British and Irish Literature Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
Philip Coleman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0144


Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin was born in the Irish city of Cork in 1942. She obtained BA and MA degrees from University College Cork in the early 1960s before moving to Oxford, England, where she studied at Lady Margaret Hall and completed a BLitt in 1966. In the same year she returned to Ireland, where she became a Lecturer at Trinity College Dublin. Teaching mainly in the areas of Medieval and Renaissance literature, she retired as Professor of English and a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin in 2011. Ní Chuilleanáin’s first collection of poems, Acts and Monuments, was published in 1972. The volume won the prestigious Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry in 1973 and was followed over the next decade by the collections Site of Ambush (1975), The Second Voyage (1977), and The Rose-Geranium (1981). A book focusing on her native city, Cork, was also published in 1977 with illustrations by the Irish artist Brian Lalor. In 1975, together with Leland Bardwell, Pearse Hutchinson, and Macdara Woods, Ní Chuilleanáin established the literary magazine Cyphers. In later decades, Ní Chuilleanáin published a number of volumes, each one reinforcing her reputation and developing her international profile. A second edition of The Second Voyage, presented as an early volume of selected poems, appeared in 1986, published simultaneously by The Gallery Press in Ireland and Bloodaxe Books in the United Kingdom. The volume was followed by The Magdalene Sermon (1989), The Brazen Serpent (1994), The Girl Who Married the Reindeer (2001), The Sun-Fish (2009), and The Boys of Blue Hill (2015). Ní Chuilleanáin’s Selected Poems was published in 2008. Throughout her career she has also published several volumes of translations, most notably The Water Horse: Poems in Irish by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (translated by Ní Chuilleanáin and Medbh McGuckian in 1999) and After the Raising of Lazarus (translated from the Romanian of Ileana Mălăncioiu in 2005). Ní Chuilleanáin was the international winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2010, an award that reflects her high standing outside of Ireland, and in 2016 she was appointed to the position of Ireland Chair of Poetry. The judges for the Griffin Prize described her as “a truly imaginative poet, whose imagination is authoritative and transformative.” As a poet who has also collaborated on several edited volumes of scholarly essays and who is also the author of many significant critical essays on topics ranging the cultural politics of censorship to the process of literary translation, Ní Chuilleanáin’s poems display a sense of authority that is born out of deep learning. However, her work also speaks to changes that have taken place in Ireland and elsewhere in recent decades, with particular regard to the experience of women. Her work is also important for the ways that it engages with the themes of religion, folklore, family, and the body, and these are recurring concerns in the critical response to her work.

General Overviews

As Haughton 2017 suggests in a valuable overview of her career to date, critical engagement with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry was given a major impetus with the publication of Haberstroh 1996, which situates Ní Chuilleanáin within a context of late-20th-century Irish poets including Eavan Boland, Medbh McGuckian, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, and Eithne Strong. Since the 1990s, Ní Chuilleanáin has been increasingly regarded as central to discussions about Irish poetry, especially those concerning constructions of female identity. Haberstroh 2013 is a landmark study on this particular theme in Ní Chuilleanáin’s work, building on Haberstroh 1996 and Haberstroh 2001. Fogarty 2007 represents a major consolidation of critical views on Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry in the year of the poet’s sixty-fifth birthday and brings together several critical essays that explore the poet’s interests in the areas of history, architecture, religion, and Irish urban experience. Fogarty 2007 also includes an important interview with the poet as well as poems, translations, and a detailed account, in Mulhall 2007, of Ní Chuilleanáin’s work with the literary magazine Cyphers. Fogarty and Faragó 2007 is essential reading for all students of Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry, as it provides a select but nonetheless immensely detailed bibliography of her poetry, critical writings, interviews, and criticism up to the point of publication. Nordin 2006 also represents an important affirmation of Ní Chuilleanáin’s critical reputation during the first decade of the 21st century and may be counted with Nordin 2001 among this critic’s several noteworthy contributions on the poet’s work.

  • Fogarty, Anne, ed. Special Issue: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. Irish University Review 37.1 (Spring–Summer 2007).

    A major contribution to the study and understanding of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry and career, bringing together a range of scholars with diverse critical and theoretical interests, from formalism to feminism. The volume also includes poems and translations by Ní Chuilleanáin, as well as a previously unpublished interview and a comprehensive select bibliography.

  • Fogarty, Anne, and Borbalá Faragó. “Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin: A Select Bibliography.” In Special Issue: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. Edited by Anne Fogarty. Irish University Review 37.1 (Spring–Summer 2007): 244–250.

    This bibliography represents a key contribution to early scholarship on the work of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. It details Irish and international publications of her work from the 1970s to 2007, as well as volumes of translations and the poet’s many critical essays and reviews. The bibliography is also useful for the survey it provides of critical responses to Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry not just by academic scholars but by fellow poets in the form of book reviews.

  • Haberstroh, Patricia Boyle. Women Creating Women: Contemporary Irish Women Poets. Dublin, Ireland: Attic Press, 1996.

    Situating Ní Chuilleanáin’s work in relation to key contemporaries such as Eavan Boland, Medbh McGuckian, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, and Eithne Strong, and younger writers including Sarah Berkeley and Paula Meehan, this is a groundbreaking volume not only in terms of its readings of individual figures—among whom Ní Chuilleanáin is a central presence—but for the way that it establishes the field of Irish women’s poetry studies in the late 20th century.

  • Haberstroh, Patricia Boyle. The Female Figure in Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s Poetry. Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press, 2013.

    A landmark study of Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry, this book draws on personal interviews and archival research and is rich in theoretical, historical, and formal analysis of Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry from across her career. The book also includes a consideration of translation in Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetic practice, as well as detailed considerations of key themes, such as religion, folklore, gender, the body, and the idea of the sacred.

  • Haberstroh, Patricia Boyle, ed. My Self, My Muse: Irish Women Poets Reflect on Life and Art. Syracuse, NJ: Syracuse University Press, 2001.

    A key volume that affirms Ní Chuilleanáin’s work in relation to several contemporaries, including Eavan Boland and Moya Cannon, and especially with regard to tradition, gender, and poetic practice in the Irish literary context. The volume includes an essay by Haberstroh in which (self-)identity is problematized in relation to the issues of politics, nationhood, gender, and artistic practice as these terms are negotiated by contemporary Irish women poets.

  • Haughton, Hugh. “Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.” In The Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets. Edited by Gerald Dawe, 322–334. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    Combining illuminating close readings of important poems by Ní Chuilleanáin with a detailed and accurate overview of the poet’s career to date, as well as a useful survey of some of the most important critical responses to her work, this is a reliable and well-informed introduction to the poet’s work.

  • Mulhall, Anne. “Forms of Exile: Reading Cyphers.” In Special Issue: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. Edited by Anne Fogarty. Irish University Review 37.1 (Spring–Summer 2007): 206–229.

    This is a comprehensive consideration of Ní Chuilleanáin’s central role as a co-editor of the literary magazine Cyphers, from its foundation in 1975, with fellow poets Leland Bardwell, Pearse Hutchinson, and Macdara Woods. The essay engages with central aspects of Ní Chuilleanáin’s work from the 1970s onward in the areas of translation and editing and situates her poetry within a specifically Irish literary context.

  • Nordin, Irene Gilsenan. “‘And/A Green Leaf of Language Comes Twisting Out of Her Mouth’: Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and the Quest Theme.” Irish University Review 31.2 (Autumn–Winter 2001): 420–430.

    One of a number of important critical essays on Ní Chuilleanáin’s poetry by Nordin, this essay situates the poet’s work within the broad tradition of the quest poem and brings the poems into conversation with a rich historical and cultural heritage that complicates narrow biographical readings of the poet’s work.

  • Nordin, Irene Gilsenan. “‘Betwixt and Between’: The Body as Liminal Threshold in the Poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.” In The Body and Desire in Contemporary Irish Poetry. Edited by Irene Gilsenan Nordin, 226–243. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Academic Press, 2006.

    Drawing on feminist criticism and theory, this essay highlights the importance of the body as a source of thematic and formal energy in the poetry of Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. The essay is contained in a volume which deploys sophisticated critical and theoretical tools in relation to a wide range of other male and female Irish poets, including Eavan Boland, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Kinsella, and Rita Ann Higgins.

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