As far back as the 6th century bards acted as official chroniclers of history and powerful satirists that no one wished to cross. Literacy arrived with Christianity in the land of saints and scholars, and poetry flourished in Ireland’s oral and literary traditions. Irish poetry remains a lively, respected and relevant craft and offers fresh insights to visitors seeking an authentic and nuanced sense of place.
In the mid-1980s Medbh McGuckian became the first female Writer in Residence at Queen’s University Belfast – where her mentor and former teacher, a certain Seamus Heaney, inspired her to change her name from its original Maeve. Her poems are deeply personal vignettes of a vivid interior life, set against dreamlike snippets of lived experience in Belfast city and the surrounding glens and beaches of County Antrim, with their foggy days and glass-clear skies, strange hills and borderless mountains.
Prolific collections such as On Ballycastle Beach and The Currach Requires No Harbours capture the “athletic anatomy of waves” and “infinite racy stir of water”, and skies “opening out from a drowsy walled-in road onto a field of thistles”, painting atmosphere and place in a compelling shape-shifting style.
To celebrate the seventieth birthday in 2014 of acclaimed Irish poet, Eavan Boland, A Poet’s Dublin is both a collection of some of Boland’s best-known poems with her own photographs of Dublin, published by Carcarnet, and a joyous rabbit hole of a website published that same year to accompany an exhibition of the book’s images and poems.
Both offer a sublime and fascinating journey through the Dublin lived in and refracted back by this gifted poet, with recordings of Boland herself reading and reflecting on selected poems (and, unusually, prose) about her home city. It offers a beautiful invitation to explore its harbours and hills, its pub life and suburbs, and local curiosities like its Huguenot Cemetery and the Doll’s Museum.