Mary O’Donnell


1954- ; grew up in Co. Monaghan; educ. Maynooth, grad. (German & Philosophy); HDipEd, Maynooth; has taught English, German and Drama; m. Martin Nugent, 1977 (aetat. 23); appt. theatre critic the Sunday Tribune; contrib. poetry in Poetry Ireland, 1984; Honest Ulsterman; Midland Review; issued short fiction, Strong Pagans (1991), and novels, The Light-Makers (1992), named Sunday Tribune Best New Novel of the Year, Virgin and the Boy (1996), and The Elysium Testament (1999); also poetry collections, Reading the Sunflowers in September (1991), Spiderwoman’s Third Avenue Rhapsody (1993), Unlegendary Heroes (1998) and September Elegies (2003);
winner of William Allingham Award, Listowel Writers’ Week Award, and a Hennessy Award; twice nominated for an Irish Times/Aer Lingus Literary Award for Poetry; issued The Place of Miracles: New and Selected Poems (2006), incorporating 23 years of work; elected to Aosdána, 2001; apresented Crossing the Lines, on European poetry (RTE, 2005, 2006). cted as a poetry mentor with Carlow University Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, 2009; lives nr. Straffan, Co. Kildare.; Giving Shape to the Moment: The Art Of Mary O’Donnell was edited by Maria Elena Jaime de Pablos (Univ. de Almeria); launched Empire, a short-story collection set in Ireland and Burma, 1915-19.

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  • Reading the Sunflowers in September (Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare: Salmon Poetry 1991);
  • Spiderwoman’s Third Avenue Rhapsody (Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare: Salmon Poetry 1993), [6], 90pp.;
  • Unlegendary Heroes (Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare: Salmon Publishing 1998), 75pp.;
  • September Elegies (Belfast: Lapwing Publications 2003), vi, 64pp.
  • The Place of Miracles: New and Selected Poems (Dublin: New Island Press 2006).
  • The Ark Builders (Todmorden: Arc Publication 2009), 91pp. [see contents]
  • Where they Lie (Stillorgan: New Island 2014), 223pp.
  • Those April Fevers (Todmorden: Arc Publication 2015), 85pp.
  • Strong Pagans and Other Stories (Dublin: Poolbeg Press 1991), 358pp.
  • The Light-Makers (Dublin: Poolbeg Press 1992), 193pp.;
  • Virgin and the Boy (Dublin: Poolbeg Press 1996), [4], 283pp.;
  • The Elysium Testament (London: Trident Press 1999), 208pp. [for children].
  • Empire (Dublin: Arlen Books 2018).
  • ed., Away from the Tribe: Selected Poems [Bealtaine Writers’ Group] ( Bealtaine Writers’ Group 2002), 39pp.
  • contrib. to Sister Caravaggio, ed. Maeve Binchy (Dublin: Liberties Press 2014), 215pp. [detective stories].

See poems in Poetry Ireland (Nos. 11, 14, 15, 16: c.1984); Midland Review (special edition of Contemp. Irish Women Poets, ed. Nuala Archer, Oklahoma UP, 1986); Irish Studies Review, No. 18 (Spring 1997), p.22 [full page - “My Father Waving”; “The two-Wheeler”, and “Bees and Saint Colman”]; see also contrib. to Caitriona Moloney & Helen Thompson, eds., Irish Women Writers Speak Out: Voices from the Field, with a foreword by Ann Owen Weekes (Syracuse UP 2003), q.pp.

Bibliographical details
The Ark Builders
(Todmorden: Arc Publication 2009), 91pp. incls. poems: I History of Happen, Dialogue with Madam Alexei, Following Frida, Ageing Girls, Girls of the Nation, Breaking the Border, Cafe Terrace at Night, 1888, Considering Puccini’s Women, Summer, Salsamaggiore, The Sisters of Viareggio II Explroer, Les Francais sont arrives, Die Deutschen Auch, Burren Falcon, The Poulnabrone Dolmen, Heat, An Amnesiac in Dublin, The Mess of Our Lives, Within the Secret State, Rain, That Thief, A Young Fisherman waits for the Weather to change, Rath, Christmas, Lovers can disregard It All, The Ark Builders, III Santiafo de Compostella, Growing into Irish through Galicia, Only on the Edge, Equatorial, The Sea knows, A Need for Devil’s Pokers, Seven Monaco Haiku, Blush Season, Taking the Measure, Garage Events, Letting Down His Hair, After, Dead People’s Clothes, Random Questions, Scenes from Pre-life, The Bread-maker speaks, Star Reading for a Young Poet, Misirlou IV Pentacle, The Bee-keeper’s Son, Lines to an Ancestor before and Operation.

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  • Giving Shape to the Moment: the Art Of Mary O’Donnell, Poet, Novelist, Short-story Writer, ed. Maria Elena Jaime de Pablos [Reimagining Ireland, gen. ed. Eamon Maher] (Zurich: Peter Lang [new edn.] 2018), 228pp.; - contribs. incl. Eilis Ní Dhuibhne, Anne Fogarty [interview], Mary Pierse, Giovanna Tallone, Elena Jaime de Pablos, Manuela Palacios-Gonzalez, Eibhear Walshe, and Pilar Villar Argaiz.
  • Rebecca E. Wilson & Gillian Somerville-Arjat, eds., Sleeping with Monsters: conversations with Scottish and Irish women poets (Wolfhound 1990), pp.18-25 [interview];
  • Nessa O’Mahony, review of The Place of Miracles, in The Irish Times (22 July 2006), Weekend [q.pp.];
  • Nuala Ní Chonchúir, review of The Place of Miracles, in The Irish Book Review ( Summer 2006), p.38;

See also “An Introduction to Mary O’Donnell” - at Poetry International (Rotterdam) - online [accessed 30.08.2018]

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Place of poems: ‘When feeling fails in ordinary speech to do the work of being human, sometimes a poem steps into the void.’ (Introduction to The Place of Miracles, quoted in Books Ireland, Sept. 2006, “First Flush”, [p.203].)

Poems by O’Donnell quoted by Thomas McCarthy on Facebook (2017)

“Waking”: ‘It has taken so long to draw you to this cottage, / across the sands. Wake now. Wake to new doing, // to new pauses in new days. I cannot sleep for joy. / Mermaids no longer bathe in moonlight but you are here.”


“At a Wedding, the Stranger”: ‘her lacy, gloved fingers, the netting/ that shivered over her face, but/ did not conceal the spark from sheen-lidded / dark, pupils. Uncles, brothers, nephews, fathers / paused, suspended in a dream some remembered, / or thought they did. Believing in Marilyn … .’

Given on Mary O’Donnell website; accessed 30.08.2018.

[On her grandmother:] ‘Ambitious for all, yet slow to praise for fear / Of spoiling with Hollywood / notions, child-dreams, / Songs she herself was not allowed.’ (Quoted in Nuala Ní Chonchúir, review of The Place of Miracles, in The Irish Book Review, Summer 2006, p.38.)

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Empire (2018) is ’a story-collection in Ireland and Burma between 1915 and 1919. It’s all about the people who lived within that gradually fraying “Empire” of the title [...] some of them were quite a progressive lot.’ (Author’s notice on Facebook, 29.08.2018.)