán Ó Ríordáin and of course Máirtín Ó Cadhain.
Q
: Do you see yourself as being an outsider?
A
: ‘I’ve always felt that. I remember being five years old in west Kerry and kids asking me: “What did you do in England?” And I’d say: “I’d watch television”. I’d try to explain to them what television was. They wouldn’t believe me when I’d say there was a box in the corner and you’d see white horses and things like that on it. “Nuala, táinn tú ag scaitseáléithigh” - you’re a terrible liar. I thought: “They don’t believe me. I know something that they don’t know”. So I kept my mouth shut about it until television hit Ireland. I knew that I was of the Gaeltacht because everyone around me was related to me in a way that wasn’t true in England, and yet I knew I was different because I’d had this other experience.’ (RTE, 2001; webpage defunct in 2010.)

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References
Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3 selects from the collections An Dealg Droighin and Féar Suaithinseach: “Leaba Shíoda”, “I mBaile na tSléibhe”, “An Bhábóg Bhriste”, “Dán do Mhelissa”; “Breith anabaí thar lear”, “Gaineamh shuraic”, “Masculus Giganticus Hibernicus” [926-31],with translations by Ní Dhomhnaill and Michael Harnett; BIOG, 936.

Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares & Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland’s Women (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994), selects translation by John Montague; note var. biog., grew up speaking Irish in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary.

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Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), selects “Scéala” [366], trans. by Michael Hartnett as “Annunciations ” [367]; “Féar Suaithinseach” [366]; trans. by Seamus Heaney as “Miraculous Grass” [367]; “An Bhábóg” Bhriste” [370]; trans. by John Montague as “The Broken Doll” [371]; “Fáilte Bhéal na Sionna don Iasc” [372], trans. by Patrick Crotty as “The Shannon Estuary Welcomes the Fish” [373]; “An Bhean Mílidhílis” [372], trans. by Paul Muldoon as “The Unfaithful Wife” [373]; “Ceist na Teangan” [376], trans. by Paul Muldoon as “The Language Issue” [377]; “Caitlin” [378];, trans. by Paul Muldoon as “Cathleen” [379].

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Notes
Inaugural Lecture: “Lost in Transit: The Unrecognised Literary Landscape of Irish”, 6 Dec. 2001, Froggett Centre, QUB (Belfast.) A Reading, Irish Writers’ Centre, 15 April 2004.

Doctoral studies: Cary Shay, a research student, is working on the Irish language poet Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, at Kent University (2005).

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Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, ‘Mis and Dubh Ruis: A Parable of Psychic Transformation’, in Irish Writers and Religion, ed. Robert Welch (Gerrards Cross 1992), pp.194-201.

[ Source: The essay concludes a collection ]

[Note: Ní Dhomhnaill begins with a lively version of the authentic Old Irish story of Mis, the daughter of Dáire Donn who was killed by Fionn Mac Cumhail at the Battle of Ventry, after which she became feral and cannibalistic and only succombing to the influence of the king - whose best warriors fail to constrain her when he permits a harper to try, culminating in her seduction by the gentle musician: ‘It is not the gold that I miss, nor the sweet harp, nor the balls but the gaming stick of Dubh Ruis mac Raghnaill’ (here p.196).]

[...]
Many have described the ‘Cailleach’ as being the most potent image working subliminally on the collective psyche of this island. Why it should be the Negative Mother Archetype rather than any other form of the Goddess which describes the underlying psychic reality of this island I would barely hazard a guess. Some say it is the result of the curse of Macha, a miasma or mother-curse. Others blame the climate. I have even heard it suggested that the Tooth-Mother is always overridingly prominent on the Western seaboards of continents, due to the cultic use of the magic mushroom psylosybe which grows naturally in this biozone. The toothed monsters on the totem-poles of the Amerindians of the North West Pacific coast have been cited as an instance of this. Elsewhere I have seen it mooted that it is due to a very strong male bias in the consciousness of the Celts, which denies the deep Feminine, and is rewarded by a negative image from the repressed psychic contents. This makes a lot of sense to me because if, as Anne Ross suggests, the head was the central icon of the Celts, being to their religious ethos what the Cross is to Christianity, then already long before the arrival of St Patrick and his cohorts, our ancestors were severely cut off from what the French feminist literary theorists call the ‘language of the body’. This is not to suggest that women did not have a relatively powerful role in Celtic society, - there is enough evidence which suggests they had, - but, merely that the traits valued in women were basically the masculine ones of warlikeness, rather than the more nurturant virtues. We are in much the same dilemma today, what with women in this generation rushing pell mell to ‘beat men at their own game’, often at great psychological cost to themselves, without our asking ourselves is the so called ‘real world’ of male authority really worth entering at all in the first place. Without wishing to exonerate established Christianity from an unmistakeable patriarchal bias it may be that the death-dealing propensities of our head-hunting Celtic forebears had a role to play in perverting the basically moderately life-enhancing qualities of the message of Christ into the particularly virulent life-denying force that has come to be Irish Catholicism. The Celts were already in their time too deeply patriarchal for them to be of much use to us in any attempt to affect the inner conversion which must be made in face of the imminent destruction of this planet.

But there is a deeper stratum of consciousness still alive on this island. Unlike most of the countries of Northern Europe, the door between this world and the Otherworld was never slammed shut. Somebody always kept a foot in it, whether the poet in his chieftain’s hall, or the seanchai by his fireside.

The fact that a highly elaborate conceptual framework exists in Irish to describe and deal with the Otherworld, or ‘An saol eile’, is proof of that fact, a framework that, incidently, is virtually untranslateable, due to an inbuilt bias in the English language against the validity and tangibility of this experience. Put into English this perfectly serious interest in unconscious mentation and alternative states of consciousness becomes reduced to superstition or ‘Pisroguery’ and fairies-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden.

Happily we live on an island in which large masses of people regularly see statues leaping about the place. Leaving the sometimes rather dubious orchestration of such phemomena out of it, the event is still significant enough in itself. In spite of the mass-media and an educational system which has vowed to destroy the imagination this is proof that we have not yet entirely capitulated to purely rationalist empiricism. (If it moves, measure it!) Also, and what is even more to my point, the moving statues are all female statues. Interestingly enough there has been no significant incidence of Jesus getting down from his Cross, à la Marcelino (a film which terrified many of us when hawked around the country in the fifties, for the benefit of what worthy cause nobody now can rightly remember). Neither has St Joseph taken to tampering with anyone with his lily, or more surprisingly, given the propensity of his vicars for the exercise, never has the ubiquitous St Patrick delivered anyone a belt of his crozier. If an image is on the move within us, it is a female image, and we project outwards what is the reality within.

I take our story, like the central truths of many different religions, to be a gift from the subconscious that cannot be rationally explained. But it can be pondered, worried over, wondered at, told over and over again, and because of its deeply symbolic significance it never loses anything in the telling. Besides the fine psychological insight that it was the vulnerable man, in all his nakedness, who overcame the hag, not any of the conquering heroes, there is another level of the story which has deep significance for the times we live in. Given that such a story had a socio-political significance for its inventors, and that it was probably enacted publically in the great pulsating amoeba which was the collective psyche of the ‘tuath’ or tribe, it has still a very valid lesson to give to modern, almost post-psychological man. Just {200} briefly, once more, a rerun of the main mythic elements. A king/father dies. His daughter goes mad, becoming a hag and reverting to a wild life in the woods. She is tamed and returned to her former condition as ‘speirbhean’ by a vulnerable male, who is also a musician. He marries her and becomes king, through being her consort. She gives him four children, and was considered one of the most beautiful and accomplished women of her time.

What can all of this mean for us?

As the work of most feminist theologians and literary theorists would suggest, the only way forward is somehow to break out of the dominant patriarchal ethos of the age. For all of us, inwardly, the king must die. Then as the work of Mary Daly would suggest, the ‘Hag’ energy erupts. The too-long repressed deep Feminine comes into its own, and as we learn to come to terms with what is dark and frightening in ourselves we can release others from the burden of carrying our resentment, in the woods, in one way or another. Then a new form of male energy asserts itself in the unconscious, and challenging the hag, and uniting with her, brings forth the conscious reality of the Goddess, as speirbhean. Rosemary Radford Ruether ends her powerful critique Sexism and Godtalk with an epiphany, a powerful evocation of the Goddess as speirbhean. This is more than I can personally do with any honesty at present. having long been acquainted with the ‘Cailleach’ as an inner reality I have to admit that I have not yet personally met the speirbhean. I’m still working on that inner Harper in all his powerful dream manifestations as Enemy, Sea-Horse or Minotaur, Bull of the Mothers. But there does seem to be a way forward, and I live in hope. If it is only with the arrival of softer Spring weather that inner transformation sometimes seems to take place, as happened I think when I wrote the poem “Primavera”.

[Poem follows [‘D’athraigh gach aon ní nuair a ghaibh sí féin thar braid [...] / Everything changed as soon as her nibs passed this way [...]’ - accessible at Google Books - online.