Hutchinson’s father, Harry Hutchinson, a Scottish printer whose own father had left Dublin to find work in Scotland, is Sinn Féin treasurer in Glasgow and is interned in Frongoch internment camp in 1919–21. His mother, Cathleen Sara, is born in Cowcaddens, Glasgow, of emigrant parents from County Donegal. She is a friend of Constance Markievicz. In response to a letter from Cathleen, Éamon de Valera finds work in Dublin for Harry as a clerk in the Labour Exchange, and later he holds a post in Stationery Office.
Hutchinson is five years old when the family moves to Dublin, and is the last to be enrolled in St. Enda’s School before it closes. He then goes to school at Synge Street CBS where he learns Irish and Latin. One of his close friends there is the poet and literary critic John Jordan. In 1948 he attends University College Dublin (UCD) where he spends a year and a half, learning Spanish and Italian.
Having published some poems in The Bell in 1945, Hutchinson’s poetic development is greatly influenced by a 1950 holiday in Spain and Portugal. A short stop en route at Vigo brings him into contact for the first time with the culture of Galicia. Later, in Andalusia, he is entranced by the landscape and by the works of the Spanish poets Federico García Lorca, Emilio Prados and Luis Cernuda.
In 1951 Hutchinson leaves Ireland again, determined to live in Spain. Unable to get work in Madrid, as he had hoped, he travels instead to Geneva, where he gets a job as a translator with the International Labour Organization, which brings him into contact with Catalan exiles, speaking a language then largely suppressed in Spain. An invitation by a Dutch friend leads to a visit to the Netherlands, in preparation for which he teaches himself the Dutch language.
Hutchinson returns to Ireland in 1953, and becomes interested in the Irish language poetry of writers such as Piaras Feiritéar and Aonghus Fionn Ó Dálaigh, and publishes a number of poems in Irish in the magazine Comhar in 1954. The same year he travels again to Spain, this time to Barcelona, where he learns the Catalan and Galician languages, and gets to know Catalan poets such as Salvador Espriu and Carles Riba. With the British poet P. J. Kavanagh, he organises a reading of Catalan poetry in the British Institute.
Hutchinson goes home to Ireland in 1957 but returns to Barcelona in 1961, and continues to support Catalan poets. An invitation by the publisher Joan Gili to translate some poems by Josep Carner leads to the publication of his first book, a collection of thirty of Carner’s poems in Catalan and English, in 1962. A project to publish his translation of Espriu’s La Pell de brau (The Bull-skin), falls through some years later. Some of the poems from this project are included in the collection Done into English.
In 1963, Hutchinson’s first collection of original poems in English, Tongue Without Hands, is published by Dolmen Press in Ireland. In 1967, having spent nearly ten years altogether in Spain, he returns to Ireland, making a living as a poet and journalist writing in both Irish and English. In 1968, a collection of poems in Irish, Faoistin Bhacach (A Lame Confession), is published. Expansions, a collection in English, follows in 1969. Friend Songs (1970) is a new collection of translations, this time of medieval poems originally written in Galician-Portuguese. In 1972 Watching the Morning Grow, a new collection of original poems in English, comse out, followed in 1975 by another, The Frost Is All Over.
In October 1971, Hutchinson takes up the Gregory Fellowship in Poetry at the University of Leeds, on the recommendation of Professor A. Norman Jeffares. There is some controversy around the appointment following accusations, later retracted, that Jeffares had been guilty of bias in the selection because of their joint Irish heritage. He holds tenure at the University for three years, and during that time contributes to the University’s influential poetry magazine Poetry & Audience.
From 1977 to 1978 Hutchinsonn compiles and presents Oró Domhnaigh, a weekly radio programme of Irish poetry, music and folklore for Ireland’s national network, RTÉ. He also contributes a weekly column on the Irish language to the station’s magazine RTÉ Guide for over ten years. A collaboration with Melita Cataldi of Old Irish lyrics into Italian is published in 1981. Another collection in English, Climbing the Light (1985), which also includes translations from Irish, Italian and Galician, is followed in 1989 by his last Irish collection, Le Cead na Gréine (By Leave of the Sun). The Soul that Kissed the Body (1990) is a selection of his Irish poems translated into English. His most recent English collection is Barnsley Main Seam (1995). His Collected Poems is published in 2002 to mark his 75th birthday. This is followed in 2003 by Done into English, a selection of many of the translated works he produced over the years.
A co-editor and founder of the literary journal Cyphers, Hutchinson receives the Butler Award for Irish writing in 1969. He is a member of Aosdána, the state-supported association of artists, from which he receives a cnuas (stipend) to allow him to continue writing. He describes this as “a miracle and a godsend” as he is fifty-four when invited to become a member and is at the end of his tether. A two-day symposium of events is held at Trinity College Dublin, to celebrate his 80th birthday in 2007, with readings from his works by writers including Macdara Woods, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Paul Durcan and Sujata Bhatt. His most recent collection, At Least for a While (2008), is shortlisted for the Poetry Now Award.
(Pictured: Pearse Hutchinson in 1976, photographed by Eve Holmes, © RTÉ Archives 2032/078)