by Cathal Póirtéir
Love, loss and betrayal
Áine Ní Ghlinn is Ireland’s Laureate na nÓg for 2020-23, a recognition of her achievements as a writer who has published over twenty books of prose and poetry for children and young adults. Over a long and varied career she has also written for radio and television and taught at second and third level.
For many of us the mention of Áine Ní Ghlinn’s name means poetry.
Áine first came to prominence and was rightfully acclaimed as a fresh and notable voice in Irish language poetry with the publication of An Chéim Bhriste, her first collection in 1984. Since then there have been four other collection of poetry for adults: Gairdín Pharthais; Deora nar Caoineadh; Tostanna and An Guth Baineann, a collection of her poetry giving voice to women’s lives. A number of her individual poems and collections have won national awards in literary competitions.
Her latest collection, Rúin Oscailte, places the emphasis on women’s lives, their loves and their losses.
The most powerful poems are heart-felt engagements with love, loss and betrayal, reactions to desertion and death, recollections of things said and unsaid.
Misogyny and sexism in Irish society
Ní Ghlinn has addressed many of these issues before but we are reminded of their currency and persistence in the opening poem Mise Leis which riffs on the #MeToo movement. Áine Ní Ghlinn has been in the vanguard of women writers wrestling with issues of misogyny and sexism in Irish society for forty years. In Rúin Oscailte she continues to find new voices and personae which allow her to break silences by digging deep into poetic and personal resources to reveal pain and suffering in private and public situations.
She rails fiercely against the organised patriarchy of church and state in Freagra na hEaglaise; Gadaíocht Oidhreachta deals with adoption scandals and the appalling treatment of young unmarried mothers; the Catholic church’s influence in schools raises a wry smile in Peaca Marafach an Éada; spousal induced feelings of lack of self-worth underlie every line of Mná Folaithe; she celebrates the early Irish feminist movement in Mo Bhuíochas Libh and reimagines the heartbreak of Patrick and Willie Pearse’s mother in the aftermath of their deaths.
On first reading the poems which I found most memorable for their emotional impact were Caoineadh na Baintrí, Iarlais, Dán i bhFad i gCéin, Agus mé ag dul in aois and Taibhsi na Seanscoile, but I was also impressed by the expressions of sensibility and sympathy in poems like Gadaiocht Oidhreachta, Dá bhFeadfainn, Cuimhní, Fuil, In Ainm an Athair, Rósanna, Craptha le hEagla, Reoite and An Muga Breacháin (do Mhícheál ó hAirtnéide).
Take the touching simplicity of the final verse of Caoineadh na Baintrí: Dá bhféadafainnse, aon uair amháin eile, cumhracht/ do chuid gruaige a bholú, siosarnach do ghutha a thabhairt/ chun cuimhne. Dhéanfainn iad a fhí isteach ina chéile/ is iad a spré ar mo philiúr ag súil go bhféadfainn castáil/ ort oíche éigin i mbrionglóid.
Folklore and the tradition of the changeling are repurposed in Iarlais to portray the souring of a relationship: B’é an cantal a d’airíomar ar dtús/ Cantal agus fearg ar fiuchadh istigh/ San áit ‘na mbíodh croí daoanna tráth.
On a more hopeful note Ní Ghlinn offers Dán i bhFad i gCéin, a poem about the understanding needed to sustain love during periods of long distance separation.
It opens with: Agus tú ag eitilt os cionn na farraige móire ná déan/ dearmad ar chumhracht mo bharróige. Muna ndéanann/ tusa dearmad uirthi geallaim duit nach ndéanfaidh mise/ dearmad ar do bharrógsa ach an oiread.
There are over sixty poems in this collection and there are many themes beyond those mentioned, some are lyrical, some like An tÉisteoir deal with ecological threats, some light-hearted or humorous like Turas na Saoithe or Foclóir.ie, some like Siúlach Scéalach – Bróga Auschwitz with large-scale barbarity.
For me the most impressive engage with the gamut of emotions intimate relationships bring about, for better or for worse.
The cover of the book is striking, featuring a painting of an empty chair and desk by Christina Briggs. It’s an appropriate image for Áine Ní Ghlinn’s meditations on the powerful desires and secret sufferings life brings to people young and old. A minor quibble but I found the quill motif beside each title distracted a bit from the raw power and subtle artistry of the poems themselves.
One of the final poems in the collection will echo with many heading into old age. In Agus mé ag dul in aois, the poet confesses to a lack of patience with people who have yet to learn from experience and explains her hard won philosophy: B’fhearr liom na blianta romham/ a roinnt leo siúd a shiúlfaidh liom/ a roinnfidh caint nó tost/ a roinnfidh deoir nó gaire/ leo siúd a dhéanfaidh rince liom/ chomh fada le béal geal na huaige
Cathal Póirtéir has specialised in researching, presenting and commissioning Irish interest material in various radio formats and in books, including history, literature and folklore in Irish and English, as well as current affairs and drama.