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Cailleach: The Hag of Beara

Cailleach: The Hag of Beara

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Winner of the Ä10,000 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature

An Cailleach BhÈarra, 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 hails 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 ñ 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) ñ 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

"O'Sullivan's voice sounds with striking confidence and originalityÖ These are poems not just of what it is to be youngÖbut of what it is to be alive; vividly, vibrantly, vulnerably so."
Belinda McKeon, Irish Times (on Waiting for My Clothes)

"What is remarkable about Leanne O'Sullivan is not that she is so youngÖ but that she dares to write about exactly what it is to be young. A teenage Virgil, she guides us down some of the more hellish corridors of adolescence with a voice that is strong and true."
Billy Collins on Waiting for My Clothes

Leanne O'Sullivan was born in 1983, and comes from the Beara peninsula in West Cork. She received an MA in English from University College, Cork in 2006. The winner of several of Ireland's poetry competitions, including the Seacat, the Davoren Hanna and the RTE Rattlebag Poetry Slam.