Cathal Ó Searcaigh

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
1956- ; b. Mín A’Leá [Meenala], Gort a’Choirce [Gortahork], in the Donegal Gaeltacht, son of farmers; ed. locally in national and vocational schools; NIHE, Limerick (French, Irish, and Russian); worked for a year in London; read Celtic Studies at Maynooth, 1977; joined RTÉ, working on Aisling Gheal; contrib. to Comhar, Feasta, and Scríobh; issued Tuirlingt (1978) with Gabriel Rosenstock and Bill Doyle; returned to Gaeltacht to farm; poetry collections include Miontraigéide Cathrach (1978); with Gabriel Rosenstock; Súile Shuibhne (1983); Suíbhne (1987); An Bealach ’na Bhaile (1991), followed by a bilingual edn. with translations by thirteen poets including Seamus Heaney, John F. Deane, Greagóir Ó Duill, and others (Bealach ’na Bhaile, 1993), winner of Seán Ó Riordáin prize and Duais Bhord na Gaeilge;
 
appt. writer in residence, University of Ulster at Coleraine, 1992-95; a play, Tá an Tóin ag Titim as a tSaol [dir. Diarmaid de Faoite; prod. An Culturlann 15-17 Dec.] (1994), Risteard Ó Riain, constipated Irish playwright patronised by an tAthair Mac an tSagairt, torn between his commitment to conservative Gaelgoir values and his bacchanalian urgings; writer in residence, Galway, 1996- ; Na Buachaill Bána (1996), a collection of homosexual love poems, including “Gort na gCnámh” (dealing with a father-daughter rape and a dead child), “The Pink Lily”, and other poems; Out in the Open (1997), a bilingual edition, was published with translations by Frankie Sewell, and includes a long poem on sexual abuse;
 

visited Katmandu (Nepal), returning with a young companion; hon. doct., Maynooth, 2000; issued selected poems as Ag Tnúth leis an tSolas (2001), winner of The Irish Times Irish-Language Prize; issued Seal in Neípeal, memoir of journey in Nepal (2003); issued Na hAingle ó Xanadú, 1970-1980 (2005), poems of youth; issued a verse-play on the biblical tale of Salomé, as Oíche Dhrochghealaí (2006); read at “Many Voices Festival of Literature” with Frank Sewell (who also translates his work), in Ballymoney Town Hall, Co. Antrim, 23 Feb. 2007; subject of controversy arising from film of his friendships with young men made by Neasa Ní Chaináin in Nepal during 2005, screened as “Fairytale of Kathmandu” at Irish Film Festival, March 2008, in spite of protests from himself and friends, and later shown on RTÉ (March 2008); object of campaign within Aosdána for affirmation of child-protection principles, May 2008; issued Pianó Mhín na bPréachán (2011), in which a young single mother, Mags, tries to find laughter in her life again. FDA OCIL DIL2

 

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Works
Poetry collections
  • Miontraigéide Cathrach agus Dánta Eile (Dublin: Cló Uí Chuirreáin 1975);
  • with Gabriel Rosenstock & Bill Doyle, Tuírlingt (Dublin: Carbad 1978);
  • Súile Shuibhne (Dublin: Coiscéim 1983);
  • Suíbhne (Dublin: Coiscéim 1987);
  • An Bealach ’na Bhaile (Cló Iar-Chonnachta Teo. 1991);
  • Na Buachaill Bána (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnachta 1996), 92pp.;
  • with Frank Sewell [trans.], Out in the Open (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnachta 1997);
  • Ag Tnúth leis an tSolas: 1975-2000 (Cló Iar-Chonnachta 2001), 303pp.;
  • Na hAingle ó Xanadú, 1970-1980 (2005), [q.pp.].
  • with Jan Voster, Caiseal na gCorr (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnachta 2002);
  • Gúrú i Glúidíní (Cló Iar-Chonnachta 2007), 70pp.
Fiction
  • Pianó Mhín na bPréachán (Cló Iar-Chonnachta 2011) 100pp. [for teenagers; see note]
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Drama
  • Oíche Dhrochghealaí (BÁC: Comhar 2006), q.pp. [based on the biblical Salomé].
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Criticism
  • ‘In a State of Flux: 1980-1989’, in Watching the River Flow: A Century of Irish Poetry, ed. Noel Duffy & Theo Dorgan (Dublin: Poetr Ireland/Eigse Eireann 1999), pp.183-217.
Miscellaneous
  • Gabriel Fitzmaurice, ed., An Bealach ’na Bhaile/Rogha Danta, intro. Lillis Ó Laoire (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnachta Teo. 1993), 212pp. [selected poems of Cathal Ó Searcaigh, with translations by Seamus Heaney, John F. Deane & others];
  • ed., An Chéad Chló: Imleabhar a hAon (Cló Iar-Chonnachta 1998), 78pp.;
  • Seal i Neipeal (Cló Iar Chonnachta 2003), 284pp., ill. [24 col. photos].

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Criticism
  • Gréagóir Ó Duill, ‘Filíocht Chathal Uí Shearchaigh: I dtreo anailís théamúil’, in Comhar (Nollaig 1993), p.35;
  • Djinn Gallagher, ‘Irish, Gifted and Gay’, in The Tribune Magazine (15 Sept. 1996), p.12;
  • Victoria White, ‘Gay Love as Gaeilge’, in The Irish Times (1 March 1996), p.11;
  • A. J. Hughes, ‘Cathal Ó Searcaigh, file’, in Hughes, ed., Le chemin du retour/Pilleadh an deoraí [q.d.];
  • Frank Sewell, Extending the Alhambra: Four Modern Irish Poets (Univ. of Ulster, CILB 1998);
  • Brian Ó Conchubhair, [article] in Irish Studies [Boston College], 2, 2 (Spring 1999) [see extract];
  • Lillis Ó Laoire, ‘Dearg Dobhogtha Chain/The Indelible Mark of Cain: Sexual Dissidence in the Poetry of Cathal Ó Searcaigh’, in Sex, Nation and Dissent in Irish Writing, ed. Éibhear Walshe (Cork UP 1997), pp.221-34 [see extract];
  • Mitsuko Ohno, ‘Hokusai, Basho, Zen and More: Japanese Influences on Irish Poets’, in Journal of Irish Studies (IASIL-Japan), XVII (2002), pp.15-31; pp.27-28; pp.26-27 [see extract];
  • James Doan & Frank Sewell, eds., On the Side of Light: The Poetry of Cathal Ó Searchaigh (Galway: Arlen House 2003), 266pp. [see contents];
  • 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) [see extract];
  • Padraig de Paor, Cathal Ó Searcaigh & Gabriel Rosenstock agus ról comhaimseartha an fhile sa Ghaeilge (BÁC: An Clochomhar 2006).
 
See also Frank Sewell, Modern Irish Poetry: A New Alhambra (Oxford: OUP 2000) [see extract], and John Brown, In the Chair: Interview with Poets from the North of Ireland (Galway: Salmon Press 2002) [q.pp.] Also, sundry remarks in Commentary, infra.

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Bibliographical details
James Doan & Frank Sewell, eds., On the Side of Light: The Poetry of Cathal Ó Searchaigh (Galway: Arlen House 2003), 243pp. List of Illustrations [vii]; Abbreviations [viii]; Dedication [ix]; Acknowledgements [x]. Foreword: “An Tobar”: a poem by Cathal Ó Searcaigh [1]; “The Well”; trans. Frank Sewell [2]; “Uncovering A Well”: a poem by Mutsuo Takahashi trans. Mitsuko Ohno & Frank Sewell [4]. James Doan and Frank Sewell, Loosening the Tongue’ [5]; (as) Anseo Ag Stáisiún Chaiseal Na gCorr [11]; (from) Here at Caiseal na Ccorr Station [12]; Eoin Mac Cárthaigh, ‘Placing Cathal Ó Searcaigh [13]; (as) Oiche (from) Night [36]; Mitsuko Ohno, ‘In Female or Male Voice: What Difference Does it Make?’ [37]; “A Chavafy, A Chroí/To Constantin Cavafy” [56]; Frank Sewell, Between Staisiún Chaiseal na gCorr and Stantzia Zimá: The Poetry of Cathal Ó Searcaigh [57]; (as) “Laoi Cumainn” [87]; (from) “Hound of Ulster” [88]; James Doan, ‘Cathal Ó Searcaigh: Gay, Gaelach agus Galánta - Gay, Gaelic and Gorgeous’ [89]; (as) Buachaill Bán [105]; (from) Buachaill Bán [106]. Kieran Kennedy, ‘“Oirféeas as gach orifice”: The Irish Language Question, Globalization and Homosexuality’ [107]; (as) Gort na cCnámh [133] (from) Field of Bones [134]; Celia de Fréine, ‘What’s in a label?: An appraisal of the work of Cathal Ó Searcaigh [135]; (as) Is Glas Na Cnoic / (from) Faraway Hills [151]; Nobuaki Tochigi, ‘Cathal Ó Searcaigh: Transfiguring Representations of the Native [153]; (as) An Lilí Bhándearg / (from) The Pink Lily [166]; Brian Ó Conchubhair, ‘Cathal Ó Searcaigh: Teip agus Téagar na Teangan/Falling Down and Falling Back on Language’ [167]; (as) Cuisle an Chaoráin [205]; (from) Mountain Pulse [206]; Niall McGrath & Cathal Ó Searcaigh, ‘“Challenging our Conformities”: Cathal Ó Searcaigh in conversation with Niall McGrath [207]; Epilogue: “Trasnú”: a poem by Cathal Ó Searcaigh [230]; “Sic Transit”; trans. Frank Sewell [232]; Notes on Contributors [235]. Select Bibliography [237] incls. Dedicatory poem to Máire Mhac an tSaoi. [23 b&w photos.]

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Commentary
Liz Curtis
[interview], ‘Learning what is meant by home’, Fortnight (April 1996), p.32-33 [with port.; note that the interview title is from a poem by Derek Mahon]. Note that three Irish poems with translations appear in this issue [‘A Muianta M’Oige’, ‘Passions of my Youth’ (‘Passions of my youth, come over me./Turn my wary head soft-wards/and make merry with your larks/My stoned and heavy heart … with one stroke, my dears, of your hand’); ‘Dúil’, ‘Passion’; ‘Jericho’, ‘Jericho’], p.39.

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Nuala Ní Dhomnaill explains who she picked, and why’ (feature-article Watching the River Flow: A Century of Irish Poetry, ed. in Noel Duffy &Theo Dorgan, eds. [anthology], in The Irish Times, Weekend, 27 Nov. 1999): ‘On Cathal Ó Searchaigh: speaking of “the Field of Bones”, which first appeared in Na Buachaillí Bana (1996), which was among many other things Cathal’s testament of “coming out” in terms which could not by a long shot be called uncertain. Nevertheless, the poem in the book that casued the most commotion was not about homosexuality at all, but rather description of the dire straights of a young woman who had been violated by her father, who had to suffocate and bury her newborn child in the eponymous “Field of Bones”. / This poem caused an absolute furore in Cathal’s home place and caused him, among other things, to be “read from the altar”; in other words a sermon was preached against him, a social punishment which in my innocence I had thought had gone out with the proverbial Flood. I heard him subsequently defending himself on Radio na Gaeltachta with both dignithy and aplomb, and it seems from all appearances that he came off the winner in this particular verbal duel. […] Still, that the very attempt esw made to pillory Cathal over this poem is to me actually a great sign, proof positive that poetry in Ireland is still taken with a seriousness that it has lost out on in most Western societies, and maybe most especially in America.’

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Alan Titley, ‘Cathal O Searchaigh’s intensely lyrical celebration of place fuses ancient concerns with a range of styles that shows that he is not only a poet but an artist also.’ (The Bright Wave, p.22; quoted in Malachi O’Neill, UG Diss. on Ó Searchaigh, UUC, 2001.)

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Lillis Ó Laoire, ‘Dearg Cobhoghta Cháin/The Indelible Mark of Cain’, in Sex, Nation and Dissent in Irish Writing, ed. Eibhear Walshe (Cork UP 1997):
 

‘One critic has described this poem [“Laoi Cumainn”] as insufferable, referring to the opening lines. Yet it seems to me that the evocation of physical love as a sacred rite sustains the highly charged emotional atmosphere of the poem.’ (p.230.)

‘O Searchaigh, then, both because of his openness and his medium, strikes at the heart of post-independence puritanism, his homoerotic perspective providing much of the force behind his onslaught.’ (ibid., p.223.)

‘He no longer wishes physically to encounter the wide open spaces of America, since he had acquired them imaginatively, in his own interior life. He has grafted them on to his own tree. Crucially, this mixture of American and Irish literary styles attempts to broaden and to deepen a celberation of the homoerotic in his poetry.’ (ibid., p.225.)

 
—All the foregoing quoted in Malachi O’Neill, BA Diss., UUC 2000.

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Peter Sirr, Irish Times (5 July 1997) considers that Sewell’s translations in Out in the Open are accurate and plain, substituting a rough and ready demotic for Ó Searcaigh’s direct Irish but rarely providing memorable poems in themselves; Selected Poems available from the same publisher. See also harsher review in Books Ireland.

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Brian Ó Conchubhair, ‘Cathal Ó Searcaigh: Teip agus Téagar na Teangan/Falling Down and Falling Back on Language’ (2003): ‘The home Ó Searcaigh makes for himself in Donegal, “or the smithy of human existence in which he forges a conscience”, is an environment where he connects with the land and its people. Later poems such as “Cuisle an Chaordin” and “Súile Shuibhne” display the ease and naturalness which the poet feels in this locality. Suibhne in the Irish tradition is the madman, an outcast to all, exiled to live in the trees as a result of a dispute with a cleric. There is a sense of home and belonging in these poems which is alien to the London poems. “An Díbheartach” makes clear that (Ó Searcaigh will never be an inner member of the community, but to exist on the fringes of a community is to have a community to which one belongs, even if the relationship is of a marginal and ostracising nature. In response, Ó Searcaigh writes celebratory poems of other éin chorr (eccentrics) from the locality; poems such as “Bean an tSléibhe” and “Cró na Cuimthne” These poems serve to populate the poetic and imaginary landscape with individual people to whom, and of whom, Ó Searcaigh can relate. Mirroring the hobos and down-and-outs on park benches in London, the rural eccentrics of Dún na nGall/Donegal represent for Ó Searcaigh fountains of humanity in a desert otherwise parched of human concern. These individuals, despite their adherence to community values, fail to provide heirs for the land which they spent their lives cultivating, heirs who in turn would work the land and bequeath it to the next generation. Similar to the homosexual, these people are “disgraced” in the eyes of the rural tradition which places pren-dum value on land and inheritance. It is these marginalised members of society that Ó Searcaigh befriends and with whom he empathises. He sees value and humanity in them and, above all else, they act as examples of survival in a society often hostile to those on the fringes, those who fail a rural society’s requirements.’ (In James Doan & Frank Sewell, eds., On the Side of Light: The Poetry of Cathal Ó Searchaigh, Galway: Arlen House 2003, pp.166-204; p.187.)

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Frank Sewell, Extending the Alhambra: Four Modern Irish Poets (OUP 1998): ‘His rewriting of traditional love-poetry from the viewpoint of the homosexual, and in Irish, reminds one that conventions cramp in art because they cramp in society, in life, and that art slowly democratises, expands outwards following the pattern of the universe itself, exploding the canon[,] transgressing and surpassing the reductive limits in a gesture towards infinity itself.’ ( p.136; quoted in Malachi O’Neill, UG Diss. on Ó Searchaigh, UUC, 2001.)

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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): ‘Above all, Ó Searcaigh has become, in his poetry, a “celebrant” of life and nature. Celebrating (in the bardic and religious sense of the word) earthly life and nature, including landscape, love and sex, Ó Searcaigh has frequently resorted to the same religious (Catholic) vocabulary as Joyce, to the same powerful mixture of pious and “profane” language: “On the altar of the bed / I celebrate your body tonight, my love, / with the rites of my desire.” The tendency to approach or discuss the earthly, mortal, even the [480] sensual or sexual, with religious or spiritual intensity, has brought Ó Searcaigh (an openly gay writer) into conflict with the Church. As a secular artist, Ó Searcaigh, therefore, arms himself with church language to conduct his verbal battles with a church authority which he, like many Irish people, believes to have been, at times, hypocritical and unjust, a Joycean “net” flung at the soul of men and women born in this country. / In his youth, Ó Searcaigh found the nets of home, fatherland and Church to be closing in too tightly around him. Like the “braddy cow” of his poem “Bó Bhradach”, he “high-tailed it” away from boundary fields and, temporarily, became a “farsoonerite”. Unlike Joyce, however, Ó Searcaigh was compelled by the “geasa” (the bond) of language to return and try to “learn what is meant by home”. Since his return, he has transformed the “nets” of language (Irish and English) and of “religion” (Christian and Buddhist) into stringed instruments on which he plays, as did joyce, his own macaronic, trans-spiritual, international music. […]’ (p.480-81; ftn. omitted here.)

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Quotations
In the Pink”: ‘What force I feel to drive my green self / through a fuse of words, the lily has long / mastered. She needs no more art than nature / to declare her genius. Enough for her to stay / put and placid in her clay vase, her own / fervent prayer in shape and sort.’ [The poet wants:] ‘Scent and silence. […] to be human as the lily is lilium / as much myself as that lily, in the pink.’ (From Na Buachallí Bana, 1996.)

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On Irish nature lyrics (in comparison with Japanese haiku): ‘Like the haiku, these poems are usually brief. They are small luminous moments of insight. They taught me, I hope, a lesson in compactness; that it was possible to evoke by suggestion; to be emotive without being sentimental and gushy. I think it was Dorothy Parker who quipped about some over-eager artist, who didn’t know to economise with his paints, that “when he painted a snake, he couldn’t refrain from adding feet”. Keats, if my memory serves me right, said something similar about Coleridge; something to the effect that he would write one beautiful mysterious line and then write twenty more trying to explain it. So the lesson to be had from the Haiku and the early Irish lyric is that a wise man doesn’t overblow his knows [sic]. Likewise with Japanese painting, it has a minimalist approach to subject matter. Less rather than more. A few brushstrokes and a whole scene is evoked by suggestion. And Iam a fervent admirer of Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. They are stunning impressions of the sacred mountain from a multiciplicity of viewpoints. Ihave my own Fuji, of course. Mount Errigal seems to me to have the same contours, the same character as Fuji. It’s equally as elusive as Fuji. It’s a shapeshifter. Sometimes it’s casually elegant in a cashmere of cloud or shimmeringly sexy in a negligée of snow. At other times, it’s a Cailleach, ashen grey and hag-like in its ferocious scowl. But whatever its moods, it’s my beloved Mount Errigal. It has cast its shadow across my life; my lifelines. Ihave never been able to entice it In its entirety into my poem. My approach has to be more alluring.’ (In Mitsuko Ohno, ‘Hokusai, Basho, Zen and More: Japanese Influences on Irish Poets’, in Journal of Irish Studies [IASIL-Japan], XVII, 2002, p.27).

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References
Greagóir Ó Duill, ed., Filíocht Uladh 1960-1985 (Coiscéim 1986), pp.211-36 [selection].

Patrick Crotty, ed., Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1995), selects “Bó Bhradach” [408], trans. by Patrick Crotty as “A Runaway Cow” [409]; “Na Píopaí Créafóige” [408], trans. by Seamus Heaney as “The Clay Pipes” [409]; “Caoineadh” [412], trans. by Seamus Heaney as “The Clay Pipes” [413].

Books in Print (1994): An Bealach ’na Bhaile (Cló Iar-Chonnachta) 64 pp £2 pb. Dec ‘91; Homecoming/An Bealach ’na Bhaile (Cló Iar-Chonnachta). 212 pp £7.50 pb 1-874700-55-9. May ‘93 [NO ISBNs].

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Notes
Fairy tale (1): Ó Searcaigh was the implied object of a motion made by Mannix Flynn in his capacity as a member of Aosdana in the wake of “Fairytale of Kathmandu” (dir. Neasa Ni Chainain) anent the Aosdana Articles and their support for children’s rights when Mannix sought that the membership sign up to an acknowledgement of the principles. Ó Searcaigh was defended on the Joe Duffy Show (RTE Liveline) by Máire Mac an tSaoi and Pauline Bewick on successive days in Feb. 2008. (See The Irish Times, 8 May 2008).

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Fairy tale (2): A film made on DVD by friends of Ó Searcaigh featuring some of the boys thought to have been abused was distributed by his media adviser, Liam Gaskin, in March 2008. This revealed that one of the boys who had professed himself to have been “bought” by Ó Searcaigh had actually been angry with him on hearing from the film crew that he had returned to Ireland without saying goodbye.

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Fairy tale (3): The Sunday Business Post (30 March 2003) reported that Neasa Ní Chianáin had suggested making a film which would explore “the harem of young men” befriended by Cathal Ó Searcaigh in a proposal made to the Film Board two years before filming the controversial Fairytale of Kathmandu documentary.

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Fairy tale (4): Analysis of Ó Searcaigh affair was supplied for The Independent (7 May 2008) by Anthony Cronin and Colum Kenny - the former finding Ó Searcaigh naive and self-deceiving, and the film a shallow betrayal of a former friend; the latter finding it a well-made programme that appeared to be fair to those participating in it, and castigating David Norris for his defence of same in the Seanad.

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Pianó Mhín na bPréachán (2011) - Máthair shingil óg í Mags, le mac deich mbliana d'aois, Danny, iad beirt ina gcónaí le máthair Mhags, Nancy, i mbaile beag Mhín na bPréachán. Tá Danny meidhreach, croíúil, gealgháireach, agus baineann Nancy a sáith taitnimh as an saol. Ach tá Mags dorcha, gruma, fiú confach. Agus tá imní ag teacht ar Nancy agus ar Danny fúithi. Lá amháin feiceann siad go bhfuil pianó ar díol. B'fhéidir go dtaitneodh ceol an phianó le Mags, agus go gcuirfeadh sé ag gáire arís í. Ach tá a cuid cuimhní féin ag Mags ar cheol agus ar cheol pianó go háirithe. (See Cló Iar-Chonnachta website - online; accessed 9.12.2011.)

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