Seán Ó Ríordáin (1916-77) was born in the breacGhaeltacht village of Baile Bhúirne, Co. Cork and moved to Inis Cara, on the outskirts of Cork city at the age of 15, following the death of his father from TB four years earlier. Ó Ríordáin himself was diagnosed with TB at the age of 20, not long after he had begun working as a clerk in Cork City Hall. After resigning from his position due to illness in 1965, he contributed a regular column to the Irish Times in which he wrote critically and satirically about language, literature and culture. He also provided a sharp critique of government policies that reneged on the State’s commitment to its professed ideals, with greater vehemence as the Troubles in the six counties of Northern Ireland worsened during the 1970s. An occasional lecturer and writer in residence at University College Cork (1969-76), he had a considerable influence on the Innti poets who studied there. The diaries he kept from 1940 to a couple of days before his death provide insights into Ó Ríordáin’s working method and his anguished quest for meaning in a life frustrated by illness where poetry provided occasional access to truth and authenticity.
Ó Ríordáin published three collections before his death in 1977, Eireaball spideoige (1952), Brosna (1964), and Línte Liombó (1971). A fourth collection Tar éis mo bháis was published posthumously in 1978, and his collected poems in Irish, Na dánta, in 2011. There are two substantial translations of his poetry, Selected Poems, edited by Frank Sewell (Yale University Press, 2014), and Apathy Is Out: Selected Poems, translated by Greg Delanty (Bloodaxe Books / Cló Iar-Chonnachta, 2021). Since revised and now appearing in a dual language edition, Greg Delanty’s translation was to have been published in 2007, with the blessing of Ó Ríordáin’s family and estate, but was blocked by his publisher, the late Caoimhín Ó Marcaigh of Sáirséal Ó Marcaigh, which controlled Ó Ríordáin’s translation rights. Its publication – and that of the earlier dual-language Yale edition – has been possible following Cló Iar-Chonnachta’s acquisition of Sáirséal Ó Marcaigh.
Louis de Paor’s anthology Leabhar na hAthghabhála: poems of repossession (Bloodaxe Books / Cló Iar-Chonnachta, 2016) also includes a large selection of poems by Ó Ríordáin with translations by Breandán Ó Doibhlin, Mary O’Donoghue, David Wheatley and Louis de Paor.
Mise Seán O Riordáin
In this TG4/BFI documentary, Louis de Paor takes us on a journey to trace the story of Seán Ó Riordáin, the man and the writer. He explores the wealth of his poetry, visit the sources of his inspiration, and talks to other key figures as we try to unearth the real story of the man.