Document Of The Day – “Achnasheen” by Pearse Hutchinson

By Yvette Campbell, General Collections & Finance


As part of the Pearse Hutchinson Archive acquired by Maynooth University in 2013, this fascinating and vast collection contains the papers from Hutchinson’s long and extremely varied career, from his childhood writings to his last draft poems. One of these draft poems held in Maynooth is the typescript draft entitled “Achnasheen” published in 1975.

Pearse Hutchinson
As someone with a background in Medieval Irish & Celtic studies, I’ve always loved the history behind Irish placenames especially when they relate to Irish mythology and literature. Beginning with “You’d miss the Gaelic from the Placenames“, this heavily annotated manuscript copy by Hutchinson himself is a powerful poem highlighting the significance of the few Gaelic placenames which have not been distorted by English renaming. It is a fascinating document to see Hutchinson’s notes and corrections on a piece of Irish writing that people know and love so well.

Pearse Hutchinson’s poem “Achnasheen” describes the mistranslation of Gaelic toponyms, and the subsequent absence of the original Gaelic from signposts in Northern Ireland. My favourite quote from this poem that captures the mood of the subject so beautifully is:

The Gaelic names beating their wings madly
behind the mad cage of English”

This poem was published in Selected Poems 1982, The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. III, Ed. S. Deane (1991)., Collected Poems (2002) & An Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry Ed. Wes Davis (2010).

Since “Achnasheen“, there has been great work done with The Northern Ireland Place-name Project and a number of other Irish databases dedicated to the preservation of the history of Gaelic placenames in Ireland – therefore Hutchinson’s poem is a great document to feature in our Explore Your Archives Week.

If you want to learn more about Pearse Hutchinson and his poetry, the 2nd annual seminar will be held in Maynooth University on Wednesday 23rd November. The seminar will be chaired by the writer, poet and broadcaster Vincent Woods and will include a paper by Prof. Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Ireland Professor of Poetry, musical perfomance by Danny Diamond and Néillidh Mulligan and a launch of an exhibition of material from the Archive.

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