Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh was born in Co. Kerry, in the southwest of Ireland, in 1984. Ní Ghearbhuigh did not grow up in a Gaeltacht, one of Ireland’s few remaining Irish-speaking enclaves. However, she was born into an Irish-speaking family and was educated in Irish. After receiving her degree from the National University of Ireland Galway, she lived for several years in France and also spent a period in New York as a Fulbright scholar. She has recently returned to NUI Galway, where she is carrying out doctoral research in the area of Irish Studies.
It is possible to locate Ní Ghearbhuigh’s work in the tradition established by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and the other members of the Innti generation that came to the fore in the 1970s. She has also been influenced by Biddy Jenkinson, that most logophilic and mysterious of Irish-language writers. However, Ní Ghearbhuigh's poetry is perhaps more rooted in the urban than that of her antecedents. ‘St Nick’s’, ‘Chinatown’, ‘Morning on the Tram’ and ‘Citybound’ revel in urban life in all its crowded energy and cacophony, whether it be found in New York, Bordeaux or in a small city like Galway on Ireland’s western coast.
Ní Ghearbhuigh’s first collection, entitled Péacadh, which might be translated as ‘blossoming’ or ‘germination’, was published in 2008 by Coiscéim. As the title suggests, the overall tenor of the book is upbeat and optimistic. Yet many of the collection’s stronger pieces are marked by a disorientating sense of alienation and by unnerving awareness of the world’s capricious nature. Poems including ‘Wintering’, ‘May’ and ‘You Were Driving by the Sea’ are tinged with bizarre and surrealistic imagery that, at times, verge on the nightmarish.
While Ní Ghearbhuigh can be viewed as among the most urban and outward-looking of her generation, she is not immune to traditional concerns, among the issue of the Irish language itself. Poems such as ‘When One Despairs’ are acutely aware of the challenges faced by the language in 21st-century Ireland and in an increasingly globalised world. Yet her work, like that of several of her contemporaries, is testament to the language’s singular expressive capabilities and its capacity to render the excitement and difficulties of modern living.