Selected Poems of Seán Ó’Ríordáin

ORiordain poems

When I was back in Dublin last winter (2013), I stumbled across this documentary on TG4 one night, about the poet Seán Ó’Ríordáin.  In it, Louis de Paor, poet and director of the Centre for Irish Studies at NUI, Galway takes us along to hear Ó’Ríordáin’s surviving family share their memories of him, interspersed with some of Ó’Ríordáin’s poetry.

At one point, I saw the subtitle of a line on screen “…return again to your own” and it was one of those crystalline moments where something has such meaning to you that it feels like a flash of lightning suddenly illuminating a dark room.  During that trip, I found myself deep in the throes of wishing I could return to Dublin to stay, or at least stay longer than a fortnight’s visit, but realizing how it’s not really possible at present.

And I knew I had to find the full text of that poem.

After fervent online searches and scavenging through Hodges Figgis, Eason’s and Cathach Books I was only able to track down a book or two entirely in Irish, or a few volumes of Irish poetry that included only one or two of Ó’Ríordáin’s poems, but not the one I was seeking.

Finally, last year, I saw on Amazon that Yale University Press-Margellos was going to be publishing an entire bilingual volume devote entirely to Seán Ó’Ríordáin’s poetry.  I pre-ordered it and after several months of delays, the book finally arrived this winter.  Edited by poet, translator and academic Frank Sewell and with a foreword by the poet Paul Muldoon, the volume contains some 75 or so poems from four of Ó’Ríordáin’s titles and it also includes his “What is poetry?” introduction to his 1952 Eireaball Spideoige.  My knowledge of Irish is too limited to say anything about the quality of the various translators’ skills, but I’m happy just to have something to bring the poems closer to me than they were before.

And yes, the poem with that “return to your own” line is there.  The title is Fill Aris (Return Again, translated by Barry McCrea).  Here’s a snippet:

return again to your own,
cleanse your mind and cleanse
your tongue which got tied up in a syntax
at odds with your intellect:
make your confession and make
peace with your own race
and with your own house, and do not abandon them.

In spite of the delays, it was worth the wait.  The volume is substantial without being so heavy it only can wait on your bedside table for an occasional perusal, and the layout is a perfect balance of crisp text and plenty of white space.  Hopefully some day I’ll be able to read Ó’Ríordáin in the original, but until then, I’m very pleased with this collection.


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