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Posted: 17 June 2008

UCD Ulysses Medal for Poet Thomas Kinsella

The Poet, Thomas Kinsella has been awarded the UCD Ulysses Medal in recognition of his poetic works which reverberate with what the poet calls ‘established personal places’ - Dublin, his city, being at the heart of his work.

The UCD Ulysses Medal is the highest honour that the university can bestow. It was inaugurated in 2005, as part of the university’s sesquicentennial celebrations, to highlight the ‘creative brilliance’ of UCD alumnus James Joyce. It is awarded to individuals whose work has made an outstanding global contribution.

Previous recipients include: Nobel economist, Professor James J Heckman; Nobel laureate, Dr Phillip Sharp; and founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab.

“Thomas Kinsella’s career has been marked by rigorous dedication to the craft of poetry,” said Professor Maurice Harmon speaking at the award ceremony which took place in UCD on Monday 16 June (Bloomsday) 2008. “Although burdened with a keen awareness of impermanence and mutability, he has engaged creatively with forces that threaten human relationships, achievement and existence itself.”

“His sense of menacing evil was born out of Irish conditions, the circumstances of his birth and upbringing in the Kilmainham-Inchicore area west of Dublin city, the savage destruction of the second World War and the menace of the atomic age,” continued Professor Harmon.

“The integrity of his remarkable career is confirmed in the two sides of his work, the translations from the Irish language and the significant and singular achievement of his own poetry.”


Thomas Kinsella biosketch

Dublin has been at the core of Thomas Kinsella’s work. The city of Dublin has possessed Kinsella, and he has possessed Dublin like no other writer since James Joyce.  Kinsella has contemplated Dublin, reconstructed it, and subjected it to his transformative imagination since his travels in his 1968 poem Nightwalker.

He was born in Inchicore in 1928 and spent his early childhood, until age 11, in Ballyfermott. He attended the Model School, Sarsfield Road, and later studied in Irish at O’Connells Christian Brothers School. In 1946, after qualifying in public administration from University College Dublin, he joined the civil service. He served in the Irish Land Commission, then in the Department of Finance, until he resigned in 1965 to begin his career as a teaching poet in the United States where he became Writer in Residence and Professor of English at Southern Illinois University. Following this he was Professor of English in Temple University, Philadelphia.

His first collections, published by Dolmen Press, Another September (1958); Downstream (1962); Nightwalker and other poems (1967) were all choices of the Poetry Book Society in Britain.

The Tain, his acclaimed translation of the Irish prose epic Tain Bo Cuailgne, illustrated by a unique series of brush drawings by artist Louis le Brocquy was published in 1969.  In 1972, Notes from the Land of the Dead was published, and in the same year Thomas Kinsella established Peppercanister for the primary publication of his works in Ireland.

Sequences and long poems on personal, family and historic themes were collected and published by Oxford University Press as One and other poems (1979), Blood and Family (1988) and From Centre City (1994). His Collected Poems were published by Carcanet Press in 2001. A Dublin Documentary, a gathering of his poems with specific Dublin and familial themes, accompanied by photographs and documentary material, was published by O’Brien Press in 2007. 

Thomas Kinsella received Guggenheim Fellowships in 1968/9 and 1971/2, the Dennis Devlin Memorial Awards in 1966, 1969, 1992 and 1994. He is included in The Great Modern Poets, a recent anthology of the best poets and poetry since 1900.

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UCD Ulysses Medal for Poet Thomas Kinsella