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Nuala Ní Domhnaill citation

TEXT OF THE INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS DELIVERED BY PROFESSOR MÁIRE NÍ ANNRACHÁIN, UCD School of Irish, Celtic Studies, Irish Folklore and Linguistics, University College Dublin on 16 June 2011, on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa on NUALA NÍ DHOMHNAILL

Bua atá san fhilíocht i dtraidisiún na Gaeilge, agus bua é a bronnadh ina shlaoda ar Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. Bhris a saothar ina maidhm orainn ag tús na n-ochtóidí agus ó shin i leith  tá friotal Gaeilge curtha aici ar an-chuid de na heispéarais a thiteann amach, mar a deir sí,  sna paibiliúin is doimhne den chroí. Tá  faobhar sceana agus  míneadas an tsíoda ina teanga fhileata, agus tá a turas fionnachtana curtha i gcrích  go huaigneach ach go scrupallach aici, síos i dtreo na paibhiúin is íochtaraí de theanga na Gaeilge freisin. Is léir gur eol di an duibheagán,  ach tá luach a saothair tugtha aníos as aici, péarla na filíochta.

Thar aon fhile eile Gaeilge riamh, déantar léamh agus léamha ar a saothar. Tá clú agus cáil uirthi i gcéin is i gcóngar, áit ar bith ar domhan ina ndéantar staidéar ar fhilíocht chomhaimseartha na Gaeilge.  Dearbhóidh léachtóirí na Gaeilge craos na mac léinn i leith a saothair, agus is mithid go bhfuil dán léi, atá ar cheann de na dánta is gleoite a scríobhadh riamh sa Ghaeilge, ar chúrsa na hArdteistiméireachta. Gura fada buan sin. Glacann sí féin páirt eile i ngnó na litríochta trína teagasc agus go háirithe trína saothar mór le Field Day, mar a raibh sí ina heagarthóir ar roinn na nua-fhilíochta in imleabhair na mban. Tá sí tar éis a bheith  ina hollamh le filíocht in Éirinn agus i Notre Dame.

Is dual di an cheannairc.  Ceannairc í scaití ar son na mban: ‘Táimid damanta, a dheirféaracha,’ teideal dáin léi, óir ‘[c]haitheamair oícheanta ar bhántaibh Párthais ag ithe úll is spíonán is róiseanna  laistiar dár gcluasa’.  Ceannairc in aghaidh na bhFlaitheas dá mba ghá, mar mháthair ar son a páiste faoi mar a shamhlaigh sí i ndán deifinídeach  an mháithreachais  dá hiníon, ‘Dán do Mhelissa’:  ‘Is go seasfainn le mo chorp idir dhá bhró an mhuilinn i muilte Dé le nach meilfí tú mín mín’.

Tá pobal na hÉireann faoi chomaoin aici as acmhainn na teanga a léiriú chun a leithéid de dhéine a ionchollú, oiread céanna is atá siad faoi chomaoin aici as an gceannairc féin, as an bhfód an sheasamh.  Ach is é a chlaochlaíonn an fód  ina fhóidín draíochta ar fad, an  athnuachan  radacach  a dhéanann sí ar thraidisiúin liteartha na Gaeilge.  Ní luafaidh mé ach trí shampla.

Is eol dúinn go maith friotal na laoch i litríocht na Gaeilge. Shamhlaítí na céadta laochra fiala, tarraingteacha a thacaigh lena muintir féin,  ach molann Nuala bean shearbh shingil a dhiúltaigh airgead a thabhairt don sagart mar éirí amach in aghaidh an bhrú a chuireadh a leithéid  ar dhaoine bochta agus  na luachanna laochúla, an fhéile, an neart agus tacaíocht na muintire á samhlú ar bhealach úr, polaitiúil aici.  

Ba nós linn Éire a shamhlú mar bhean ó thús ama; labhrann Nuala lena leannán fireann atá, a deir sí le macalla an tseachtú haois déag, ina luí ar an leaba  agus é uaigneach , iathghlas, oileánda. Bogann sí an t-achar fada traidisiúnta idir an slánaitheoir thar lear  agus tír na hÉireann  ina achar cráite mothúcháin, agus ag an am céanna giorraíonn sí an  bealach idir  saol mór na polaitíochta agus an saol istigh sa seomra leapa. 

Tugann sí slán an Saol Eile, éacht ann féin, agus  baineann sí gaisneas as le  fírinne pholaitiúil a chur os ár gcomhair. Tugann sí slán é trí mhacallaí úra a bhaint as. Má bhí Tír na nÓg ar chúl an tí do Sheán Ó Ríordáin, áit dhraíochta ina raibh na hainmhithe ‘gan bróga orthu ná léine’  cruthaíonn  Nuala Parthas banda le cúig fhocail a bhaineann macalla as líne an Ríordánaigh, ach gúnaí in áit na mbróg. Parthas ann féin é a bheith ag damhsa ‘Gan gúnaí orainn ná léinte’.  Ach damnófar na mná as a bheith amhlaidh agus laistiar de shaol seo na saoirse agus na samhlaíochta tá réadúlacht shearbh shóisialta: níor nós le mná  bróga a bheith acu nuair a bhí Éire bocht.

Tríd an Saol Eile aithníonn Nuala rúndiamhracht an duine dhaonna. Léiríonn sí comhbhá leis an té a fhulaingíonn tráma agus meas ar an té atá as alt ina hintinn. Is mó ná meafar don ghalar dubhach na murúcha nó na geasa aici. Is cuid iad de rúndiamhair an tsaoil a bhfuil údarás an tSaoil Eile aici anois de bharr an cheangail eatartha a chuireann sí ós ár gcomhair. Ar an gcaoi sin diúltaíonn a saothar don léamh réaduchtach ar an intinn dhaonna, ar an bhfulaingt dhaonna.

Géilleann an focal do Nuala Rua Ní Dhomhnaill, agus géilleann sise don fhocal. Sin gnó uasal an fhile Ghaeilge le breis is míle bliain. Tá séala na hollscoile tuillte aici.

 


 

English translation:

(Within the Irish tradition poetry is considered is a gift. It is a gift that was given in great measure to Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. Her poetry erupted at the start of the nineteen-eighties, and since then she has given Irish expression to swathes of experience that take place, as she has written, in ‘the deepest pavilions of the heart’.  Her poetic language can be a blade, or it can be silk, and she has been faithful to her lonely, scrupulous journey of exploration towards the deepest pavilions, whether of the heart or of Irish language. If she has visited the abyss, the pearl she has returned with is her exquisite body of poetry.

More than any other Irish language poet ever, her work is read and interpreted internationally and at home. Her reputation is universal, wherever contemporary Irish poetry is read. Academics will confirm their students’ hunger for her poems, and one of them, one of the most beautiful poems in the Irish language, is on the Leaving Certificate course. She participates in the work of literature through her teaching and her major contribution to the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, where she edited the contemporary poetry section in the controversial women’s volumes. She has held the Ireland chair of poetry and has twice been a visiting professor of poetry in Notre Dame.

Rebellion is her calling. This can be rebellion on behalf of women: ‘We’re damned, sisters’ is the title of one of her poems. We’re damned because, inter alia, ‘we spent nights in the fields of Paradise eating apples and gooseberries, with roses behind our ears’. Or it can be a rebellion by a mother against heaven itself, to protect her child. In the definitive Irish poem of motherhood, she promises her daughter to ‘stand with my body between the millstones of the mills of God, so that you will not be crushed’.

Ireland is indebted to Nuala for revealing the capacity of the Irish language to bring forth such intensity, just as it is indebted for her voice of protest, her standing her ground.  Beyond that, what transfigures that ground is her radical renewal of the Irish literary tradition.  I will mention just three examples:  her work on heroes, the land of Ireland, and the Otherworld.

Praise of heroes is a staple of poetry in Irish. We know of hundreds of attractive, connected heroes who dispensed largesse throughout the centuries, protected their people, and were lavishly praised for it in poetry. Nuala, however, reserves her praise for a crabbed single old woman who fell out with her family and refused to donate during Mass on the grounds that the pressure to do so left the children of the locality hungry. She redefines the heroic virtues of generosity, strength, and support for one’s people, in language that is evocative and politically radical.

Ireland itself comes to us personified as a woman from our oldest literary sources, but Nuala addresses a male lover, lying ‘lonely, green-fielded, island-like’. In language that has echoes of the seventeenth century, she transforms the traditional distance between the saviour overseas and the land of Ireland into a more immediate emotional distance, and simultaneously insists on the proximity of the wider political world and the intimacy of the bedroom.

She has rescued the Gaelic Otherworld in a number of respects and in doing so makes sharp political points.  Sometimes, for instance, she reconfigures it.  Tír na nÓg, the Land of Youth, was ‘behind the house’ in Seán Ó Ríordáin’s iconic mid-twentieth century poem, and was a place where animals wore neither shoes nor shirt. Nuala’s paradisical world of women echoes Ó Ríordáin’s rhythm, but her women will be refused entry to a more conventional paradise because they  wore neither dress nor shirt. But of course women did not traditionally have shoes to wear in post-Famine Ireland. Having a dress precisely meant not having shoes. We have a sharp reminder here of the inextricable connection between matters of the imagination and matters of social politics.

Nuala invokes the Otherworld to acknowledge the mysteries of the human suffering and to express respect for those who have suffered trauma, or who are in altered  states of consciousness of one kind or another. Her mermaids, and her geasa or magical ordinances, are more than metaphors for depression or mental illness; they are remind us of  human mystery, and  ward off a reductive response to suffering in a way that is totally modern yet fully recognisable within the Gaelic tradition.

The word, the Irish language, bows to Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and she is bound to it. This is the condition of poets in Irish as far back as we know.  She deserves the university’s esteem.)

Praehonorabilis Praeses, totaque Universitas,

Praesento vobis hanc meam filiam, quam scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneam esse quae admittatur, honoris causa, ad gradum Doctoratus in Litteris; idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo, totique Academiae.
Nuala ni Dhomhnaill