Twentieth Century and Contemporary PoetsTwentieth Century and Contemporary Poets
Below you will find a chronological list of Irish poets from the time of W.B. Yeats forward. This list is not an exhaustive list of Irish poetry; it does not include the early Irish Revival poets who were writing prior to the time of Yeats, the Eighteenth Century Anglo-Irish poets whom Yeats claimed great affinity with in the latter part of his career, or the many bardic poets and Irish language poets that Thomas Kinsella translated in the 1981 anthology he and Sean O Tuama edited: An Duanaire 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed. Moreover, there are numerous poets now writing and publishing in Ireland who are not on this list. Their work can be accessed in the various literary magazines in existence in Ireland. A link to these publications can be found on the “Literary Journals” page. For further information on the work of any of the poets listed below please do not hesitate to contact me.
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
James Joyce (1882-1941)
Francis Ledwidge (1887-1917)
Francis Ledwidge was born in Slane, County Meath, and grew up in a laborer’s cottage in the small village of Janeville. The second youngest of nine children, he had little formal education as he left school at age fourteen to help his mother take care of the family. He worked in the neighboring farms and also as a laborer. His writing talent eventually came to the attention of the influential landowner, Lord Dunsany, who became his patron. He had many friends in the Gaelic League, among them Thomas McDonagh, a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, and one of his best known poems is the elegy he wrote for McDonagh. His first collection was being prepared when the Great War began. Like countless other Irishmen he enlisted in the British Army when the First World War broke out, and he joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers which were based in Inchicore, Dublin. After surviving the disastrous Gallipoli landings he saw active service in Greece and Serbia. In the course of the Allies retreat from Serbia to Salonika he collapsed, and, was treated first in Egypt until he was well enough to travel back to England and then home to recover. As soon as he was deemed fit for service again, he returned to the front and was killed in action in Flanders on the 31st of July, 1917. Almost his entire work is contained in two volumes, Songs of the Fields (1916), and Songs of the Peace (1917). Many of Ledwidge’s poems were rewritten from memory in 1916 after being lost in Greece and Serbia during the war, and there are still countless poems that have not been collected for publication. Liam O’ Meara, Chairman of The Inchicore Ledwidge Society, has devoted much of his career to searching for and publishing the poet’s lost poems.
Thomas MacGreevy (1893-1967)
Austin Clarke (1896-1974)
Austin Clarke was born in Dublin into a lower middle-class Catholic family, and like James Joyce, he was educated by the Jesuits at Belvedere College and subsequently attended University College Dublin. At college he encountered many of the intellectuals behind the Irish Literary Revival, as well as many of the people involved in the 1916 Easter Rebellion. After lecturing at UCD he worked for several years as a literary journalist in London before returning to Ireland in 1937. Early long poems, The Fires of Baal (1921), and The Sword of the West (1923), along with his book, The Cattledrive in Connaught (1925), are filled with strong folk flavor and mythological influences reminiscent of the early W.B. Yeats. Clarke, however, was not a protégé of Yeats and was in fact famously excluded by the latter from his Faber Book of Modern Verse in 1936. In contrast to the neo-Revival mould of his early poetry, with its emphasis on pre-Christian Ireland, Clarke’s mature work combines technical sophistication with biting social critiques of the Catholic Church and the Irish Free State, along with spiritual and psychic self-exploration. Unfortunately, he continues to suffer from a curious lack of critical attention in that contemporary literary critics have not devoted much attention to his corpus. One notable exception is the poet Thomas Kinsella, who edited a collection of his work, and who credited Clarke in his introduction to the collection as an important literary forbearer.
The development of Clarke’s poetic style is exemplified by the ascetic approach of Pilgrimage (1929), which is set in the late Middle Ages, and is technically impressive in the way it manages to replicate in English the complex assonantal and consonantal alliteration and rhyme schemes of Irish verse. Two specific poems representative of Clarke’s successful efforts to initiate the Gaelic liner pattern of assonance and consonance are “The Planter’s Daughter,” and “The Straying Student.”
After a seventeen year silence Clarke began publishing poetry again in 1955 with the appearance of Ancient Lights, Poems and Satires: First Series. The title of the book is a reference to the legal right to unobstructed windows and views, and for Clarke, this right symbolized the individual’s right to political, moral and spiritual light, much of which was occluded during the state sponsored censorship of the 1940s and 1950s. Mnemosyne Lay in Dust (1966), detailing the poet’s earlier hospitalization for almost a year in St. Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin due to a nervous breakdown he suffered in 1919, during the Anglo-Irish War, is considered by many critics to be Clarke’s late masterpiece. This long poem, published in the same year as the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising, brings the older poet together with his younger self, with the effect of contextualizing his personal collapse in 1919 within the national struggle for independence. In his late career Clarke continued to explore sexual experience in a series of narrative poems, “The Dilemma of Iphis,” (1970), “The Healing of Mis,” (1970), “Tiresias,” (1971) and “The Wooing of Becfola” (1974), though in contrast to his earlier poems about sexuality, the emphasis is now on the woman’s perspective rather than the phallocentric perspective of the poet.
In addition to poetry Clarke wrote plays, novels, memoirs and literary criticism.
Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967)
Patrick Kavanagh was born in the small village of Inniskean, in County Monaghan into a poor family of nine children, and much if his poetry is inspired by the rural environment of his childhood. Kavanagh’s father was a farmer and a cobbler, and the young Kavanagh was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps; however, literature and learning claimed him at an early age and along with Thomas Kinsella, he is regarded as one of the most important Irish poets between the death of W. B. Yeats and the rise of Seamus Heaney. In 1936 he published his first book of poetry, Ploughman and Other Poems. This was followed by a quasi-comical autobiography, The Green Fool, in 1938. He spent much of his life in Dublin, where he published Tarry Flynn (1948), a novel that revolves around his relationship with his mother.
One of his most famous poems, the stark anti-pastoral long poem, “The Great Hunger,” concerns the damaging influence of a distorted Catholic tradition on rural men and women. In the main character of Patrick Maguire, Kavanagh exposes the potentially repressive and dehumanizing effects of a conservative rural society. Here, the poet’s skill in aesthetically portraying the closely observed minutiae of everyday rural life is exemplified. Later poetry collections are A Soul for Sale (1947) and Come Dance with me Kitty Stobling (1960). To celebrate the centenary of his birth in 2004, a new volume of Kavanagh’s Collected Poems, edited by his biographer, Dr. Antoinette Quinn, was published.
In essence, Kavanagh’s work can be divided into two main sections: poems with a rural, Monaghan, background and poems with an urban, Dublin background. Kavanagh broke through immense personal and cultural constraints to redefine Irish poetry. His work succeeds in moving beyond Irish verse’s traditional preoccupation with history, national politics and identity, to encompass common everyday experiences which are remarkable for their freshness of language and individuality of insight. Kavanagh never achieved the recognition he deserved during his lifetime, and he alienated himself from nearly every figure on the Irish literary scene through the acerbic diary pieces he wrote for the literary journal Envoy, and his own magazine, Kavanagh’s Weekly. However, his reputation as one of the most important contemporary Irish poets has only increased since his death. Both Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley have credited Kavanagh with being a formative influence on their work in that he demonstrated that the lives of ordinary rural people were fit subjects for poetry.
After a long battle with alcohol Kavanagh died of pneumonia in Dublin in 1967, and he is commemorated in Dublin by a sculpture of the poet sitting on a bench on the bank of the Grand Canal near Baggot Street Bridge. On this statute are inscribed the lines from another of his famous Dublin sonnets: “O Commemorate me where there is water.” He is buried in Inniskean, where the graveyard is part of the Patrick Kavanagh Centre. The Centre hosts an annual Patrick Kavanagh weekend, and also sponsors an influential poetry contest in his honor.
Brian Coffey (1905-1995)
Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)
John Hewitt (1907-1987)
Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)
Denis Devlin (1908-1959)
Sean O Riordain (1916-1977)
Márie Mhac an tSaoi (b.1922)
Máire Mhac an tSaoi was born in Dublin but spent long periods in Corca Dhuibhne, Co. Kerry. She studied modern languages and Celtic studies at University College Dublin and at the Institute des Hautes Études, Paris. Mhac an tSaoi is one of the most acclaimed and respected Irish language scholars, poets, writers and academics of modern literature in Irish, and is justly recognizes as one of a handful of major poets who transformed poetry in Irish in the period during and after the Second World War. Mhac an tSaoi is also the first significant female voice in twentieth-century Irish poetry. She paved the way for such important female poets as Eavan Boland, Medbh McGuckian, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. With her late husband, the politician, writer and historian, Conor Cruise O’ Brien, she wrote A Concise History of Ireland (1972). She was deeply influenced by her uncle, Monsignor Pádraig De Brún, one of the most respected scholars of the Irish language in the twentieth-century. Her poetry, which is distinguished for its technical sophistication, draws heavily on the native poetic tradition, from classical poetry to the oral poetry of the Gaeltacht, both in form and thematic concerns. Her later collections, Codladh an Ghaiscígh (1973), An Galar Dubhach (1980), and An Cion go dtí Seo (1987), reflect her aesthetic and philosophical development. In 2014 Wake Forest Press published a bilingual volume of her selected poems, The Miraculous Parish: An paróiste míorúilteach. In Irish with translations by eleven Irish poets, this volume contains selections from the poet’s entire oeuvre. The title refers to Mhac an tSaoi’s early childhood in the “miraculous parish” of Dún Chaoin (Dunquin), a Gaeltach village in Co. Kerry.
Pearse Hutchinson (1927-2013)
Richard Murphy (b.1927)
Anthony Cronin (b.1928)
Thomas Kinsella (b.1928)
Born in the Liberties area of Dublin and educated at University College Dublin, Kinsella began his long and distinguished literary career in the 1950s, and he continues to this day to publish his highly distinctive poetry that chronicles his lifelong preoccupation with both eliciting order, and imposing order on the direct experience of life. Kinsella’s first major collection, Another September (1958), was a Poetry Book Society choice. His subsequent collections garnered great critical acclaim in Ireland and England, and he received the Denis Devlin Memorial Award in 1967. In 1965 Kinsella abandoned a promising career in the Department of Finance and moved to the United States to concentrate on writing. He was a writer-in-residence at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, for three years. In 1970, Kinsella accepted an invitation to join the faculty at Temple University in Philadelphia as a professor of English. He remained at Temple for the next twenty years, where he developed Temple’s Irish Studies program, the first of its kind in the United States.
Nightwalker and Other Poems (1968), which marked Kinsella’s departure from his early formalism, first introduced his work to a large American audience. In this volume, which documented the poet’s disillusionment with the Irish Free State post-independence, Kinsella’s evolving poetic view of life as an ordeal, and the importance of an artistic response to this ordeal, surfaced clearly. In 1972 Kinsella published Butcher’s Dozen, a response to the Widgery Report on the killing of thirteen civil rights demonstrators in Derry on Bloody Sunday. The poem first appeared under Kinsella’s own imprint, the Peppercanister Press, which has continued to publish all his new work before he revises and reissues the material in collected trade editions. Kinsella’s mid career work is characterized by a Jungian influenced exploration into the poet’s origins, both individually through his ancestors, and collectively through a retelling of the story of the first people of Ireland, based on the mythological tales contained in The Book of Invasions. See in particular, Notes from the Land of the Dead (1972), One (1974), Song of the Night and Other Poems (1978) and Songs of the Psyche (1985). However, much of the poet’s work is firmly rooted in his Dublin locale, as exemplified in St. Catherine’s Clock (1987), Poems from Centre City (1990), and The Pen Shop (1997).
Kinsella has also devoted a considerable portion of his career to translating Gaelic literature, most notably with his 1969 translation of the mythological epic, the Táin Bó Cúailnge, and the anthology of Gaelic poems, An Duanaire 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed (1981). He has also published a critical study of the contemporary Irish writer’s relationship with the dual heritage of Gaelic and English literature, The Dual Tradition: An Essay on the Poetry and Politics in Ireland (1995).
In recognition of his achievements as a poet and his contribution to Irish literature Kinsella was awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin in 2008.
John Montague (b. 1929)
James Simmons (1933-2001)
Brendan Kennelly (b. 1936)
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)
Michael Longley (b.1939)
Seamus Deane (b.1940)
Michael Hartnett (1941- 1999)
Derek Mahon (b.1941)
Derek Mahon was born in Northern Ireland and grew up in a mixed suburban neighborhood in Belfast. He was educated at Trinity College with fellow Northern poet Michael Longley, and at the Sorbonne in Paris. After travelling in Canada and the United States and teaching briefly in Belfast, he moved to London in 1971, where he worked as a literary journalist for fifteen years. He worked as a writer-in-residence in several universities in both in Ireland and the United States, and returned permanently to Ireland in 1995.
His first book, Night Crossing (1968), was followed by Lives (1972), The Snow Party (1975), Poems: 1962-78 (1979), and The Hunt by Night (1982), establishing him, with Michael Longley and Seamus Heaney, as a leading member of a generation of poets who put Northern Ireland on the literary map during the “Troubles.” Mahon’s urbane poetry echoes a broad tradition, both English and Irish, and his poems achieve a balance in the personal and the universal themes they develop. One of his most famous poems, “A Disused Shed in County Wexford,” illustrates how easily Mahon’s work can reference local detail while simultaneously encompassing a global or universal perspective. Another hallmark of his work is the elusive, ironic perspective he often employs, revealing one of his early influences, fellow Northern poet, Louis MacNiece. In the 1990s Mahon published two ambitious, moving sequences, The Hudson Letter (1995), a representation of personal and cultural crisis in New York, and The Yellow Book (1997), an ironic and skeptical reflection on Dublin, which combined autobiographical themes with cultural critique. His Collected Poems (1999), confirmed him as a major twentieth-century lyric poet. As John Mcauliff has pointed out, “Mahon’s subtle, expansive poems about, among others, Van Gogh, Coleridge, Jean Rhys, Ovid and Elizabeth Bowen, use those figures to test and discover ways of thinking about how we live now, and how art might respond to the eternally changing world we live in.”
Among his dramatic translations are versions of Molliére’s The School for Wives (1986), Racine’s Phaedra (1996), and Rostand’s Cyrano De Bergerac (2004) A member of Aosdána, he has received numerous awards including the Irish Academy of Letters Award and the Scott Moncrieff translation prize.
Eamon Grennan (b. 1941)
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin (b.1942)
Eavan Boland (b.1944)
Her most recent book is A Woman Without a Country (Carcanet 2014).
Paul Durcan (b. 1944)
Paul Durcan is one of Ireland’s foremost contemporary poets. Since the publication of his first book Endsville (1967), he has evolved a poetic strategy that uses hyper-real attention to detail and a distinctive incantatory style of free verse to create a body of work that is simultaneously personal and public. Often described as a “relentless moralist,” much of his work is devoted to unmasking the pieties of Irish Catholicism and the eradication of common human decency. His work has also been inspired by a number of other themes, including the breakdown of his marriage, his relationship with his father and mother, history and specific collections of paintings. Among his many books are Jesus Breaks his Fall (1980), Jumping the Train Tracks with Angela (1983), The Berlin Wall Café (1985), a Poetry Book Society Choice, Daddy Daddy (1990), winner of the Whitbread Award for Poetry, A Snail in my Prime: New and Selected Poems (1993), Greetings to our Friends in Brazil (1999), Cries of an Irish Caveman: New Poems (2001), and The Art of Life (2004). In 2007 Durcan published The Laughter of Mothers, a moving collection of poems dedicated to his mother Sheila MacBride, the niece of John MacBride, who was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising. Durcan was the Ireland Professor of Poetry 2004 – 2007, and he is a member of Aosdána.
Bernard O’ Donoghue (1945)
Bernard O’ Donoghue was born in Cullen, County Cork. He moved to Manchester, England, when he was sixteen years old and attended St. Bede’s College. Thereafter, he studied Medieval English at Oxford University and he has lived in Oxford since 1965. He is an Emeritus Fellow at Wadham College, Oxford University, where he had a long career teaching Old English and Medieval English, Linguistics and the History of the English Language. His research interests include medieval love poetry and 20th century Irish writing, and critics recognize that “the linguistic issues that center his criticism and poetry are strongly inflected by the tones of his vocation, [and] by the dialogue he hears enacted between widely separated historical periods.”
O’Donoghue’s many poetry collections include Poaching Rights (1987), The Absent Signifier (1990), The Weakness (1991), Gunpowder (1995), which won the Whitbread Prize for Poetry, Here Nor There (1999), and Outliving (2003). Recent collections include Selected Poems (Faber & Faber 2008), and Farmer’s Cross (Faber & Faber 2011). A Seamus Heaney scholar, he has written extensively on the poet, including Seamus Heaney and the Language of Poetry (1994) and The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney (ed. 2009). In 2006 Penguin Books published his new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Paddy Bushe (b.1948)
Paddy Bushe was born in Dublin and now lives in Waterville, County Kerry. A prize-winning poet in Irish and in English, he has published several poetry collections including Poems with Amergin(1989), Teanga(1990), Counsellor (1991), Digging Towards the Light(1994), In Ainneoin na gCloch(2001), Hopkins on Skellig Island(2001) and The Nitpicking of Cranes(2004). To Ring in Silence: New and Selected Poems was published in 2008. His latest collection, which finds the poet setting time and geography in juxtaposition, and mixing Eastern and western traditions, is My Lord Buddha of Carraig Eanna (2012). He has also compiled the anthology, Voices at the World’s Edge: Irish Poets on Skellig Michael (2011), for Dedalus Press. The book is a mixture of poetry and prose that is part travel writing, part meditative daybook, part natural history. Voices at the World’s Edge arose out of an invitation that Bushe extended to some of Ireland’s best known poets to travel with him to the island of Skellig Michael, situated in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 12km off the west coast of Ireland. The island was once home to a monastery which was founded in the sixth century and thrived for 700 years.
The recipient of the Oireachtas prize for poetry in 2006, he has also received the 2006 Michael Hartnett Poetry Award. He is a member of Aosdána.
Dermot Healey (1947-2014)
Trevor Joyce (b. 1947)
Frank Ormsby (b. 1947)
Ciaran Carson (b.1948)
Tom Paulin (b. 1949)
Medbh McGuckain (b. 1950)
Peter Fallon (b. 1951)
Paul Muldoon (b. 1951)
Kerry Hardie (b. 1951)
Harry Clifton (b.1952)
Gerald Dawe (b.1952)
Gerald Dawe was born in Belfast in 1952 and educated at Orangefield Boys’ School and at Ulster University. In 1974 he moved to the west coast of Ireland where he lived and taught at University College Galway (1974-1988). He was appointed Lecturer in English at Trinity College Dublin in 1988 and has lived in Dublin since 1992. Dawe’s first collection of poems, Sheltering Places (Blackstaff), was published in 1978. His second collection, The Lundys Letter (1985), published by The Gallery Press, was awarded the Macaulay Fellowship. His Selected Poems appeared in 2012. Dawe’s most recent collections are Mickey Finn’s Air (2014), and Early Poems (2015). In addition to his poetry, Dawe has edited various anthologies of poetry and literary criticism including Earth Voices Whispering: Irish poetry of war (2008) and The Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets (2018). He has also authored a unique study of war and revolution and their impact on the writing lives of Irish poets and novelists from WW1 and the Easter Rising through the War of Independence to the Civil War, WW11 and the Northern “Troubles,” Of War and War’s Alarms (2015). His other publications include In Another World: Van Morrison & Belfast (2017) and The Wrong Country: Essays on Modern Irish Writing (2018).
His various awards include a Hawthornden International Writers Fellowship and a Moore Institute Fellowship, NUI, Galway. He has held visiting professorships at Boston College and Villanova University, and was a visiting scholar at Pembroke College, Cambridge (2016-17). An archive of his papers is held at the Burns Library, Boston College. Dawe was Professor of English and Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin until his retirement in 2017. He lives in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin.
Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (b.1952)
Ní Dhomhnaill was born in Lancashire and raised from the age of five in County Kerry. An Irish language poet, who now lives in Dublin, her work has reached a broad audience in Europe and the United States due to the successful translations of her work into English. Ní Dhomhnaill has collaborated on these translations with poets such as Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Medbh McGuckian, and most importantly, with Paul Muldoon. These translations can be found in Selected Poems (1986), Pharaoh’s Daughter (1990), The Astrakhan Cloak (1992) and The Water Horse (1999). Stylistically modern, her aesthetic is firmly rooted in the symbolic universe of the Irish language tradition and the Gaeltacht region of County Kerry.
Maurice Scully (b.1952)
Matthew Sweeney (b.1952)
Maurice Riordan (b. 1953)
Dennis O’ Driscoll (b.1954)
Mary O’ Donnell (b.1954)
O’Donnell was born in County Monaghan, and her work is acutely attuned to the influences of both northern and southern influences. Now living in county Kildare, O’ Donnell is the author of eleven books of poetry and fiction. She is a member of Aosdana.
Mary O’ Malley (b.1954)
O’Malley was born in Connamara, and educated at University College Galway. She spent many years living in Portugal before returning to Ireland in the 1980s. She published her first volume of poetry, A Consideration of Silk, in 1990, and her most recent collection is Valparaiso (2012). Much of her work involves reworking classical myths that involve women. For example, in poems such as “Ceres in Caherlistrane,” “Persephone Astray,” and “The Wineapple,” she revisits the Persephone myth. She is equally at home exploring Irish culture and the lives of people on the Irish west coast. If her early work reflected the struggles between modernity and tradition in Irish culture, her mature work, as exemplified in A Perfect V (2006), reflects the new reality of Irish women in the public as well as the private sphere. In this particular volume, O’ Malley explores the boundaries and conflicts that divide humanity, from the legal separation of Northern and Southern Ireland, to the heartbreaking detachment of a husband and wife.
Rita Ann Higgins (b 1955)
Paula Meehan (b.1955)
Cathal Ó Searcaigh (b.1956)
Ó Searcaigh is an Irish language poet and playwright, noted for the lyrical sensuality of his writing and the blending of Eastern and Western influences. He was born in the Gaeltacht region of County Donegal, and after a period of working in London and Dublin, he returned to the small farm on which he was raised. He travels frequently in the East, and his poetry draws much of its inspiration from both his Eastern experience, and the rural setting of his native home. The Irish landscape is frequently used as a metaphor for interrogating and ultimately mapping the greater world beyond. A gifted linguist, Ó Searcaigh studied at the Institute for Higher Education in Limerick, where he focused on modern languages – French and Russian. His principal collections are An Bealach’ na Bhaile /Homecoming (1993), Out in the Open (1997), Ag Tnúth leis an tSolas (2001), for which he received The Irish Times Irish Literature Prize for the Irish language, and Gúrú i gClúidíní (2006). Among his many awards is the Seán Ó Riordaín prize for poetry in 1993 and the American Ireland Literary Award in 2006. He is a member of Aosdána.
Chris Agee (b.1956)
Chris Agee grew up in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. He was educated at Harvard University and since 1979 has lived in Ireland. He is the author of three collections of poetry, In the New Hampshire Woods (1992), First Light (2003) and Next to Nothing (2008). He has also edited several volumes including Scar on the Stone: Contemporary Poetry from Bosnia (1998), Unfinished Ireland: Essays on Hubert Butler (2003) and The New North: Contemporary Poetry from Northern Ireland (2008). Agee is also the editor of Irish Pages a journal of contemporary Irish writing based at the Linen Hall Library in Belfast.
Moya Cannon (b.1956)
Mark Granier (b.1957)
Mark Granier is an Irish poet and photographer who was born in London in 1957. He completed an MA in Poetry and Creative Writing at Lancaster University, and he now lives in Dublin where he teaches creative writing at University College Dublin and at the Irish Writers Centre. He has published four collections of poetry: Airborne (Salmon Poetry 2001), The Sky Road (Salmon Poetry 2007), Fade Street (Salt 2010), and most recently, Haunt (Salmon Poetry 2015). He has received three Arts Council bursaries, in 2002, 2008 and 2013. His awards include the New Writer Poetry Prize in 1997, the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize in 2004 and The Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Poetry Fellowship in 2011.
Seán Lysagth (b.1957)
Lysagth’s most recent collection is Carnival Masks (Gallery Press, 2014), again centres on the natural world, in particular the north Mayo landscape.
Peter Sirr (b. 1960)
Katie Donovan (b.1962)
O’Donovan grew up on a farm in County Wexford and was educated at Trinity College and UC. Berkley. She now lives in Dublin. She is the author of four books of poetry, including Rootling: New and Selected Poems (2010).
Siobhán Campbell (b.1962)
Siobhán Campbell was born in Dublin and educated at – . She has published five poetry collections, beginning with Permanent Wave (1996), and most recently Cross-Talk (2009). Her forthcoming volume is That Other Island. Several poems from this new collection were published in the winter 2014 issue of New Hibernia Review.
Pat Boran (b.1963)
Pat Boran was born in 1963 in Portlaoise, in the Irish midlands, and has long since lived in Dublin. He has published more than a dozen books of poetry and prose, most recently The Statues of Emo Court (Orange Crate Books, 2021), Then Again (Dedalus Press, 2019), and Waveforms: Bull Island Haiku (Orange Crate Books, 2016), which was the subject of a 2020 radio documentary on Lyric FM. A Man Is Only As Good: A Pocket Selected Poems was published in 2017 by Orange Crate Books. Editions of his poetry have been published in many languages.
His non-fiction writing includes The Portable Creative Writing Workshop (various editions) and A Short History of Dublin (Mercier Press). His humorous memoir, The Invisible Prison: Scenes from an Irish Childhood, was published by Dedalus Press in 2009 and in Italian as Un’Infanzia Irlandese. A former editor of Poetry Ireland Review, Boran has edited numerous anthologies, among them the 2014 Dublin One City, One Book choice, If Ever You Go: A Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song (with co-editor Gerald Smyth), and, with co-editor Eugene O’Connell, The Deep Heart’s Core: Irish Poet’s Revisit a Touchstone Poem (2017). During the pandemic lockdown in the spring of 2020 Boran published The Word Ark; A Pocket book of Animal Poems, illustrated by the Sicilian artist Gaetano Tranchino.
Boran’s distinctions include The Patrick Kavanagh Award in 1989 and the Lawrence O’ Shaughnessy Poetry Award from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul’s Minnesota, in 2008. He is a member of Aosdána. Since mid-2020 much of his work has been audio-visual, and the resulting poetry films may be found on his website, www.patboran.com
Vona Groarke (b.1964)
Enda Wyley (b. 1966)
Sara Berkeley (b.1967)
Connor O’ Callaghan (b. 1968)
Justin Quinn (b.1968)
Quinn was born in Dublin and educated at Trinity College where he studied Philosophy and Literature. He is the author of two studies of twentieth-century American poetry, as well as the Cambridge Introduction to Modern Irish Poetry, 1800-2000 (2008). He has published six volumes of poetry, most recently, Waves & Trees (2006), The Months (2009) and Close Quarters (2011). His first collection, The ‘O’ o’a’a’ Bird (–) was nominated for the forward Prize for Best First Collection. He has also translated the work of the Czech poet Petr Borkovec, From the Interior (2008). Quinn’s work reflects the influence of American poets, most notable Wallace Stevens, and is characterized by its mix of formal sophistication and openness to experimentation. He is currently a Professor at the Charles University, Prague.
David Wheatley (b.1970)
Sinéad Morrissey (b. 1972)
Morrissey was born in Portadown, Northern Ireland, and grew up in Belfast during the Troubles. At age eighteen Morrissey won the Patrick Kavanagh award, making her the youngest recipient of the prize. She has also received the Eric Gregory Award and the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award. Her third collection, The State of Prisons (2005), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. In her fourth collection, Through the Square Window, (2009), Morrissey explores issues of fertility, pregnancy and the landscape of early childhood. Morrissey is a lecturer in creative writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Queens University, Belfast.
Alan Gillis (b.1973)
Alan Gillis was born in Belfast. His debut collection, Somebody, Somewhere (2004) received the Strong Award for Best First Collection. His next volume, Hawks and Doves (2007), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. His most recent collection is Scapegoat (2014), published by The Gallery Press.
John McAuliffe (b.1973)
John McAuliffe was born in 1973 and grew up in Listowel, County Kerry. He studied at NUI Galway, and subsequently worked in Cork and Dublin, where he ran the Poetry Now Festival in Dun Laoghaire. In 2000 he won the RTE Poet of the Future Award and in 2002 the Sean Dunne National Poetry Award. Since 2002 he has lived and worked in the U.K. He currently directs the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester. He is also the chief poetry critic for The Irish Times. His three books from Gallery Press are A Better Life (2002), which was shortlisted for a Forward Prize, Next Door (2007), and Of All Places (2011), which was a Poetry Book Society recommendation.
Leontia Flynn (b. 1974)
Novelists and Short Story Writers: Twentieth Century and Contemporary Writers
Although the information below relates to modern fiction, several generations of earlier writers must be acknowledged due to the enormous influence of their work on future Irish novelists. These include Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Laurence Sterne (1713-1786), Abraham (Bram) Stoker (1847-1912), Oscar Wilde (1856-1900), Edith Somerville (1858-1949) and Violet Martin (1862-1915), who published together as “Somerville and Ross.”
James Joyce (1882-1941)
Peadar O’ Donnell (1893-1988)
Novelist and socialist. He was born in Donegal and commanded an IRA brigade there, from 1921-22, and was later imprisoned during the Civil War. He edited An Phoblacht in the late 1920s and was a member of the IRA Army Council from 1925-34. He is best known as one of the two editors of The Bell (the first being Sean O’ Faolain), the influential literary magazine that ran from 1946-1954. Two of his novels, Islanders (1928) and The Big Windows (1955), are regarded as classic depictions of rural life.
Liam O’ Flaherty (1896-1984)
Short story writer and novelist. O’ Flaherty was born on the Aran Islands and was educated at University College Dublin. He was briefly involved with the Irish Volunteers, but in 1916 he enlisted in the British Army and served in the First World War. O’ Flaherty wrote short stories based on the Irish –, most notably, “The Informer” and “Insurrection,” and his novel Famine (1937), — Irish language short story collection, Duil (1953), is considered by many critics to be comparable to Joyce’s Dubliners.
Kate O’ Brien (1897-1974)
Novelist, playwright and essayist. O’Brien was born in Limerick but lived mostly in England, with a brief period in Spain. A successful play, Distinguished Villa (1926), began her writing career, and she gained notoriety with her novels, Farewell Spain (1937) was banned in Spain, and The Land of Spices (1941), was banned in Ireland. O’Brien wrote from within a Catholic middle-class consciousness, yet she was subtly critical of it. The Land of Spices is a protest against Irish insularity, and a subtle study of the ways in which Catholicism and Nationalism excluded a more European awareness in the newly formed Republic. She is now regarded as a complex and perceptive feminist writer who explores the difficulties of self-determination for women in the creative, sexual, intellectual and political arenas.
Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973)
Bowen maintained the tradition of Sommerville and Ross, leaving an invaluable artistic account of life in Ireland from the perspective of the Big House. In The Last September, —-
Sean O’ Faolain (1900-1991)
Francis Stuart (1902-2000)
Frank O’ Connor (1903-1966)
O’Connor’s short stories record how romantic illusions were jarred by the realities and the brutalities of guerrilla war. O’ Connor is also known for his 1945 translation of Brian Merriman’s Cuirt an Mhean-Oiche (The Midnight Court), a lengthy Irish poem written in the late eighteenth century, which addresses sexual repression and the celibacy of the clergy in a comic and frequently bawdy manner.
Molly Keane (writing as M.J. Farrell) (1904-1996)
Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)
Brian O’ Nolan (also writing as Flann O’ Brien and under the journalistic pseudonym of Myles na Gopaleen) (1912-1966)
Mary Lavin (1912-1966)
Walter Macken (1915-1967)
Benedict Kiely (1919-2007)
James Plunkett (1920-2003)
Brian Moore (1921 -1988)
Brendan Behan (1923-1964)
See entry under Playwrights.
Hugh Leonard (1926-2009)
See entry under Playwrights.
Aidan Higgins (b. 1927)
William Trevor (b. 1928)
In 2014 Trevor was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
Anthony Cronin (b. 1928)
Anthony Cronin was born in County Wexford and educated at University College Dublin where he studied law. He is a poet, novelist, memoirist, biographer, cultural critic, and founder of Aosdána, the Irish state-sponsored academy of letters which was established in order to publicly honor achievement in the arts. Cronin was assistant editor of one of Ireland’s most influential and long running little magazines, The Bell. His memories of mid-century literary bohemia, Dead as Doornails (1976), chronicles the lives of the major figures whose paths crossed in Dublin, Soho and Paris in the 1950s, including Flann O’Brien (Myles Na Gopaleen), Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh. His comic novel, The Life of Riley (1964), and the subsequent novel, Identity Papers (1979), are characterized by a dry humane intelligence and a scrupulously exact prose style. These qualities also inform his well received biographies of both Flann O’ Brien, No Laughing Matter (2003), and Samuel Beckett, Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist (1997). In 2004 Cronin published his Collected Poems, which bring together the work of a lifetime, from his first poetry collection published in 1957, up through his 1999 collection. A new volume of poetry, The Fall, was published in 2010. He lives in Dublin.
Jennifer Johnston (b. 1930)
Jennifer Johnston is an acclaimed novelist and playwright. Born in Dublin, she is the daughter of playwright Denis Johnston and Abbey actress Shelah Richards. For much of her live she lived in Derry, but now resides in Dublin. Her many novels (18 in total), deal primarily with women struggling towards individual identity across boundaries imposed by nationality, class, sex and religion. She published her first novel, The Captains and the Kings, in 1972, when she was aged forty two, and has continued to produce a – – She was shortlisted for the Booker Prize with her fourth novel, Shadows on our Skin (—), and her fifth novel, The Old Jest(1979), won the Whitebread Prize.
In 2014 Johnston was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction. She is a member of Aosdána.
Edna O’ Brien (b. 1930)
In 2014 O’Brien was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
Eugene McCabe (b.1930)
Christy Brown (1933-1981)
John McGahern (1934-2006)
G. Farrell (1935-1979)
Maeve Binchy (1940-2012)
Seamus Deane (b. 1940)
Bernard MacLaverty (b.1942)
In 2014 MacLaverty was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
John Banville (Also writing under the pseudonym Benjamin Black) (b. 1945)
In 2014 Banville was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
Dermot Healy (1947-2014)
Clare Boylan (1948-2006)
Neil Jordan (b. 1950)
Catherine Dunne (b.1954)
In 2014 Dunne was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
Eilis Ni Dhuabhne (b. 1954)
Colm Toibin (b. 1955)
Patrick Mc Cabe (b. 1955)
In 2014 McCabe was nominated for the inaugural Laureate in Irish Fiction.
Sebastian Barry (b.1955)
In 2014 Barry was nominated for the inaugural Laureate in Irish Fiction.
Roddy Doyle (b. 1958)
In 2014 Doyle was nominated for the inaugural Laureate in Irish Fiction.
Dermot Bolger (b. 1959)
In 2014 Bolger was nominated for the inaugural Laureate in Irish Fiction.
Anne Haverty (b. 1959)
In 2014 Haverty was nominated for the inaugural Laureate in Irish Fiction.
Anne Enright (b.1962)
In 2014 Enright was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
Joseph O’ Connor (b. 1963)
In 2014 O’Connor was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish fiction.
Colum McCann (b. 1965)
John Kelly (b.1965)
John Kelly was born in County Fermanagh and educated at Queens University Belfast, where he studied law. Kelly worked as a broadcaster for the BBC for many years and has published several novels. His most recent work, From Out of the City, (Dalkey archive Press), was shortlisted for the 2014 Irish Novel of the Year.
In 2014 McCann was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
Claire Keegan (b. 1968)
In 2014 Keegan was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
Emma Donoghue (b. 1969)
In 2014 Donoghue was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
Kevin Barry (b.1969)
Nuala Ní Chonchuir (b. 1970)
In 2014 Ní Chonchuir was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
John Boyne (b.1971)
Boyne was born in Dublin in 1971 and studied English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and creative writing at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England. He subsequently returned to Ireland and resides in Dublin. He has published nine adult novels and four young adult novels. His first book for young readers, The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas (–), was a New York Times best seller, and was made into a feature film by Miramax Films. His most recent adult novel, A History of Loneliness was published in the U.K. and Ireland in 2014, and is forthcoming in the USA in early 2015. His most recent novel for young readers is Stay Where you are and then Leave (2014). In 2014 Boyne was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
Billy O’ Callaghan (b. 1974)
Belinda McKeon (b.1979)
McKeon was born in Longford and educated at t— From 2007 to 2011 she was curator of DLR Poetry Now, Ireland’s biggest poetry festival. Her debut novel, Solace, won the 2011 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book of the Year, and the 2011 Faber Memorial Prize, as well as being shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Her second novel, Tender, will be published in 2015. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Rutgers University. In 2014 McKeon was nominated for the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction.
Celia Ahern (b. 1981)
Colin Barrett (b. 19–)
Colin Barrett’s debut novel, Young Skins, has received tremendous popular and critical acclaim. He is the winner of the 2014 Frank O’ Connor Literary Award, and only the second Irish writer to win this award. He is also the winner of the Rooney Prize for Literature and he was nominated for The Guardian First Book Award.
Twentieth Century and Contemporary Playwrights
Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932)
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin in 1856 to Protestant parents. He left Ireland for London in 1876, and he remained in England for the rest of his life. A prolific author of more than fifty plays, Shaw achieved his greatest success writing plays in the tradition of social comedy which analyzed politics and the English class system as well as looking amusedly at the foibles of English society. Despite its wit and humor, Shaw’s drama is profoundly serious, and much of his work deals with complex social, political and metaphysical ideas, which are underscored by the unpredictable nature of humanity. A convert to socialism in the 1880s, he became a leading member of the Fabian Society, and his political commitment informs all of his writing. His most well known works include Mrs. Warren’s Profession (1893), Arms and Men (1894), Man and Superman (1903), John Bull’s Other Island (1904), Major Barbara (1905). One of his most popular successes was Pygmalion (1914), though he alienated much of his audience in Britain with his opposition to the First World War. His disillusionment with the war was expressed in Heartbreak House (1922), a tragic-comic diagnosis of the failures of Western European culture. Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926.
William Butler Yeats (1856-1929)
John Millington Synge (1871-1909)
Sean O’ Casey (1880-1964)
Sean O’ Casey was born into a lower middle class Catholic family in Dublin and educated primarily at home by his widowed mother because of his poor eye-sight. O’Casey’s work offered a new urban realism in place of the more traditional rural drama produced by the Abbey Theatre in the early twenties. His plays were a mixture of comedy and tragedy, centering mainly on Dublin characters and the dramatization of Ireland’s recent turbulent political events. His first three plays were rejected by the Abbey, but the fourth, On the Run, was accepted in 1922 with the title changed to The Shadow of a Gunman. In this play, the first of a trilogy of Dublin plays, O’ Casey tackles the Anglo-Irish War. The second play in the trilogy, Juno and the Paycock (1924), takes place in the period of the Irish Civil War, and deals with the price the stoical women of Ireland pay for the vain heroics of men. The Plough and the Stars (1926), which is the final play in this trilogy, is set in the brief period of the 1916 Easter Rising. The play gains its dramatic force from the use of contrast, in this case the difference between the realities of violence and the platitudes of patriotic rhetoric which demanded it. O’Casey’s satiric treatment of the blood sacrifice of Padrig Pearse, one of the executed leaders of the Rising, and his realistic treatment of Dublin life caused riots in the Abbey when the play premiered. O’Casey broke with Ireland and the Abbey when Yeats and Lady Gregory rejected his next play, an expressionistic treatment of the First World War, The Silver Tassie, in 1928. In later life he concentrated his energies on writing six volumes of highly colored autobiography, which are notoriously without dates and freely inventive in style and substance. However, the vivid descriptions of Dublin in the early decades of the twentieth century have been highly influential on subsequent writers.
Denis Johnston (1901-1984)
Born in Dublin into an affluent, liberal Protestant family, Johnston was educated in England and graduated from Cambridge and Harvard. His first play, The Old Lady Says ‘No’! (1929), was an expressionist attack on the condition of the Irish Free State and romantic republicanism. The main character in the play, Robert Emmet, gets hit over the head, and ends up wandering through 1920s Dublin, a satiric vehicle to expose the gap between the ideals of republican nationalism and the day-to-day realities of Free State citizens. The play was rejected by the Abbey because of its expressionistic style, and was instead accepted by the Gate Theatre, where it enjoyed a highly successful run. Thereafter, Johnston oscillated between the Gate and the Abbey, as he sought to belong to Yeats’s theatrical world and yet have an independent voice. Many critics consider The Moon in the Yellow River (1931) a comedy of ideas which challenges the moral and political bases of the new Free State, to be his best play. Johnston left Ireland in the 1930s, and although he continued to write plays, he worked at a variety of careers, including war correspondent for the BBC during World War Two, director of television programs and university lecturer in the United States.
Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)
Born and raised in the affluent Dublin of Foxrock, Beckett attended boarding school in Northern Ireland and subsequently attended Trinity College Dublin where he received a first class degree in French and Italian. In the 1930s Beckett published his first books of fiction, More Pricks Than Kicks (1934) and Murphy (1938). Both novels dismissed in parody the provincialism of the culture of the Irish Free State.
Brendan Behan (1922-1964)
Behan was born in Dublin to a family with strong republican sympathies; shortly after he was born he was taken to Kilmainham Jail and shown to his father, Stephen, a republican prisoner during the Irish civil war. He was arrested in Liverpool and sent to Borstal for participating in an IRA bombing campaign in England and he also spent time in prison in Ireland. These experiences formed the basis for his autobiographical work, The Borstal Boy (1958). The publication of this book, along with his plays The Quare Fellow (1956), and The Hostage (1958), established his fame. In The Quare Fellow, Behan illustrates the corrupting effects of prison on the human spirit. The Hostage has a controversial history in that it is a dramatically rewritten English version of Behan’s Irish language play, An Giall (00). As a writer, he had affinities with both the Gaelic and the modern Irish literary traditions. The Hostage (1958) dramatizes for an audience outside Ireland the continuing fallout from a revolution which some in Ireland considered unfinished.
Hugh Leonard (1926-2009)
Leonard was born in Dublin and brought up in the affluent suburb of Dalkey by adoptive parents. Stephen D., an adaptation of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, —Many of his plays such as The Patrick Pearse Motel (1971), hold the mirror up to Dublin’s new bourgeoisie. Some of his best work, Da (1973) and A Life (1979) transcend local and national concerns.
John B. Keane (1928-2002)
Brian Friel (b.1929)
Tom MacIntyre (b.1931)
Thomas Kilroy (b. 1934)
Tom Murphy (b.1935)
Bernard Farrell (b. 1939)
Stewart Parker (1941-1988)
Billy Roche (b.1949)
Peter Sheridan (b.1952)
Frank McGuinness (b.1953)
One of McGuinness’s best known plays, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Toward the Somme (1985), takes up the subject of O’Casey’s rejected play, The silver Tassie.
Carthaginians (1988), is about the after-effects of Bloody Sunday in Derry.
Sebastian Barry (b.1955)
Jim Nolan (b.1958)
Jim Nolan was born in Waterford and is a founder member and former Artistic Director of Red Kettle Theatre Company. Red Kettle was launched with a production of Nolan’s play, The Gods are Angry Miss Kerr. His play, The Savage Shop, was nominated for the Irish Times/ EBS Theatre Award for Best Play. He has been writer in Association at the Abbey Theatre and at Garter Lane Arts Centre and is a member of Aosdana. His numerous plays include Moonshine, Blackwater Angel, Sky Road, and Brighton, all published by The Gallery Press. His most recent play is Dreamland (2014), also published by The Gallery Press.
Dermot Bolger (b.1959)
Marina Carr (b.1964)
Enda Walsh (b.1967)
Martin McDonagh (b.1971)
Conor McPherson (b.1971)
Reading Ireland is published bi-annually and is available to subscribers at a cost of $40 for four issues. The aim of the magazine is to provide in-depth analysis of Irish Literature, past and present, along with opening a window onto the best of contemporary Irish poetry, prose, drama and culture.
Subscribe using PayPal below.