Former President Mary Robinson shared personal memories of her lifelong friend Eavan Boland at a poignant ceremony yesterday to honour the poet with the Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann award for outstanding contribution to Irish literature.
Mrs Robinson told the audience the pair had met as students at Trinity College in the mid-60s.
Down the years, the women kept in touch via long conversations, and she recalled how she had spent the night before her wedding with Eavan.
When the former President asked for a needle and thread to repair slight fraying to the hem of her wedding dress, Eavan laughed and said there were times she couldn’t find Kevin, her husband, let alone a needle. “We ended up with a pin, which did the trick,” recalled Mrs Robinson.
Later, when she became President, their friendship deepened. “When you are President there are very few places where you can let your hair down, knowing you’re in a safe place. So very often the presidential car drove out to Dundrum (to Eavan’s home) and Kevin knew to leave us alone,” said Mrs Robinson.
“We found an awful lot in common because she was trying to find her path in poetry and I was trying to find my path in law. We just became really close friends.”
Their friendship was further cemented when Mrs Robinson became godmother to Sarah Casey, Eavan’s daughter, and her husband Kevin Casey became godfather to Mrs Robinson’s daughter Tessa.
The prestigious award was presented posthumously to Eavan and accepted by her daughters Sarah and Eavan in the Museum of Literature Ireland (MOLI) in Dublin.
It had been due to be presented in March 2020, but Covid-19 intervened, followed by Eavan’s untimely death the following month, aged 75.
“She had an incredible journey as a poet,” said Eavan Casey. “She courageously carved out her own poetic identity dismantling so many obstacles faced by women writers. She was an absolute trailblazer and pathfinder.
“In her poetry, she was revolutionary, writing about her home life, and insisting that feeding a baby, leaving milk bottles on the doorstep, and living in the suburbs could be the stuff of poetry.”
Among those paying tribute were fellow poets Paula Meehan and John O”Donnell, and writer and former minister Liz O’Donnell.
A feminist as well as a poet and lecturer, Eavan said in later life: “I began to write in an Ireland where the word ‘woman’ and the word ‘poet’ seemed to be in some sort of magnetic opposition.”
She published her first collection as a student. Her awards include a Lannan Foundation Award in Poetry, an American Ireland Fund Literary Award and the Bucknell Medal of Distinction.