Liam Ó Muirthile

Liam Ó Muirthile is a Cork-born writer currently living in Dublin. 

Side by side with the poetry written in English as part of the Celtic Revival from the late nineteenth century onwards – the tradition of Yeats – there was a vigorous movement of new poetry in Irish. This development received a powerful impetus in the mid-twentieth century from major writers in several areas of the country. The southern leader was Seán Ó Riordáin (1916-1977) in Cork, who brought the structures and personal concerns of the modern European lyric into short poems in Irish. Along with Seán Ó Tuama, poet and Professor of Irish at University College Cork, Ó Riordáin inspired a group of student poets in the late nineteen-sixties, all associated with their poetry magazine Innti. Several major figures emerged, generally known as the Innti group; the principal figures were Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Gabriel Rosenstock, Michael Davitt and Liam Ó Muirthile.

In many ways Ó Muirthile carries forward the lyric tradition of Ó Riordáin more faithfully than his fellow-members of the group. Like Ó Riordáin, he lived in Cork City but his forebears came from mid-West Cork.  He was born in Cork city in 1950; his father was a carpenter from near Dunmanway. After his time with the Innti poets at UCC, for many years he wrote an important column in Irish in the Irish Times, selections of which were published as An Peann Coitianta (‘The Popular Pen’) in1991. He published a successful novel Ar Bhruach na Laoi (On the Bank of the Lee) in 1995. But his major impact is as a poet who combines modern experience with various Irish cultural traditions. His first book Tine Chnámh (Bonfire) in 1984 centres on its title-poem about St John’s Eve bonfires in Cork city, linking sexual, religious and pre-Christian subjects. His second collection Dialann Bóthair (Road Diary) was published by Gallery Press in 1993. Like the other Innti poets he weaves the traditions of Irish culture with cosmopolitan perspectives (he is very aware of French poetry) and – perhaps more than the others – modern lyric forms. And like Ní Dhomhnaill in particular, he finds it possible to be quietly outspoken about political events (in his poem ‘Béiteáil’ – ‘Soil-burning’ – in Dialann Bóthair about the first Gulf war for example) in a way that seems to have been found awkward in English.

-Introduced by Berhard O’Donoghue in MPT Series 3/1, Introductions

– Photo from