For the Love of Irish Poets

A road sign between two doors, with full post of signs in English and Gaelic.

by Cherise T.

Where tales be told, words be woven, and music be made, an Irish poet can be found. Indulge in the glorious Irish literary tradition by exploring the riches of Boland, Heaney, and Yeats. One of Ireland’s, and the English language’s, most famous poets, William Butler Yeats won the Nobel Prize in 1923 for his works such as “The Second Coming,” where the phrase “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” was born. His poems embrace the mythological, the historical, and the political while adhering to traditional verse structures. An excellent starting point for those new to Irish poetry is the anthology, The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats.

Poet Seamus Heaney sitting in front of full bookshelves, looking over the back o

Scaffolding by Seamus Heaney

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tight bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seems to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me,

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

Written in 1966 around the time of Heaney’s marriage, ”Scaffolding” is a unique expression of love and devotion. Heaney was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995, and while his writing also leans toward history, much of the content is personal. Feast on the rich, precise language in his compilation, 100 Poems. The collection includes an excerpt from “The Cure at Troy” where this renowned stanza is found:

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

Eavan Boland, the most contemporary of the three, subverts tradition, exploring women’s daily lives in the context of feminism and Irish history. In A Woman Without a Country, Boland addresses a range of women, from Eurydice to her own daughter. In the eponymous poem sequence, she writes about her grandmother, “What troubled me was not whether she had included her country in her short life. But whether that country had included her.”

Our online collection includes the Gale LitFinder resource. At, go to the Research tab and select the Literary Criticism & Analysis section. In LitFinder, use the search term “Irish poetry” or enter an author name, subject, or document type (such as “sonnet”) to explore additional classical through contemporary works by Irish poets.

Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks. 

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