Some women associated with Gaelic cultural circles composed poetry in Irish during this period. They include Fionnghuala Ní Bhriain, Caitlín Dubh, Eibhlín Ní Choillte and Máire Nic a Liondain. The anonymous author of Cill Cais praised a noble woman for her generosity. The poignant Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire was written in the caoine tradition by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill.

Many beautiful love poems in Irish, such as Dónal Óg, A ógánaigh an chúil cheangailte and Mo bhrón ar an bhfarraige express the love, whether happy or unrequited, of a woman for a man. Corresponding poems from the male viewpoint include Máirín de Barra, Úna Bhán, Eibhlín a Rún, Éamonn a' Chnoic and An Chúileann. A wonderful combination often resulted from the marriage of an Irish love poem with an old Irish air.

Aogán Ó Rathaile's Mac an Cheannaí is one of many poems written in the aisling genre in which Ireland is personified as a woman in need of rescue from the domination of England while Brian Merriman's long poem Cúirt an Mheán Oíche is an amusing plea to men to satisfy the longing of women for husbands. Charlotte Brooke published translations of Irish poetry in her Reliques of Irish poetry (1789).

When the theatres opened again after the Restoration, a lively exchange developed between writers and actors in Dublin and London. Smock Alley Theatre was opened near Dublin Castle in 1662 and Peg Woffington (c. 1714-1760) was one of many Irish actors who made their names there and went on to play leading roles in Covent Garden and Drury Lane Theatre in London. Acting since childhood, Peg later starred opposite David Garrick in Dublin and London, taking parts such as Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet and Rosalind in As You Like It as well as roles in the plays of leading dramatists of the time such as John Gay and George Farquhar.

The diaries, journals and letters of women such as Mary Delany, Louisa Conolly, Mary Leadbetter, Mary Ann McCracken and Martha McTier are valuable sources for the social and political history of the eighteenth century.

Women might appear on average to have played a relatively small part in the intellectual life of Ireland as such education as there was for girls prepared them to be housekeepers and wives. However, a minority of women, often referred to as 'bluestockings' acted as hostesses, welcoming politicians, artists, writers, talented, learned and witty people to meet each other on a set evening once a week in their living rooms or salons.

There were the bluestockings of the eighteenth century - Mrs Vesey, Mrs Grierson, Mrs Sican; the noted Lady Moira and her daughter Lady Granard, both of whom kept lively literary salons. In the early nineteenth century there was the glittering literary salon of Lady Morgan, herself a novelist of some interest; and of course there was Maria Edgeworth, who towers above the others as a decisive intellectual influence in her own time.
Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, 'The role of women ...' in Margaret MacCurtain & Donncha Ó'Corráin, Women in Irish society: the historical dimension, Dublin, 1978, p.33.


  1. Discuss three ways in which women were portrayed in the Gaelic poetry of the Early Modern period.
  2. Gaelic poets wrote ____ or vision poetry in the eighteenth century personifying Ireland as a _____ _____ .
  3. Discuss the choice of a young woman to symbolise Ireland in the eighteenth century.
  4. Some women acted as hostesses, welcoming ____, artists, ____, talented, learned and ___ people to meet each other on a set evening ___ a ____ in their living rooms or ____.


  1. Read and discuss a selection of aisling poems with your Irish teacher.
  2. Read and discuss a selection of Gaelic love poems.
  3. Research the women poets referred to. A selection of their work may be found in the Field Day anthology of Irish writing, Vol. IV, Cork, 2002.
  4. Research any woman writer of the early modern period.
  5. Research any aspect of the theatre in Dublin from the Restoration to the Act of Union.
  6. Research the career of Peg Woffington.
  7. Research bluestockings and literary salons.
  8. Study the extract 'Mac an Cheannaí' in Documents at the end of this section.
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