Seán Ó Riordáin (1916-77)


[Seán Padraig Ó Riordáin; angl. & fam. Jackie Riordan]; b. 3 Dec. 1916, in Baile Mhúirne [Ballyvourney], Co. Cork; son of namesake [Gl.] and  Mairéad n[ée] Ní Loineacháin; ed. CBS, North Monastery, Cork city; lost his father to TB at 10; moved to Inniscarra at 15; contracted TB and was sent to a sanitorium - a life-shaping experience; settled in extension to family home and embarked on literary career commenced with poems in hospital; became a literary early follower and a later reviler of Daniel Corkery’s ‘hidden Ireland’ revivalism;
worked as clerical officer (for motor taxation) in the City Hall, Cork during thirty years from 1936 [aetat. 1926]; took early retirement in 1965; his first poems appeared in Comhar (est. 1942); issued Eireaball Spideoíge (1952), a controversial collection at that period in the introduction to which he identified ‘uaigneas’ [‘loneliness’] as one of the preconditions for poetry; criticised by Máire Mhac an tSaoi for poor grasp of traditional language and unintelligible to those who didn’t know English and English tradition also; his poem “Fill Arís” celebrates the Irish of Dun Chaoin and recurs to Irish culture ‘before the battle of Kinsale was lost’ [Ó buaileadh Cath Chionn tSáile"];
contrib. a weekly column to The Irish Times, 1967-1975 [var. 1969 to 1976]; kept a diary from 1940, recording his ‘fight against death’ [frm TB]; worked as part-time assistant in Dept. of Irish [Gaeilge] at UCC in the early 1970s; wrote a Saturday column for Gageby in The Irish Times, writing widely on literature and society - often in acerbic terms; awarded DLitt. (NUI), 1976; retained life-long friendship with his brother Tadhg who lived in Mayfield, in Cork City’s northside; latterly lived in Sarfield Court [Block 8, Floor 2], where he was visited by a nurse, suffering increasingly from respiratory illness;
remained religious and was anointed with extreme unction, but denied he was a Catholic in his latter diary entries; d., 21 Feb. 1977, in Cork; his collection Tar Éis Mo Bháis (1967) was reissued posthum. in 1978; his funeral oration was given by Cathal Ó Dálaigh, President of Ireland; Collected Poems, 1986-2006 (2006); a series of essays in appreciation of the poet was broadcast on Radio na Gaeltachta in 2007 and TG4 documentary on his life was broadcast on 23 Jan. 2008 [dated 2007; pub. on internet 10 July 2013];
Seán Ó Ríordáin: Na Dánta (2011) was edited and introduced by Seán Ó Coileáin and launched by Liam de Paor in the O’Rahilly Building, Univ. of Cork, 8 Dec. 2011; the house where Ó Riordáin lived in Iniscarra is in ruins; his use of Irish called ‘Riordainesque’ by Liam de Paor; his diaries - long held at UCD - were edited by Tadhg Ó Dúshláine as Anamlón Bliana (Cló Iar-Chonnacht), June 2014. DIW FDA OCIL

Sean O Riordain
Seán Ó Riordáin (1916-77)

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  • Eireaball Spideoíge (Baile Átha Cliath: Sáirséal & Dill 1952, 1970, 1976), 118pp.;
  • Brosna [No. 63] (Baile Átha Cliath: Sáirséal & Dill 1964, 1965, 1967, 1970, 1984), 43pp., port by Seán Ó Súilleabháin [p.2];
  • Tar éis mo Bháis agus Dánta Eile, Seán O Coileáin a chuir in eagar [An Chéad Chló] (Baile Átha Cliath: Sáirséal & Dill 1978), 55pp., ill. [port.];
  • Rí na nUile, mod. version from early Irish, with Seán Ó Conghaile (BAC: Sáirséal & Dill 1964);
  • Linte Liombó (BAC: Sáirséal & Dill 1971, 1974, 1980), 45pp.;
  • Seán Ó Coileáin, ed. & intro., Seán Ó Ríordáin: Na Dánta (Cló Iar-Chonnact 2011), 216pp.
  • Frank Sewell, ed., Seán Ó Ríordáin: Selected Poems (Cló Iar-Chonnact 2011), q.pp.
  • Tadhg Ó Dúshláine, ed., Anamlón Bliana (Cló Iar-Chonnacht 2014).
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  • Pictiúir Mháirtín Úi Chadhain [le] Seán Ó Ríordáin [from The Irish Times, 24th October, 1969], 12pp. [copy in TCD Lib.];
  • Rí na nUile: Liricí diaga a cumadh idir an 9ú agus an 19ú céad / arna gcur in eagar ag Seán S. Ó Conghaile, maille le leagan Nua-Ghaeilge achum Seán Ó Ríordáin, agus réamhfhocal ón Ollamh Caitilí Ní Maol-Chroín (Baile Átha Cliath: Sáirséal agus Dill 1964, 1966, 1967, 1971), 89pp.
  • ‘Coinsias sochraide [funeral conscience]’, [article] in The Irish Times (15 June 1974) [expressing suspicion at the forces working under the cover of religious ritual at a neighbour’s burial].

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  • Máire Mhac an tSaoi, ‘Filiocht Sheain Ui Ríordáin’, in Feasta (Marta 1953), pp.17-19;
  • Máire Mhac an tSaoi, ‘Scribhneoireacht sa Ghaeilge Inniu’, in Studies: A Quarterly Review (Spring 1955), pp.86-91 [espec. pp.88-89];
  • Seán Ó Tuama, Filí faoi Sceimhle (Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair 1978);
  • Frank O’Brien, Filíocht Ghaeilge na Linne Seo (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar 1968), pp.301-35;
  • Breandán Ó Doibhlin, ‘Seán O’Riordáin agus an Spiorad Barocach’, in Irishleabhar Mhá Nuadh (1967); Seán Ó Tuama, ‘Sean Ó Ríordáin agus an Nuafhilíocht’, in Studia Hibernica, 12 (1973), pp.100-67 [rep. in Seán Mac Réamoinn, ed., The Pleasures of Gaelic Literature (1982)];
  • Tadhg Ó Dúshláine, ‘Seán O’Riordáin, Homo Ludens’, in The Maynooth Review, Vol. 4, No. 1 (May 1978), pp.53-62; ‘Special Seán O’Riordáin Edition’, Comhar (Bealtaine 1977);
  • Máire Mac an tSaoi, ‘Fireann ar an Uaigneas’ in Seán Ó Mórdha, ed., Scríobh 1 (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar 1974);
  • John Jordan, ‘Seán O’Riordáin, After his Death’, in Cyphers, 11 (Winter 1978), pp.45-49;
  • Eoghan Ó hAnluain, ed., An Duine is Dual: Aisti ar Shean Ó Ríordáin (Baile Atha Cliath: An Clóchomhar, 1980), pp.28-60 [incls. Seamus Ó Coigligh, ‘Shaun agus Shem’].
  • Seán Ó Tuama, ‘Seán O’Riordáin’, in The Pleasures of Gaelic Literature, ed. Seán Mac Réamoinn (Harmonsworth: Penguin 1982);
  • Seán Ó Coileáin, Seán O’Riordáin, Béatha agus Saothar [Leabhair thaighde, 38] (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar 1982; 2nd edn. 1985), xiv, 417pp., ill. [+[9]pp of pls.];
  • Robert Welch, ‘Seán Ó Riordáin: “Renewing the Basic Pattern’, Changing States: Transformations in Modern Irish Writing (London: Routledge 1993), pp.204-23;
  • Seán Ó Tuama, Repossessions: Selected Essays on Irish Literary Heritage (Cork UP 1995), pp.10-34;
  • Frank Sewell, ‘Seán Ó Ríordáin, ‘Joycery-Corkery-Sorcery’, in The Irish Review, 23 (Winter 1998), pp.42-61;
  • Declan Kiberd, ‘Anglo-Gaelic Literature: Seán Ó Riordáin’, in Irish Classics (London: Granta 2000), pp.602-16;
  • 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.
  • Máiréad Ní Loingsigh, ed., Tar Éis a Bháis: Aistí ar Shéan Ó Riordáin (Cló Iar Chonnachta 2009), 122pp.
  • Louis de Paor on “Adhlacadh mo Mháthair” by Sean Ó Riordain, in Irish University Review (Autumn 2009) [available at Free Library online; accessed 07.07.2011; see extract].
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See Mise Seán Ó Riordáin, a tribute documentary introduced by Louis de Paor (TG4, 10 July 2013) - with Liam Ó Muirthile, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Rita Ann Higgins, Greg Delanty, Máire Mac an tSaoi, Alan Titley, et al. [available on Youtube - online; accessed 23.10.2014].

Note: the documentary traces his life with much emphasis on his isolation both as a victim of tuberculosis in days when to carry the disease was regarded as a stigma and also his position as a bilingual speaker and writer whose first exposure was to the English of his mother which dominated the household. The programme ends with a close account of his last days, based on his diary, and interviews with the children of his brother Tadhg, who remember him with affection but also a certain remoteness which is shattered by de Paor's revelation that, in his diary, he speaks of them as “the people he loves most of all” - comparing their honesty and directness to that of old people. [BS; from memory; 25.12.2014.]

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Theo Dorgan, ‘Twentieth-century Irish Language Poetry’ [essay], in An leabhar mór/The Great Book of Gaelic: ‘Apart from [Máirtín] Ó Direáin, no poetry of true value would appear in the Irish language until Seán Ó Ríordáin published Eireaball Spideoige in 1952. Consumptive, lonely and unillusioned, Ó Ríordáin was a kind of alienated pietist whose work strikes the first truly modern note in Gaelic poetry. Refusing the succour of sentimental loyalty to the forms and tropes of the high Gaelic tradition, his agonised soul-searching is a local version of the doubt and existential anguish which now seems so characteristic of the European mid-century. But Ó Direáin’s reluctant, even angry abandoning of the Arcadian peasant dream does not quite make him modern, in the sense that Eoghan Ó Tuarisc, say, writing self-consciously under the shadow of the Bomb, is modern. [...]’ (Rep. in Archipelago [link].)

Cairbhail O Dalaigh
Cairbhall Ó Dálaigh at the Funeral of Seán Ó Ríordáin

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Louis de Paor, ‘“Adhlacadh mo Mhathar” by Seán Ó Ríordáin’, in Irish University Review, Special Poetry Issue (Sept. 2009: ‘[...] It was that amalgam of native and non-native elements that drew the most severe reaction from critics when Eireaball Spideoige was first published, provoking heated debate in Irish and in English, and vehement exchanges that extended beyond the usual literary and language journals to enliven the letters pages of The Irish Times. Writing under the pseudonym “Thersites”, Thomas Woods questioned Ó Ríordáin’s linguistic credentials, arguing that he was not a native speaker of Irish and could never, therefore, ‘comprehend that instinctive feel for the connotations of words and phrases that only a native speaker can have’. Brendan Behan responded by pointing to the achievements of Samuel Beckett: “I don’t see however that Seán Ó Ríordáin, born in Baile Mhuirne, is not as well entitled to write in Irish as Samuel Beckett, born in Dublin, is to write in French. Both are friends of mine, and bedamned if I’ll make fish of one and flesh of the other”. Patrick Kavanagh defended his right to speak of Ó Ríordáin without having read him by claiming that it was generally understood that poetry in Irish was no more than “the doodling and phrase-making of mediocrities”, before dismissing out of hand the arguments of Ó Ríordáin’s publisher Seán Ó hEigeartaigh: “As Gertrude Stein would say: A poet is a poet even in his walking down a street. And judging by what Whitehead calls ‘the act of negative prehension’, I would be inclined to think that anyone Mr Ó hEigeartaigh thought a poet would be surely the opposite”. Ó hEigeartaigh’s response was both ad rem and ad hominem : “This is extremely embarrassing for both of us, because I have always thought Mr Kavanagh a poet - and not merely from having seen him walk down a street”.’ (Citing Seán Ó Coileáin, Seán Ó Ríordáin: Beatha agus Saothar, Baile Atha Cliath: An Clochomhar, 1982, pp.247-49; see full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Journals > IUR”, via index, or direct.)

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Scáthán Véarsaí: ‘Remove from your mind / The surfaces of English civilisation, / Shelley, Keats, and Shakespeare: / Return again to your kind […]. / Make confession and make Pease with your own family tree.’ (Quoted with trans. in Declan Kiberd, ‘Anglo-Celtic Literature: Sean O Riordain’, in Irish Classics, London: Granta 2000, pp.606-16, p.615; quoted in Callum Boyle, ‘Tradition and Transgression in the Poetry of Michael Hartnett’, MA Diss., UUC, 2005, p.52.)

“Adhlacadh mo Mháthair”

Grian an Mheithimh in úllghort,
Is siosarnach i síoda an tráthnóna,
Beach mhallaithe ag portaireacht
Mar scréadstracadh ar an nóinbhrat.

Seanalitir shalaithe á léamh agam,
Le gach focaldeoch dár ólas
Pian bhinibeach ag dealgadh mo chléibhse,
Do bhrúigh amach gach focal díobh a dheoir féin.

Do chuimhníos ar an láimh a dhein an scríbhinn,
Lámh a bhí inaitheanta mar aghaidh,
Lámh a thál riamh cneastacht seana-Bhíobla,
Lámh a bhí mar bhalsam is tú tinn.

Agus thit an Meitheamh siar isteach sa Gheimhreadh,
Den úllghort deineadh reilig bhán cois abhann,
Is i lár na balbh-bháine i mo thimpeall
Do liúigh os ard sa tsneachta an dúpholl,

Gile gearrchaile lá a céad chomaoine,
Gile abhlainne Dé Domhnaigh ar altóir,
Gile bainne ag sreangtheitheadh as na cíocaibh,
Nuair a chuireadar mo mháthair, gile an fhóid.

Bhí m&’aigne á sciúirseadh féin ag iarraidh
An t-adhlacadh a bhlaiseadh go hiomlán,
Nuair a d&’eitil tríd an gciúnas bán go míonla
Spideog a bhí gan mhearbhall gan scáth:

Agus d&’fhan os cionn na huaighe fé mar go mb&’eol di
Go raibh an toisc a thug í ceilte ar chách
Ach an té a bhí ag feitheamh ins an gcomhrainn,
Is do rinneas éad fén gcaidreamh neamhghnách.

Du thuirling aer na bhFlaitheas ar an uaigh sin,
Bhí meidhir uafásach naofa ar an éan,
Bhíos deighilte amach ón diamhairghnó im thuata,
Is an uaigh sin os mo chómhair in imigéin.

Le cumhracht bróin do folcadh m&’anam drúiseach,
Thit sneachta geanmnaíochta ar mo chroí,
Anois adhlacfad sa chroí a deineadh ionraic
Cuimhne na mná d&’iompair mé trí ráithe ina broinn.

Tháinig na scológa le borbthorann sluasad,
Is do scuabadar le fuinneamh an chré isteach san uaigh,
D&’fhéachas sa treo eile, bhí comharsa ag glanadh a ghlúine,
D&’fhéachas ar an sagart is bhí saoltacht ina ghnúis.

Grian an Mheithimh in úllghort,
Is siosarnach i síoda an tráthnóna,
Beach mhallaithe ag portaireacht
Mar scréadstracadh ar an nóinbhrat.

Ranna beaga bacacha á scríobh agam,
Ba mhaith liom breith ar eirbeall spideoige,
Ba mhaith liom sprid lucht glanta glún a dhíbirt,
Ba mhaith liom triall go deireadh an lae go brónach.

Note: There is an English line-by-line translation at the Irish Translation Forum - online; accessed 23.10.2014. A recorded version read by the poet himself can be found on various servers. On the occasion of the poem, see note - infra.

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Oiche Nollaig na mBan

—Posted on Facebook by William Wall [q.v.] - 12.01.2018.

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Dúirt [Daniel] Ó Corcora liom uair gan aon line a scríobh ná beadh bunaithe ar line as an seanfhilíocht. Ac cad tá le déaneamh nuair a bhíonn nithe lasmuigh den dtraidisiún dulta i nduine - nuair a bhionn an duine níos fairsinge ná an traidisiún ... Tá sé ceart go leor fanuint laistigh de thuiscint na Gaeilge ach rude eile is ea cide díot féin a fhágaint as an áireamh. Ní foláir an dúchas d’fhairsingiu da dhainséaraí é.

[Daniel] Corkery told me once not to write a single line that wasn’t based on a line of the old [Irish language] poetry. But what can one do when things outside the tradition have gone into you - when the person is wider than the tradition? It’s okay staying within the understanding of Irish but it’s something else to leave some of yourself out of the equation. Nativeness [“an dúchas”] must be broadened however danger that is.]’ (Quoted in Seán Ó Coilean, Seán Ó Riordáin: Beatha agus Saor, 1982, p.210; cited in Frank Sewell, ‘James Joyce’s Influence on Writers in Irish’, in The Reception of James Joyce in Europe, ed. Geert Lernout, et al., Thoemmes/Continuum 2004, p.477.) [See also note on Daniel Corkery, infra.]

James Joyce: ‘Mé ag léamh “Ulysses” le Joyce. Dúirt Corkery gur bhain filí na hochtú aoise déag ceol as an dteangain nár baineadh riamh roimis aisti. D’imríodh cleasanna le ceol na teangan agus do thit cith ceoil anuas orthu. Ní miste dúinne imirt le brí na bhfocal again titfidh cith bri anuas orainn. Imrimis le bri na bhfocal. Imirt focal. Joyce. [I’m reading Joyce’s Ulysses. Corkery once said that eighteenth-century [Irish] poets wrung a music out of the [Irish] language that had never been wrung out of it before. They played tricks with the music and the language and a shower of music fell down on them. As for us [modern poets in Irish], we ought to play with the meaning of words and a shower of meaning will fall on us. So let’s play with the meaning of words. Wordplay.]’ (Quoted [in English] in Ó Coilean, op. cit. , 1982, p.222; cited in Sewell, op. cit., 2004, p.478.)

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Grattan Freyer, ed., Modern Irish Writing (1979), selects “Frozen Sea”.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3 selects from Eireaball Spideoíge; Brosna, ‘Adhlacadh Mo Mháthar’/‘My Mother’s Burial’; ‘Cúl an Tí’/‘Behind the House’; ‘Cnoc Mellerí/‘Mount Melleray’; ‘Reo’/‘Freeze; ‘Fiabhras’/‘Fever’; ‘Na Leamhain’/‘The Moths’; ‘Claustrophia’.

Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), selects “Adhlacadh Mo Mháthar ” [114], trans. as “My Mother’s Burial ” [115]; “Malairt ” [116]; trans. as “Switch ” [117]; “Cnoc Melleri ” [118], trans. as “Mount Melleray ” [119]; “Siollabadh ” [124]; trans. as “Syllabling ” [125]; “Claustrophobia ” [124], trans. as “Claustrophobia ” [125]; “Reo ” [126], trans. as “Frozen Stiff ” [127]; “Fiabhras ” [126]; trans. as “Fever ” [127]. (All translations by Crotty.)

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Daniel Corkery: Ó Riordain was encouraged as an Irish writer by Daniel Corkery and wrote a moving homage to him as ‘Do Dhomhall Ó Corcora’, c.1950 (printed in Eireaball Spideoige), but later recorded sense of bitterness towards him in a diary-entry, ‘Bhiodh fíliocht a scríobh sa ghaeilge go dti gur leag Donall Ó Corcora a lamh mharbh uirthi’ [Seán Ó Riordain, Beatha agus Saothar, le Sean Ó Coileain, p.259; cited in Patrick Walsh, UUC MA thesis, 1993, p.70].

Máire Mhac an tSaoi: Mhac an tSaoi criticised Ó Ríordáin’s imperfect knowledge of Irish in her review-article on Eireaball Spideoíge, greatly injurying his pride and confidence. In 1970 she phone in during an interview on with Ó Ríordáin on RTE’s “Writer in Profile” programme to say that she ‘had never heard better Irish spoken than that by Seán Ó Ríordáin tonight’ - an apology which he rejected - later telling Seán Ó Coileáin that his ‘bowels moved in disdain’. (Quoted in Frank Sewell, A New Alhambra, Oxford 2000, p.48; cited in Wikipedia article on Ó Ríordáin.)


Women poets? His line ‘Ní file ac filíocht í an bhean’ [not poet but the subject of poetry is woman]’ is the subject of criticism by Nuala Ó Dhomhnaill in a contribution to Irish Poetry Since Kavanagh, ed. Theo Dorgan (Dublin: Four Courts 1996).

Adhlacadh mo Mháthair”: his poem of that title was occasioned by his mother's anxiety on hearing that he was endangered by a fire in the sanitorium.

John Montague calls Seán Ó Riordáin ‘the hermit crab of / a receding language’, in Smashing the Piano (1999). See review by Bernard O’Donoghue, in The Irish Times (15 Jan. 2000).

The diaries: ‘A chara, - You carried a passionate plea by Liam O Muirthile for the publication of the diaries of Sean O Riordain which were written over a period of almost 40 years, from 1940 to the late 1970s (The Irish Times, 24 Feb.). / There is also another publication waiting to be compiled: his weekly column for The Irish Times from 1969 to 1976. These twin publications, revealing the private, internal life and the public commentary on the concerns of the day, respectively, would constitute a fitting tribute to the work and memory of a truly outstanding artist. The year 2002, appropriately, will mark his passing, 25 years ago. - Is mise, Dr M. W. Ó Murchú, Bothar an Scolaire, Baile Atha Cliath [Dublin] 16.’ [Note: the diaries were edited by Tadhg Ó Dúshláine as Anamlón Bliana for Cló Iar-Chonnacht and launched in June 2014.)

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