HAUNTED BY THE GHOST
In her first podcast interview since being named winner of the An Post Irish Book of the Year award for 2020, Doireann Ní Ghríofa describes how she shares her life with a famous eighteenth-century widow – Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. When she began the literary detective work that resulted in A Ghost in the Throat, Doireann began to feel a strong sense of Eibhlín Dubh’s presence.
Her book is an original and compelling work which pays tribute to a passionate love affair that ended in tragedy. It traces the life of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, an Irish noblewoman and poet – composer of Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire or The Lament For Art O’Leary, which she recited over her husband’s dead body.
Composed in Irish and translated later into English, it has been described as the greatest poem of the era. It outlines how she eloped with a dashing cavalryman, murdered in 1773 by a tyrannical landowner.
Doireann tells the City of Books podcast, presented by Martina Devlin, that she was quite a lonesome child and young mother but since becoming immersed in the story “I haven’t felt so lonesome – I have the sense that she’s with me”.
She adds: “I’m not alone in having Eibhlín Dubh’s presence, I think.” Many people also feel a connection with Eibhlín Dubh, and have written to her saying they believe they know what happened to her afterwards.
Doireann’s book, in which she weaves reflections on her own life through a meditation on Eibhlín Dubh’s, says: “He was a bit of a bould character. Art, this man Eibhlín Dubh fell madly in love with – he was wild, he was really wild. That element of his personality was what drew both of them almost inevitably towards the tragedy.”
The lament’s power echoes down the centuries and means we keep coming back to “this amazing woman and she’s always there to meet us,” she adds. Doireann has also written six poetry collections.