Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh

- Ireland -

Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh was born in Kerry. She has read at festivals in New York, Paris, Montréal, Berlin and Ballyferriter. In 2012 her poem ‘Deireadh na Feide’ won the O’Neill Poetry Prize. ‘Filleadh ar an gCathair’ was chosen as Ireland’s EU Presidency poem in 2013 and was shortlisted in 2015 for RTE’s ‘A Poem for Ireland’. Coiscéim published her first book Péacadh(2008) and Tost agus Allagar (2016). The latter won the Michael Hartnett Award in 2019. A bilingual collection, The Coast Road, was published by Gallery Press, and includes English translations by thirteen poets. Dánta Andrée Chedid, translations from the French, was published in 2019 by Cois Life as part of their ‘File ar Fhile’ series. She is the 2020 recipient of the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award. A new collection, Tonn Teaspaigh agus Dánta Eile, was published by Éabhlóid in November 2022.

One of the most cosmopolitan poets of her generation, Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh was born into an Irish-speaking family in Tralee in 1984. She lived in France and New York for some time before returning to Ireland and settling down in Cork. With selected poems published by The Gallery Press, which include the Irish originals and facing translations by thirteen prominent Irish poets, Ní Ghearbhuigh has set out on the path that Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and others had trodden before her. Ní Ghearbhuigh’s work and popularity have significantly contributed to a new level of awareness about Irish-language writing outside the language community; her poem “Filleadh ar an gCathair” (“Citybound”) was chosen for Ireland’s EU presidency in 2013. Apart from English, Ní Ghearbhuigh’s work has been translated to German, French, Czech, Spanish, Italian and Galician. Like Ní Dhomhnaill and other Irish-language poets before her, Ní Ghearbhuigh insists that she could not write poetry in English and finds translating of her own work difficult. Yet, she also acknowledges that translation is vital for those writing in a minority language and offers many of her poems as meditations on what it means to be such a writer in an increasingly globalized world.


Almost every poem in The Coast Road is concerned with some kind of transformation or an instance of border crossing between different cultures, species or states of mind. The book as a whole reads as a series of reflections on language. These include various obscure dialects, speech codes, and rituals tracked down across the globe, but also instances of non-verbal expression and animal communication. Indeed, while language and translation are the leitmotifs of the representative selection, many of the poems in The Coast Road are ultimately about the lack of speech or failed communication. All the diverse intercultural transmutations, parallels, and inversions are then variously replicated in the shifts between the English translations and the Irish originals.


In her third collection, Tonn Teaspaigh agus dánta eile, Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh builds on principles established in her earlier work and breaks a new ground. Since the time of her first collection, Péacadh (2008), Ní Ghearbhuigh’s poetry hasn’t lost any of its original esprit, frankness or fearlessness. To write poetry, as these poems instantiate, requires a good deal of audacity and, above all, humble attentiveness to language and the world. And if TonnTeaspaigh is as much a study in contrasts as the poet’s previous collection that sits astride the fault line between Tost agus Allagar (2016), it is also determined to strike a balance between the two, and to find expression for the mystery of everyday experience.


The poems in Tonn Teaspaigh highlight and challenge what seems to be an endless supply of dichotomies, including those between life and decay, beginning and closure, growth and stasis, attachment and separation, resilience and anguish, often showing them to be aspects of the same binary experience. Linking moments in which the persona watches a child discover the emotional dimension of sound (‘Gnó an Lae’) with those in which she becomes painfully reminded of her own privileged situation (‘Cuairteoir’, ‘Feall’, ‘Fothragadh’), these lyrics are both private and public in their outlook and tone. Yet, this close association between the private and the public realm does not only follow from the poems’ thematic span, but reflects the book’s primary theme and concern, which is love. Regardless of whether this love manifests itself as a reassuring warmth or oppressive heat, joyous wonder or insistent worry and demand, it always cuts right into life’s real core.


Daniela Theinová