Constan Olive Leland Bardwell, Irish poet, novelist, and playwright, is born Leland Hone in India on February 25, 1922. She was part of the literary scene in London and later Dublin, where she was an editor of literary magazines Hibernia and Cyphers.
Bardwell is born to Irish parents William Hone and Mary Collise and moves to Ireland at the age of two. Her father’s family are of the Anglo-Irish Hone family. She has a difficult childhood growing up in Leixlip, County Kildare. She is educated at Alexandra College and briefly studies in Switzerland. She works in a variety of jobs in Ireland and later Scotland, where, in 1948, she meets poet Michael Bardwell. The couple has two children and later separate.
Bardwell becomes a part of the literary scene of Soho in London, where she socialises with fellow writers, including Anthony Cronin, Francis Bacon, Patrick Kavanagh and Anthony Burgess. In the 1950s, she meets Fintan McLachlan, with whom she has three children, including the composer, John McLachlan. The family moves back to Dublin, where she works as a reviewer for Hibernia magazine and as a poetry editor.
From 1970 onward, Bardwell’s work is published regularly, starting with her first volume of poetry, The Mad Cyclist, which is later followed by her first novel, Girl on a Bicycle. She writes a number of plays and short stories, such as Outpatients, and her works are produced for RTÉ and the BBC. In 1984, she writes a musical play, No Regrets, based on the life of Édith Piaf. It opens at the Gaiety Theatre starring Anne Bushnell, and later tours across Ireland.
Bardwell’s work is heavily influenced by her difficult upbringing and her experiences in London and Dublin. In her memoir, A Restless Life, she describes her life as “a crescendo of madness.” She is considered an important poet by her contemporaries, who include Patrick Kavanagh, John Jordan, Paul Durcan, Macdara Woods and Michael Hartnett. On the publication of her fourth collection of poetry, The White Beach, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain states “it is good to see her work of the decades collected – it has inspired many Irish poets, male and female, and should be much more widely known,” adding that her work is “witty, full of sharp intimate honesty, full of truth and surprises.”
In 1975, Bardwell co-founds the long running literary magazine Cyphers with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Macdara Woods, and acts as a co-editor until 2012. She is the recipient of the Marten Toonder Award in 1993, and the Dede Korkut Short Story Award from Turkish PEN in 2010.
In later life, Bardwell moves to Annamakarraig in County Monaghan and later to Cloonagh in County Sligo, where in 1993 she co-founds the Scríobh Literary Festival. She is a member of the Irish artists’ association Aosdána and acts as one of Patrick Kavanagh’s literary executors.
Bardwell dies at the age of 94 in Sligo, County Sligo, on June 28, 2016.
(Photo by Pat Boran)