seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Birth of Poet Michael Hartnett

Michael Hartnett, Irish poet who writes in both English and Irish, is born in Croom Hospital in Croom, County Limerick, on September 18, 1941. He is one of the most significant voices in late 20th-century Irish writing and has been called “Munster‘s de facto poet laureate.”

Although Hartnett’s parents’ name is Harnett, he is registered in error as Hartnett on his birth certificate. In later life he declines to change this as his legal name is closer to the Irish Ó hAirtnéide. He grows up in the Maiden Street area of Newcastle West, County Limerick, spending much of his time with his grandmother, Bridget Halpin, who resides in the townland of Camas, in the countryside nearby. He claims that his grandmother is one of the last native speakers to live in County Limerick, though she is originally from northern County Kerry. Although she speaks to him mainly in English, he listens to her conversing with her friends in Irish, and as such, he is quite unaware of the imbalances between English and Irish. When he begins school, he is made aware of the tensions between both languages, and is surprised to discover that Irish is considered an endangered language, taught as a contrived, rule-laden code, with little of the literary attraction which it holds for him. He is educated in the local national and secondary schools in Newcastle West. He emigrates to England the day after he finishes his secondary education and goes to work as a tea boy on a building site in London.

Hartnett has started writing by this time and his work comes to be known of the poet John Jordan, who is professor of English at University College Dublin. Jordan invites him to attend the university for a year. While back in Dublin, he co-edits the literary magazine Arena with James Liddy. He also works as curator of James Joyce‘s tower at Sandycove for a time. He returns briefly to London, where he meets Rosemary Grantley on May 16, 1965, and they are married on April 4, 1966. His first book, Anatomy of a Cliché, is published by Poetry Ireland in 1968 to critical acclaim and he returns to live permanently in Dublin that same year.

Hartnett works as a night telephonist at the telephone exchange on Exchequer Street. He now enters a productive relationship with New Writers Press, run by Michael Smith and Trevor Joyce. They publish his next three books. The first of these is a translation from the Irish, The Old Hag of Beare (1969), followed by Selected Poems (1970) and Tao (1972). This last book is a version of the Chinese Tao Te Ching. His Gypsy Ballads (1973), a translation of the Romancero Gitano of Federico García Lorca, is published by the Goldsmith Press.

In 1974 Hartnett decides to leave Dublin and return to his rural roots, as well as deepen his relationship with the Irish language. He goes to live in Templeglantine, five miles from Newcastle West, and works for a time as a lecturer in creative writing at Thomond College of Education, Limerick.

In his 1975 book, A Farewell to English, Hartnett declares his intention to write only in Irish in the future, describing English as “the perfect language to sell pigs in.” A number of volumes in Irish follow including Adharca Broic (1978), An Phurgóid (1983) and Do Nuala: Foighne Chrainn (1984). A biography on this period of his life entitled A Rebel Act Michael Hartnett’s Farewell To English by Pat Walsh is published in 2012 by Mercier Press.

In 1984 Hartnett returns to Dublin to live in the suburb of Inchicore. The following year marks his return to English with the publication of Inchicore Haiku, a book that deals with the turbulent events in his personal life over the previous few years. This is followed by a number of books in English including A Necklace of Wrens (1987), Poems to Younger Women (1989) and The Killing of Dreams (1992).

Hartnett also continues working in Irish, and produces a sequence of important volumes of translation of classic works into English. These include Ó Bruadair, Selected Poems of Dáibhí Ó Bruadair (1985) and Ó Rathaille The Poems of Aodhaghán Ó Rathaille (1999). His Collected Poems appear in two volumes in 1984 and 1987 and New and Selected Poems in 1995.

Hartnett dies from Alcoholic Liver Syndrome on October 13, 1999. A new Collected Poems appears in 2001.

Every April a literary and arts festival is held in Newcastle West in honour of Hartnett. Events are organised throughout the town and a memorial lecture is given by a distinguished guest. Former speakers include Nuala O’Faolain, Paul Durcan, David Whyte and Fintan O’Toole. The annual Michael Hartnett Poetry Award of € 4,000 also forms part of the festival. Funded by the Limerick City and County Council Arts Office and the Arts Council of Ireland, it is intended to support and encourage poets in the furtherance of their writing endeavours. Previous winners include Sinéad Morrissey and Peter Sirr.

During the 2011 Éigse, Paul Durcan unveils a bronze life-sized statue of Hartnett sculpted by Rory Breslin, in the Square, Newcastle West. Hartnett’s son Niall speaks at the unveiling ceremony.


Leave a comment

Birth of John Jordan, Poet & Writer

john-jordanJohn Jordan, Irish poet, short-story writer and broadcaster, is born in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin on April 8, 1930.

Jordan is educated at Synge Street CBS, University College Dublin (UCD) and Pembroke College, Oxford. In his teens he acts on the stage of the Gate Theatre, Dublin, before winning a Scholarship in English and French to the University of Oxford from UCD. In the mid-1950s he returns to UCD as a lecturer in English and teaches there until the end of the 1960s. He also lectures on sabbatical leave at the Memorial University of Newfoundland and briefly at Princeton University in the United States. He is a founding member of Aosdána. He is a celebrated literary critic from the late 1950s until his death on June 6, 1988 in Cardiff, Wales, where he had been participating in the Merriman Summer School.

In 1962 Jordan re-founds and edits the literary magazine Poetry Ireland in hopes of contributing towards the recreation of Dublin as a literary centre. In this journal, he introduces a number of poets who are to become quite famous later, including Paul Durcan, Michael Hartnett and Seamus Heaney. This series of Poetry Ireland lasts until 1968–69.

In 1981 Jordan becomes the first editor of the new magazine published by the Poetry Ireland Society, called Poetry Ireland Review. He serves as a reviewer of novels for The Irish Times, writes a column for Hibernia, contributes to Envoy, A Review of Literature and Art and The Irish Press among others, a serves as a TV presenter and arts interviewer. He is a defender of Gaelic literature, translates Pádraic Ó Conaire, edits The Pleasures of Gaelic Literature (Mercier Press, 1977), and champions the later plays of Seán O’Casey. His translation of one of Aogán Ó Rathaille‘s essays is published in The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry (London: Allen Lane, 1982).

Jordan’s Collected Poems (Dedalus Press) and Collected Stories (Poolbeg Press) are edited by his literary executor, Hugh McFadden, and published in Dublin in 1991. His Selected Prose, Crystal Clear, also edited by McFadden, is published by The Lilliput Press in Dublin in 2006. His Selected Poems, edited with an introduction by McFadden, is published in February 2008 by Dedalus Press. Uncollected stories appear in Penguin Book of Irish Short Stories, Cyphers, and The Irish Press, among other places.

Jordan’s literary papers and letters are held in the National Library of Ireland. In 1953 the young Irish artist Reginald Gray is commissioned by University College Dublin to design the decor and costumes for their production of “The Kings Threshold” by William Butler Yeats. The leading role is given to Jordan. During the preparations for the production, Gray starts a portrait of Jordan, which he never finishes. This work now hangs in the Dublin Writers Museum.

(Pictured: John Jordan, by Patrick Swift, c. 1950)