When Eavan Boland began her career as a published poet in 1967 with the collection New Territory, the mixed reviews from critics hardly indicated that that career would go on to situate her as the vanguard of contemporary Irish verse. Since the initial collection, Boland as gone on to publish an increasing number of volumes of collected works that have moved her closer to the very center of modern Irish poetry. By 1994, the evolution of Boland into a universally acclaimed artist was confirmed with Lannan Foundation Award in Poetry.
Boland’s placement within the long history of Irish poetry is nothing less than revolutionary. While that long and robust history Irish verse is punctuated with great names like Oliver Goldsmith, Jame Joyce, Seamus Heaney, Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, and Yeats. The attentive reader will recognize that those names are distinctively male and there is a historical reason for that. Irish poetry has long been one in which the female figure is more symbolic than literal; both in the writing and the content. Some of the mixed reviews which greeted Boland’s debut collection were notable for their focus on what the critic saw as a strident feminism. Tradition in all things is huge in Irish culture; the time it took for Boland to carve out new territory within those ancient traditions required the time it took her to get from publishing New Territory to winning the Lannon Award.
Since then, Boland’s poetry has been highly directed—though not exclusively so—towards crafting verse that considers the politics of gender. The result has been a consistent and passionate attention to using poetry as a means of telling stories about and bringing attention to the women of Ireland whose stories have remained untold by the legions of legendary male poets. The drive through Irish suburbia into the world of working women and hard-working mothers that can be found throughout the canon of Boland represents nothing less than a 20th century insurrection against the dominant symbolic feminine figure Irish poetry: the spéirbhhea which represents the folkloric impossibility of the restoration of virgin purity as metaphor for the island nation as a victim of colonial assault