Irish women writers: looking back and looking forward

The work of two distinguished Irish writers, Deirdre Madden and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, was celebrated at an evening of readings and discussion focusing on women’s writing in Ireland in Trinity College Dublin last week.

The evening featured readings by writers Deirdre Madden and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, along with a panel discussion featuring three distinguished specialists in Irish writing Aileen Douglas, Professor in English, Trinity, Margaret Kelleher, Professor of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama, University College Dublin, and Eve Patten, Professor in English, Trinity.

The event was organised by the School of English in Trinity and the School of English in University College Cork (UCC) to mark the publication of A History of Modern Irish Women’s Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2018), edited by Dr Heather Ingman, Adjunct Professor, School of English, Trinity, and Dr Clíona Ó Gallchoir, Lecturer in English, UCC.

Dr Heather Ingman commented: “Irish women writers have achieved remarkable international acclaim in recent years and our event showcases two prize winning Irish writers, Deirdre Madden and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, whose fiction exemplifies the quality of the work being produced by women writers in Ireland today.”

“Deirdre Madden, who is also Assistant Professor in English at Trinity, is perhaps best known for her early Troubles fiction such as Hidden Symptoms, which won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 1986, and One by One in the Darkness, shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 1996, but in recent years she has turned to exploring philosophical themes of memory, identity, time and the place of art in the commercially driven world of contemporary Ireland in novels such as Authenticity (2002), Molly Fox’s Birthday (2008), and Time Present and Time Past (2013). She has also published a series of acclaimed children’s stories, including the prize winning Snake’s Elbows (2005).”

“Éilís Ní Dhuibhne has published over twenty-five books and her writing career embraces many different genres including the short story, the novel, plays, children’s writing and writing in Irish. Many of her early short stories draw on her expertise in folklore to rework folk and fairytale motifs for a contemporary audience while her novel, Fox, Swallow, Scarecrow (2007) satirizes the excesses of the Celtic Tiger years. In 2015 Ní Dhuibhne received the Irish PEN award for outstanding contribution to Irish literature and in 2016 she received a Hennessy Hall of Fame award for lifetime achievement. She has recently published a moving memoir, Twelve Thousand Days.”

Dr Clíona Ó Gallchoir added: “Women’s writing in Ireland has a long, multilayered and complex history, which is made accessible to students and general readers by leading scholars and critics in the chapters that make up A History of Modern Irish Women’s Literature. The volume as a whole offers a long and deep perspective on women’s writing, showing its origins in English and the persistence and survival of the Irish-language tradition. It reveals the obstacles that women faced, but primarily their creativity and their determination to shape their experiences in a wide variety of literary forms. The panel discussion that follows the readings is an opportunity for distinguished researchers and critics to share their perspectives on the breadth of women’s contribution to Irish literature over the course of several centuries, up to the present day.”

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