1) Penguin Book of Irish Poetry
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Aberdeen
Unit of AssessmentEnglish Language and Literature
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
This case study describes the reception and impact of Patrick Crotty's Penguin
Book of Irish Poetry (2010), an unprecedentedly capacious anthology
drawn from many languages and seventeen centuries of poetic composition in
Ireland. The anthology presents poems in modern English and Scots
alongside verse translations from Middle English, Old French, Old, Middle,
Classical and Modern Irish, Latin and Old Norse. Many of the book's
specially commissioned translations are by internationally renowned poets.
The study considers responses to the anthology terms of its high sales,
wide range of reviews, coverage by news media, and engendering of public
The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry, as Nick Laird observed in the Guardian,
represents `the gleanings of a lifetime's reading'. Some of the research
underlying the book led to such outputs as Crotty's 27,000-word chapter on
`Poetry 1890-1940' in The Cambridge History of Irish Literature
(2006), and his essay on connections between eighteenth-century Irish
Gaelic verse and Scottish poetry in Sergeant and Stafford's Burns and
Other Poets (2012). Among the poems which the anthology reproduces
are forgotten or neglected pieces in English. The book presents a broader
range of Gaelic and Hiberno-Latin verse than any previous anthology. It is
based on first-hand linguistic scholarship, and includes many works never
before subject to literary translation. Unfamiliar poems from the four
distinct phases of Irish are made available in new translations. The
anthology's key contribution to the mediation of Gaelic literature can be
found in its attention to the Classical (`bardic') poetry that dominated
literary production in Gaelic Ireland and Scotland from the early
thirteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries. The volume demonstrates for
the first time that Latin poetry flourished in Ireland up to the end of
the eighteenth century.
The editor worked to deepen his knowledge through discussion and
correspondence with such scholars as Máirín Ní Dhonnchadha of the National
University of Ireland Galway (for the Gaelic materials) and Professors
Peter Davidson and Jane Stevenson of Aberdeen (for the Latin texts). The
new translations were to some degree collaborative, Seamus Heaney, Michael
Longley and Maurice Riordan commenting on and improving the editor's
contributions, and the editor working with those poets to achieve agreed
versions of theirs. Crotty also worked with Kathleen Jamie, Bernard
O'Donoghue, Kit Fryatt, Tiffany Atkinson, David Wheatley and the Harvard
Celticist Professor Patrick K Ford on their translations.
A major aspect of the scholarship emanating from Aberdeen's Research
Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies over the past decade has been to
question the utility of received national paradigms of Irish and Scottish
cultural and historical experience. The anthology reflects that ethos in
its treatment of Classical Irish poetry and its portrayal of verse in
Scots, not just from Ulster but from eighteenth-century Munster. (`Poem
Addressed to the Blessed Virgin', by the founder of the `bardic' mode,
Muireadhach Albanach Ó Dálaigh, may have been written in Scotland rather
than Ireland, and appears in a specially commissioned and appropriately
magisterial translation by a leading contemporary Scottish poet, Kathleen
Jamie.) While the anthology tells a `national tale' by arranging the texts
in a way that facilitates an unfolding panorama of Irish history, its
openness to a polyphony (and even a discord) of voices undermines
simplistic nationalist and unionist constructions of Irish identity.
The lengthy introduction, as Seamus Heaney noted in his speech at the
launch in the Royal Irish Academy, is `really a history of Irish poetry',
the only such history to accommodate all the cultural and linguistic
identities of the island from the coming of literacy in the fifth century
AD to the recent past.
References to the research
The last four of the five items cited below drew to varying degrees on
research initially undertaken for The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry.
Author/editor is Patrick Crotty in each case.
• The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry (London: Penguin, 2010).
• `Merry Ha'e We Been: The Midnight Visions of Brian Merriman and
Robert Burns', in David Sergeant and Fiona Stafford, eds., Burns and
Other Poets (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 107-26.
• `Swordsmen: W.B. Yeats and Hugh MacDiarmid', in Peter Mackay,
Edna Longley and Fran Brearton, eds., Modern Irish and Scottish Poetry
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 20-38.
• `The Contexts of Heaney's Reception', in Bernard O'Donoghue, ed., The
Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2008), 37-55.
• `The Irish Renaissance, 1890-1940: Poetry in English', in Margaret
Kelleher and Philip O'Leary, eds., The Cambridge History of Irish
Literature, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006),
Details of the impact
The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry sold over 12,000 copies in its
first three months (30 September to 31 December 2010), a considerably
greater number than the publishers expected of such a large (1120 pp.) and
expensive (£40) hardback. (Penguin initially envisaged a print-run of
5000.) The anthology featured in the Irish Top Ten Non-Fiction
best-selling lists in October 2010. Sales of the hardback then slowed
before the release of a paperback edition in March 2012, which has sold a
further 1600 copies.
The book was reviewed in the Daily Mail, Dublin Review of Books,
Essays in Criticism, Financial Times, Independent, Irish Catholic, Irish
Examiner, Irish Times, PN Review, Prairie Schooner, the Tablet and Times
Literary Supplement. It was the subject of two articles in the Irish
Times and one in the Guardian. The volume was a Book of the
Year in the Independent, Scotland on Sunday, the Tablet
and the Times Literary Supplement.
The anthology was launched by Seamus Heaney (Nobel laureate) and Michael
Longley (winner of the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry) at an event attended
by 300 people at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. Highlights of the
launch were broadcast on RTE Radio's Morning Ireland, main daily
news and current affairs programme in the Irish Republic. Crotty was
interviewed on Radio 3's Night Waves, RTE's Arena and BBC
Radio Ulster's Arts Extra, pre-eminent radio arts programmes
respectively in Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and Northern
Ireland. He also gave interviews on one national and two local independent
radio stations in Dublin. Publication of the paperback was marked by a
half-hour discussion between critic Niall MacMonagle and host Pat Kenny on
the 9 April 2012 (Easter Monday) edition of RTE Radio 1's Today with
The publicity surrounding the launch excited public debate about cultural
identities, as when the SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt tweeted his surprise at
the book's high estimate of the Ulster Scots poetry of James Orr
(1770-1816). Such inclusivity towards multilingualism and Presbyterian
heritage contributed to ongoing processes of memorialisation and
reconciliation in Northern Ireland and to the intermittent controversy
about the authenticity of Ulster Scots language and culture.
Roy Foster in the Financial Times described the book as `much
more than an anthology . . . an alternative history of Ireland'. Clair
Wills in the Irish Times declared the editorial selection
`impossible not to admire', while Patricia Craig in the Independent
wrote that `this . . . magnificent anthology . . . achieves what might
seem nearly impossible, a balanced view of Irish poetry from the earliest
times to the present'. Timothy Webb in Prairie Schooner praised
the `compulsive. . . exuberance and energy' of the book's editorial
Reviews drew attention to the Introduction, described as `sterling' by
Craig and as `incisive and thoughtful' by Edward Larrissy (in Essays
in Criticism), and said by Foster to mark Crotty's emergence `as a
formidably accomplished . . . critic'. Michael Glover in the Tablet
called it `tremendously informative. . . the best and fullest account I
have ever read of the complicated history of poetry in Ireland: of its
languages, the battle between Gaelic and English, the flight of the Bards
— all . . . summarised masterfully and engrossingly'.
The structure of the book was another focus of attention. Craig said the
volume was `superbly organised', while Barra Ó Seaghdha in the Dublin
Review of Books praised the `scale' and `architecture' of `a fully
realised, multi-storey edifice'. The editor's translations, too, elicited
approbation, being described as `wonderful' by Wills, and the work of a
`formidably accomplished translator as well as critic' by Foster. Gerard
Mangan in the Times Literary Supplement observed that Crotty `has
risen to a very complex challenge in the sheer variety of voices he has
A celebration of the book, featuring readings by the poet-translators
Ciaran Carson, Bernard O'Donoghue and Kit Fryatt, was held on 23 May 2011
as part of Aberdeen's annual WORD festival. `Conversations with an Irish
Penguin', a public seminar on the recreation of early medieval Irish
literature in the first section, was conducted by David Dumville, the
University of Aberdeen's Professor of History, Paleography and Celtic, at
the National University of Ireland Galway on 14 April 2012 and at Harvard
University on 22 September 2012.
John Wyse Jackson claimed in the Irish Catholic that it would
take a lifetime to absorb the riches of the anthology. The main impact of
the work, a matter of a wide general readership's enhanced understanding
of the literary, cultural and historical past of Ireland, will similarly
be a long term affair.
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Patrick Crotty interviewed by Philip Dodd, Night Waves, Radio
3, 22 September 2010.
- Patrick Crotty interviewed by Rosita Boland, Irish Times, 4
- Launch at Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street, Dublin, 30 September
- `Irish Poetry Event', with Patrick Crotty, Ciaran Carson, Bernard
O'Donoghue and Kit Fryatt, Word, King's College Conference
Centre, Aberdeen, 23 May 2011.
`Author, Author', article by Nick Laird, Guardian, 23
- Patricia Craig, Independent, 8 October 2010.
- Clair Wills, Irish Times, 9 October 2010.
- Roy Foster, Financial Times, 22 October 2010.
- Gerald Mangan, Times Literary Supplement, 27 May 2011.
- Timothy Webb, Prairie Schooner, Volume 85, Number 4, Winter
2011 (abstract of this review available from HEI on request)