Waxing Lyrical: Noted Irish Author Nuala Ní Chonchuír at Bay Path
They take their authors and poets very seriously in Ireland.
Some of the most important writers of the 20th century were Irish voices—Yeats, Joyce, Heaney, Beckett, Shaw—by and large the names were mostly men. But that all changed in the 1960s, according to Nuala Ní Chonchuír, who recently was the writer-in-residence at Bay Path.
“It changed with the likes of Eavan Boland who in the 1960s began to write about the women’s experience in a way that was different,” she explained. “People who came with her and after her really opened the doors for me.”
Ní Chonchuír is the author of three volumes of poetry, five collections of short stories, and a novel, titled You. While here at Bay Path, the eloquent writer enjoyed a number of different events, and held a reading from her work. She spoke on the subject of what it means to be a writer in such a traditionally male environment.
Because of those other women whose work paved the way—Medbh McGuckian, Anne Enright, Claire Keegan—now, she said, one can write totally from “your own experience.”
“You can write about the feminist poet, about the politics around being a woman,” she added. “You can write about the things that are important to you—and you can write beautifully about that.”
“To me, Ireland is a wonderful place for a woman to be a writer now,” she continued. “But it may not have been so in the 1960s. Those women broke the ground for me. I’m grateful to them. They’re very visible, and very respected.”
Ní Chonchuír was educated early in life at all-women’s convent schools in Ireland, where Gaelic was the language of the classroom. Coming to Bay Path, the notion of an all-women’s college was completely new—all higher education in her country is coed.
“This is amazing,” she said. “These young women are getting important issues brought to them at this age—teens. They’re being shown how women are treated in the world and how they should be treated. So that they can make the moves in how they make their world, and the world of their peers, better.”
In her own work, both mentoring young students at universities in Ireland and in support of her peers, Ní Chonchuír said that “I try to keep the focus on women, because I think it’s important that we support each other in the way that men support each other in their own environments.”
Women writers are doing just fine on our side of the Atlantic, she said. There are master’s programs and opportunities for fellowships. Our current U.S. Poet Laureate is Natasha Trethewey. For her own work, Ní Chonchuír is currently finishing a novel about Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid, which led her to a brief field trip up to the poet’s homestead in Amherst.
With the steady hum of students in between classes in Blake, the writer said that she felt a sense of “serenity” here on the Bay Path campus. “There isn’t that noise that you associate with a coed campus. This would have suited me. This definitely would have suited me,” she said, smiling.