Irish women now – they’re driven, perceptive and at times, provocative. IMAGE meets eight intriguing creatives who are challenging the status quo and influencing Ireland’s cultural landscape through their achievements, and striking a chord with modern women everywhere. These pioneers don’t just prove that the connection between women is exceptionally profound, but collectively, we are capable of achieving incredible things.
DOIREANN NÍ GHRÍOFA, POET
Bilingual poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa reckons she is the only ever winner of the Rooney Prize for Literature to receive the good news, as she did, in the underground car park of a supermarket, accompanied by her four children, who are all under the age of seven.
The prestigious annual prize – valued at €10,000, and Ireland’s oldest literary award – is given out annually for a body of work considered to show exceptional promise, and Ní Ghríofa is naturally thrilled to have been selected as the 2016 recipient. “The biggest thing about it is this sense of being seen – being seen in what you’re doing and being seen in the work,” she says. “They see something towards the future that you’re building towards, and that was just really satisfying for me.”
In her acceptance speech, she chose to speak about abortion and dedicated a poem to the women who travel abroad for terminations. “It was really important to me to use that platform to speak about this issue, as I believe that the greatest challenge facing Irish feminism today is the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment,” she says. “Speaking as a battle-hardened veteran of our maternity services – five pregnancies in eight years – there is no political issue I am more drawn to than to battle for women’s rights over their own bodies.” She is a strong advocate for the referendum and for change. “I want my daughter to grow up in a country where she doesn’t have to keep fighting this same old fight for basic rights,” she says.
Ní Ghríofa’s first two books were in Irish – she is not, however, a primary Irish speaker, having just learnt it at school – and her last book, Clasp, was in English. What language she uses depends, however. “The poem seems to dictate what language it will be in,” she says. “I know that sounds really airy-fairy, but it seems to be the way it works. If I have an idea, I’m going to write a poem in the same moment I have the impulse to write something, and the language that it will be in will already be there.”
Her recent work has looked at climate change and different scientific concepts, and intertwining these with themes of domesticity, looking at the home as a place where epiphanies can arise to create poems around these strands.
Ní Ghríofa is based in Cork, where she lives with her family and became a writer after becoming a mother for the first time at the age of 27. “I hate that word ‘juggling’ but I’ve always had to find a way to fit my mothering and my writing together, but it’s a life that I, personally, really wanted to have. Motherhood enriches me; writing enriches me, and I feel really lucky to have both in my life, so I find a way, like every woman who works.” Over the last few years, she has written while the children are asleep, and the soundtrack to her poems the snores of at least one child beside her.
While the Rooney Prize will almost definitely bring her work to more people, she has found that writing her last book in English has already begun that process.
“The transition has brought a wider audience. Poetry is always going to have a tiny audience, you know that in every fibre in your being when you start writing it,” she says. “But it’s still such a joy to write and to live your life as a writer, and present your work to people who have gathered to listen – that’s a privilege.