The 2023 Matheson Lecture
Published: 23 November 2023
Tuesday 5 December 2023
Tuesday 5 December 2023 at 5.30pm
in the Boyd Orr Building
Professor Máire Ní Annracháin
From a single face to the whole world: Somhairle MacGill-Eain’s encounters with the feminine
It is part of Scottish literary folklore that everyone remembers where they were when they first read Dàin do Eimhear by Somhairle MacGiIl- Eain (Sorley Maclean). It remains renowned as a suite of some fifty anguished poems of lost love. In this lecture I will argue that the resonance of those poems derives as much from their creative engagement with earlier Gaelic tradition as from the depth of the poet's passionate mourning of his loss. I will go on to argue that what was presented in the early poems as a personally calamitous heartbreak, expanded in the later work to become a more general encounter with the feminine, often described in terrifying terms. Beyond that again, I will show that a knowledge of the Gaelic tradition makes clear how the initial experience of heartbreak was transformed to the point where it formed the basis of an all-encompassing relationship with the wider world.
Máire Ní Annracháin is Emerita Full Professor of Modern Irish literature in University College Dublin. She has published widely and often comparatively on various aspects of Irish and Scottish Gaelic literature. Her doctoral thesis was on the poetry of Somhairle MacGill-Eain, which was published as Aisling agus Tóir: an Slánú i bhFilíocht Shomhairle MhicGill-Eain. Her recent work has focused on the traditional roots, both overt and subtle, of contemporary Gaelic writing. She has worked closely with Gaelic scholars in Scotland, and has spent periods of sabbatical leave in the University of Edinburgh, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and the Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory in the School of Advanced Studies, University College London. She is a member of the Royal Irish Academy where she currently chairs its Committee for Irish Language Studies and Celtic Cultures. A special edition of the journal COMHARTaighde was published in recognition of her work in 2022.
First published: 23 November 2023