Winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature
An Cailleach Bhéarra, or the Hag of Beara, is a wise woman figure embedded in the physical and mental landscape of western Ireland and Scotland, particularly in the Beara Peninsula in West Cork where Leanne O’Sullivan comes from. The Cailleach’s roots lie in pre-Christian Ireland, and stories of her relationship with that rugged landscape and culture still abound. Central to these narratives is the story of her love affair with a sea god. A large stone rests on the ridge overlooking Ballycrovane Harbour, and it is said to be the petrified body of the Cailleach; she has had several lives, beginning each life with a birth from her stony form – and returning to stone at the end.
The supernatural and superhuman feature strongly in traditional stories of the Cailleach (pronounced
Ca-lock or Cay-luck) – feats such as her creating mountains or leaping vast distances that place the tales firmly into the world of myth. While still recognising the Cailleach as a figure of extraordinary power and influence, Leanne O’Sullivan’s poems explore the human origins from which the legend grew. She still forms the landscape, yet at the same time is intrinsically part of it, close to it, rather than gigantically above it; and her husband is not the sea god of legend, but a fisherman. And for all her strength, she is vulnerable.
'Leanne O’Sullivan’s first collection,
Waiting for My Clothes, was published when she was just 21 and was justifiably acclaimed for the extraordinary power of its language and the maturity of vision. It was also an intensely confessional work; it is therefore not surprising that O’Sullivan should eschew further revelations in Cailleach: The Hag of Beara, her second collection, and plough, instead, the furrows of Irish mythology in her exploration of the eternal feminine... O’Sullivan’s vision continues to be deeply romantic in its trust that nature is a panacea for human suffering; these poems catch one’s breath with their exquisite rendering of the Irish landscape... O’Sullivan’s imagery is always precise, yet utterly dazzling in its originality... she is reclaiming her landscape, as all poets must, and she does so with the steadiness and gravity of a writer who has already found her way home' – Nessa O'Mahony, Irish Times
'These new poems are linguistically abundant. They are full of bold similes and metaphors. Both sensuous and religious, her art is at its most impressive in some remarkable love poems. Love poetry so celebratory and erotic is rare in these cool, cynical times. I admire Leanne O’Sullivan’s technical enterprise and unembarrassed imagination.' Michael Longley, referring to
Cailleach: The Hag of Beara, on why Leanne O'Sullivan was awarded the 2009 Ireland Chair of Poetry bursary.
Leanne O'Sullivan reads The Mining Road and other poems
Leanne O'Sullivan begins this short film by reading 'The Cord' from her debut collection,
Waiting for My Clothes (2004). Then she talks about her second collection, Cailleach: The Hag of Beara (2009) and reads one poem from it, 'Birth'. An Cailleach Bhéarra, or the Hag of Beara, is a wise woman figure embedded in the physical and mental landscape of western Ireland. A large rock rests on the ridge overlooking Ballycrovane Harbour on the Beara peninsula, said to be the petrified body of the Cailleach; she has had several lives, beginning each life with a birth from her stony form – and returning to stone at the end. Leanne then reads six poems from her latest collection, The Mining Road (2013), in which she finds inspiration in the disused copper mines that haunt the rugged terrain around Allihies, near her home: 'Townland', 'The Mining Road', 'Love Stories', 'Antique Cabinets', 'Sea Level' (from 'Man Engine'), ‘Safe House’ and 'The Glimmerman'. Neil Astley filmed this reading in February 2012 at the O'Sullivan family farm at Beara, West Cork, where Leanne O'Sullivan grew up. This film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: World Poets, filmed and edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce and Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2017).
Leanne O'Sullivan reads at Dublin Writers' Festival
Leanne O'Sullivan reads one poem from her debut collection
Waiting for My Clothes, 'The Cord', followed by five poems from her second collection Cailleach: The Hag of Beara: 'Sister', 'Lost', 'Rapture', 'The Dancing Rooms' and 'The Return'. The film shows excerpts from her reading at the Project Arts Centre in the Dublin Writers' Festival on 6 June 2009.