Some, as the Bard didn't quite say, are born poetic, some achieve, um, poeticness and some have poeticness thrust upon them. The author and poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa upends this paraphrased Shakespearean adage by ticking all three boxes: she was surely born poetic, she has certainly achieved it and, as she told Brendan O’Connor, she also had it thrust upon her. She was alone in her aunt’s house with her first-born who was still a baby and poetry just started knocking:
"I was in my aunt Eileen’s house all on my own with the baby and trying to get him to sleep and just these lines of poetry came to me. And I can’t overemphasise how bizarre that was, because I wasn’t the kind of person who was doing any kind of creative writing in my spare time or anything like that. It felt really like it came out of the blue. And it was very clearly a poem, it was very clearly, because like it was in rhyme and it was in the Irish language and it just felt so strange and once the baby fell asleep I remember trying to run around someone else’s house looking for a pen and paper isn’t always the easiest thing to find in someone else's house and I was opening drawers trying to find pen and paper and just really urgently writing this down and just feeling baffled by it. And then kind of taking a second look at it and saying to myself, 'That’s a poem.’"
The really weird thing about it all, Doireann says looking back, is that she continued, day after day sitting down and putting pen to paper to see what might happen. The writing came to Doireann as her children came to her, Brendan suggests, and the domestic always seems to be sacred her work. It’s an assessment Doireann doesn’t disagree with, but, she says, it’s all she knows:
"It’s important to say I’ve nothing to compare it to. I know it must be really different for people who are writers and then have a baby and they’re changing their writing routines around it – or for anyone who has a baby. I mean, my god, trying to work around this new responsibility is really challenging. But for me, the writing came after the baby, so I was kind of, I always had that sense of, ‘Ok, the baby’s asleep, I’m going to run off and see what happens if I put pen to paper.’"
This gave rise to a wonderful element of Doireann’s poetry that she links to writing in the presence of a sleeping infant:
"For me, the background noise of a lot of my poems, in the metre of the poems is the idea of this little baby’s breath. And I can still almost hear it with some of my poems when I read them aloud. I love that."
Of course, as well as writing her acclaimed poetry, Doireann came out with a memoir in 2021, which, as Brendan says, won all the prizes. Doireann describes A Ghost in the Throat rather marvellously as:
"A kind of auto-fictional twin biography, say, of two women, of me and of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill."
Doireann would drive to the top of the multi-storey car park in Ballincollig every day after dropping her kids off to school and playschool and spend the three hours the youngest was in playschool writing. At the point in her life when she was writing the book, she discovered so many echoes of Eibhlín Dubh in her own life and surroundings. Even the car park in Ballincollig gave Doireann a small connection to the elusive 18th century poet:
"I was able to point the car roughly in the direction of the person whose life I was writing about – and that was Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill – in the direction where she lived her married life, near Macroom."
The book is a marvel and Doireann Ní Ghríofa is a marvel too. She doesn’t really speak Irish or English, she speaks a kind of lingua poetica and, listening to her, you suspect she always has.
You can hear Brendan’s full conversation with Doireann – including a lovely anecdote about the Irish for escalator – by going here.
Aisling Trí Néallaibh/Clouded Reveries, a documentary about Doireann Ní Ghríofa, directed by Ciara Nic Chormaic is now showing in selected cinemas.