This past year has dragged for many, and gone by in a flash for others. As I sat down to pen this week’s column, I was staggered to learn that it is a year since we heard news of the death of one of Ireland’s greatest poets, Eavan Boland. She died on 27 April 27 last at the age of 75.
There have been few, if any, better Irish poets than Eavan Boland, and if you were to ever read just one piece of her work, I would recommend Quarantine. With just five verses (20 lines), it has love and tragedy, and tells of a moment in our history, the catastrophic Famine of the 1840s, which will move you to tears.
Thankfully, Eavan Boland was celebrated during her long and distinguished career, winning many prestigious prizes. She was bestowed with an honorary degree from University College Dublin (UCD) in 1997, and 17 years later, Trinity College Dublin – her alma mater – did likewise. In the intervening years, four other colleges honoured her. At the time of her death, she was Professor of English at Stanford University where she taught from 1996.
Now, to commemorate her first anniversary, Druid Theatre has engaged a number of “big guns” to put on Boland: Journey of a Poet. This hour-long production, which can be viewed live this week in four performances and will be available on demand next week, is the story of her life told through her own words, both poetry and autobiographical prose. The work explores her mind and imagination.
Who else could be trusted to edit her words, and sculpt them into 60 minutes of theatre, other than another Irish literary treasure, Colm Tóibín? Garry Hynes directs this piece which is performed by Siobhán Cullen. This world-premiere production examines Boland’s relationships with family, poetry, memory, womanhood and national identity, themes she returned to time and time again in her writings.
Born in 1944, Eavan Boland was the daughter of a career diplomat, her father Frederick once serving time as Ambassador to Britain and to the United Nations. Her time in London inspired some of Eavan’s work and featured as the theme of the self-explanatory poem, An Irish Childhood in England, 1951.
Her mother, Frances Kelly, was a very well-known Irish painter, whose work featured at the art competition at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She was in her early 20s at the time and had established quite a reputation for herself at a very young age. One of her works is being used as the promotional poster for this Druid production, and it is a portrait of Eavan Boland as a young girl.
Inspired by this, Boland: Journey of a Poet will also feature the Irish artist Debbie Chapman, who will paint a fresh portrait of Eavan Boland during each of the three shows. Based in Chapelizod, beside the Phoenix Park, Debbie held her first exhibition less than two decades ago and she brings a fresh approach to her painting style, exhibiting great fluidity.
With tickets starting at €20, and €30 for a household, this is a production that is well worth every penny. It is also so vital for the arts to enjoy our support at this time. The live performances are at 7.30pm from 22-24 April and a matinée on the last of these dates. It can then be viewed on demand at druid.ie from Tuesday 27 April to Sunday, 2 May 2021.