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2016 Press Releases

Revolution and reflection: UCC to celebrate Seán Ó Ríordáin

10 Nov 2016
Pádraig Ó Macháin, Professor of Modern Irish, University College Cork.

Times have certainly changed since the legendary visit in the eighth century of the poet Anér mac Con Glinne to the monastery of Cork, close to where UCC is located today. As a reward for complaining of the miserly welcome he received, and for composing a satiric poem to that effect, he was beaten, ducked in the river Lee, and condemned to death on the orders of the abbot. Happily he managed to avoid the ultimate punishment, and things improved for him thereafter.

The Cork-Kerry region has been remarkable in producing outstanding practitioners of the art of poetry through many cycles of literary activity over hundreds of years.  For example, claims to the status of 'major poet' are more than justified in the case of Gofraidh Fionn Ó Dálaigh (died 1387) of Duhallow, recognised in his own time and afterwards as one of the most distinguished bardic poets of the late-medieval era. His reputation, and that of his friend and patron Gearóid Iarla 3rd earl of Desmond, extended throughout the Gaelic heartlands of Ireland and Scotland.

To cite another obvious example, the Sliabh Luachra poet Eóghan Ruadh Ó Súilleabháin, one of whose autograph manuscripts forms part of the UCC collection, is still regarded as one of the greatest Irish poets working in the eighteenth century. The importance of the musical element in his poetry remains one of the keys to understanding the structure of Irish poetry composed in Penal times.

The academic contribution of UCC staff to promoting, publishing and - in modern times - supporting the work of Irish poets has always been significant. In the first half of the twentieth century, the reputations of many of the poets of Cork were established and set on a scholarly footing through the work of Tadhg Ó Donnchadha (himself a competent poet), Professor of Irish at UCC. It is largely due to his efforts that the Carraig na bhFear 'school' of literature receives its due recognition today, and that the work, in particular, of Seán Ó Murchudha, poet and scribe, is known and studied. Dr Breandán Ó Conchúir has highlighted the extraordinary scribal work of one of the inheritors of the Carraig na bhFear tradition, Mícheál Óg Ó Longáin, and Breandán will, in the near future, do the same for Mícheál Óg's remarkable poetic output in a definitive edition. 

In contemporary and near-contemporary times Cork has established itself as one of the centres of poetry in Ireland, and UCC has continued to play a prominent role, as it should, as supporter of this most ancient of arts. This is thanks in no small part to the work of Seán Ó Tuama, Professor of Irish, who not alone applied modern literary theory to Irish poetry, from medieval to contemporary times, but encouraged creativity and the practice of poetry among his students, the revolutionary effects of which are well-known today.

UCC's central connection with Irish poetry is crystallised in its relationship with Seán Ó Ríordáin, whose lecturing in the Irish Department was facilitated by the late Professor Risteard Breatnach, and whose biography by Professor Seán Ó Coileáin stands as one of the greatest achievements in contemporary Irish prose, and one of the great literary biographies of our time, in any language.

Seán Ó Ríordáin was born on 3 December 1916, and in celebrating his centenary, the Department of Modern Irish Department has organised a series of events reflective both of UCC's connections with the poet and of the wide appeal of his poetry.

On Thursday, November 10 (Seomra Caidrimh, O'Rahilly Building, 3pm), three poets with strong links to UCC will gather to discuss their work in the light of that of Ó Ríordáin. Dr Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhaigh, IRC Post-Doctoral Fellow with the Department of Modern Irish, will be joined by fellow poets, Áine Uí Fhoghlú and Colm Breathnach, both UCC graduates. Providing a pan-Gaelic perspective on Ó Ríordáin's reputation will be Professor Wilson McLeod of the University of Edinburgh.

One of the highlights of the University year is the annual visit of children from Gaelscoil Uí Ríordáin, Ballincollig, to the President's Office for the award of Duais Uí Ríordáin. This special connection will be marked by a lunchtime event in the Seomra Caidrimh on Thursday, November 17. Readings of a selection of Ó Ríordáin's work by schoolchildren from the Gaelscoil will blend with readings by undergraduates from the Department of Modern Irish, and music will also be provided by both sets of students.

Timothy O'Neill, Adjunct Professor at the Department of Modern Irish (O'Rahilly Building), and author of the best-selling The Irish Hand, has been commissioned to produce a calligraphic representation of Ó Ríordáin's famous poem, 'Fill Arís'. O’Neill, who has created contemporary working versions of early Irish liturgical manuscripts, collaborated for many years with the late Séamus Heaney. In a public lecture entitled 'Letter-forms and literature: wrestling with Scripture, Heaney and Ó Ríordáin', to be delivered in the College of Arts Seminar Room (O'Rahilly Building, G.27) November 22, 4 pm, he will talk about his work on representations of modern poetry and on the challenges posed to the calligrapher by such work.

The celebrations of the Ó Ríordáin centenary will conclude with a ceremony on November 25 when the Séamus Murphy bust of Seán Ó Ríordáin will be installed in the Department of Modern Irish at 3pm. The occasion will feature an address by Prof. Seán Ó Coileáin.

Pádraig Ó Macháin, Professor of Modern Irish, University College Cork

University College Cork

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