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City of Books Podcast – A POETIC LICENCE EARNED with Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Photograph credit Aurelio Stoppini


Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin is waiting for a special delivery from China – a 50-year-old bottle of extremely strong alcohol called Baijiu. It’s part of her prize as winner of China’s prestigious 1573 International Poetry Award recently.

The distinguished poet jokes that when it arrives she’ll stand on the doorstep and distribute teaspoonfuls to the poets of Ireland.

The prize also includes being translated into Chinese, which will bring Eiléan’s work, spanning more than five decades, to a new and potentially enormous audience. Her Collected Poems were published at the end of 2020.

Eiléan’s mother taught her that writing was a profession and had to be worked at in an orderly fashion. She was the much-loved author Eilís Dillon, who wrote more than 50 books for children and adults.

Former Ireland Professor of Poetry Eiléan tells Martina Devlin in the City of Books podcast that her mother had a banned books cupboard in their Cork home and handed them out to the family: “You had to go out and get them quickly when they were first published.

“It was, of course, nonsensical that they were banned. She wasn’t a wildly transgressive reader in any sense that we’d recognise now but she wasn’t going to have anybody telling her what she ought not to read.

“The only bookshop in Cork where you could buy Ulysses was the APCK, the Association for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, in other words the Protestant bookshop. But you could buy it (in Ireland) and I did buy it.’

Eilís Dillon, whose centenary was celebrated last year, is largely remembered for her children’s books.

Eiléan said there were people in society generally who disapproved of her mother working. “The very idea that a woman would have work different from her family, unless she was a widow and someone to be pitied – we were taught in school, we were told everywhere, that that was wrong.”

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s Collected Poems is available from the Gallery Press website HERE

Listen to the City of Books interview on Spotify and Apple or listen HERE 

Design by Ruth O’Donnell

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