Ailbhe Darcy is co-editor of a new book: A History of Irish Women’s Poetry

Author: Mary Hendriksen

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Ailbhe Darcy is a prize-winning poet, critic, and Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University. With David Wheatley (University of Aberdeen), she has imagined and edited a new book on Irish women’s poetry:  A History of Irish Women’s Poetry, Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Professor Darcy received both an MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English, with an Irish Studies graduate minor, from Notre Dame. In her year of graduation (2015), she was awarded the Notre Dame Graduate School’s highest prize—the Shaheen Award—in the humanities.

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A History of Irish Women's Poetry aims to be a ground-breaking and comprehensive account of Irish women's poetry from earliest times to the present day. It reads Irish women's poetry through many prisms—mythology, gender, history, the nation—as well as close readings of the poetry itself. The volume covers major figures, such as Maire Mhac an tSaoi, Eavan Boland, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, as well as neglected figures from the past. It includes both writing in English and Irish. The editors and authors analyze the many different contexts in which Irish women's poetry has been produced and received—from the anonymous work of the early medieval period, through the bardic age, the coterie poets of Anglo-Ireland, the nationalist balladeers of Young Ireland, the Irish Literary Revival, and the advent of modernity. 

“Women poets have always done crucial work in our national imagination,” says Professor Darcy. “Their visions and revisions of who we have been, and who we might be, are our essential inheritance, and we lose out when we do not let them speak to who we are.”  

The new book has been in process since 2017. It was completed and sent to press in the eleventh month of the pandemic. Professor Darcy wrote about the experience of finishing the book in the January 2021 installment of this website’s feature “Three Questions.” As she wrote then:

“I can't tell you how proud I am of this volume, which has contributions from twenty-six brilliant, masterful scholars in the field and ranges from the medieval to the present day. It builds on the work of generations of feminist scholars in Ireland and in Irish Studies, who have laboured tirelessly in the face of a misogyny that has often seemed undefeatable. (They have made it possible for us to believe that it is not.) I feel sure that it will be a valuable teaching resource and a spur to further research.”

Keough-Naughton Institute faculty fellow Sarah McKibben, associate professor and chair of Irish Language and Literature, is a contributor. Her chapter, co-edited with Danielle Clark (University College Dublin), is titled “Seventeenth century women's poetry in Ireland.”

A History of Irish Women's Poetry is available in Ireland now and will be available in the US this fall.

Read more:

Three Questions with . . . Ailbhe Darcy, January 20, 2021

Irish women’s poetry: making and remaking history, The Irish Times, July 1, 2021