Villanova Literary Festival: Mary O’Donoghue


Mary O’Donohue spoke at the 25th annual Literary Festival.

Sara Hecht, Staff Writer

This past Thursday, February 23, marked the kick-off event of the 25th Annual Villanova Literary Festival. Walking into the Connelly Center, one could not help but feel transported to the Emerald Isle, as lively Irish music and spirited discussions flowed from the President’s Lounge. 

The event celebrated renowned poet, translator and novelist Mary O’Donoghue, who serves as the 2023 Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Chair for Irish Studies. Published by independent Irish presses, O’Donoghue’s works include the novel “Before the House Burns,” as well as two collections of poetry, entitled “Among These Winters” and “Tulle.” 

Prior to her reading, O’Donoghue’s talent was commended by Villanova’s President Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., Ph.D, who joked of their shared last name, although he quipped he lost the “g” of “O’Donoghue”’ somewhere along the journey from Ireland to Pennsylvania. 

Fr. Peter also had the honor of introducing Irish Ambassador to the United States, Geraldine Byrne Nason. Having assumed the role this past August, Nason is the 19th Ambassador of Ireland to the United States. Nason hails from County Louth, and shared that her visit to campus on Thursday evening felt like a homecoming. 

The final opening speakers were senior Molly Carriero and junior Kylie Horan, who were selected to introduce O’Donoghue to the festival’s audience.

“Fiercely intelligent, O’Donoghue’s stunningly extensive vocabulary invites readers to stretch the limits of how they engage with language,” Carriero said. “Her poems illustrate how diction can elevate poetry to an entirely new plane and play. To read Mary O’Donoghue is a pleasure for all senses. It is an intellectual journey for the mind, skipping to keep up with her nimble word choice, breathtaking allusions and storytelling.”

Upon taking the podium, O’Donoghue demonstrated deep gratitude to Carrerio and Horan for their lovely and warm words. O’Donoghue reiterated this appreciation to The Villanovan.

“My favorite moment was to be presented to the audience by students of ‘Authors On & Off the Page,’ Kylie Horan and Mollie Carriero,” O’Donoghue said. “Their close readings of my work were full of intellectual and creative integrity. I was moved by their attention. Not all writers are as lucky to receive this kind of introduction.”

The reading itself began with O’Donoghue’s translation of the Irish-language poem “Gramadach” by Louis de Paor. O’Donoghue then read her poem “My Daughter in Winter Costume,” which was inspired by John Storr’s statue. In a short essay O’Donoghue read, introducing this piece, she dedicated the reading to her step-daughter, and shared that the piece is one of her most cherished poems. She concluded with the short story entitled “The Rakes of Mallow,” which captivated the audience with its rhythm repetition of “we,” and evocatively nostalgic description. 

Earlier in the afternoon, O’Donoghue visited the “Authors On and Off the Page” English course, taught by Dr. Adrienne Perry and Dr. Tsering Wangmo, which runs in collaboration with the Literary Festival.

During this meeting, O’Donoghue graciously offered many words of wisdom to students. She answered each student’s question with such honesty and eloquence that one could not help but be enraptured by the poeticism and musicality of her words. 

O’Donoghue expressed her own joy in visiting and speaking with the “Authors On and Off the Page” class.

“It was revelatory,” O’Donoghue said. “Yet it was not surprising, because I have come to know Villanova English students and Irish Studies students as fine close readers. But nonetheless: to be returned to my work, as prompted by their inquiries, only deepened my resolve that writing is my practice—and what I want to do.”

Likewise, the students of the course revealed how honored they were to read O’Donoghue’s work and to meet her in-person. Junior Rachel Rhee reflected on this special experience. 

“It was so magical to have Mary O’Donoghue visit our ‘Authors On and Off the Page’ class,” Rhee said. “She brought another layer of warmth, love and joy to the poems we’d been studying for the past two weeks. I loved hearing about her journey and it was so lovely to hear her words of encouragement to us, as aspiring writers.”

Horan shared her own reflection on her time with O’Donoghue’s poetry collection “Amongst These Winters” with the audience at the festival.

“Her poetry is a raw, honest and relatable love letter to intellectualism and the everyday,” Horan said. 

Senior Ava Lundell offered her thoughts on what it was like to attend the festival itself, meeting new people in both the Irish and English departments. 

“The Literary Festival event with Mary O’Donoghue was a wonderful opportunity for Villanova’s Irish Studies Department and English Department to collaborate, creating a meaningful experience for both students and faculty,” Lundell said. “O’Donoghue’s writing is beautiful, and to hear her read from her work was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

As part of her work as the 2023 Heimbold chair, O’Donoghue teaches her own English course, entitled “20th-21st Century Irish Literature & Culture.” This course focuses on Irish-language literature, and the practice and intricacies of translation.

In final reflection on the evening, O’Donoghue shared one more noteworthy moment from the night’s events. 

“If I looked somewhat windblown at the podium it was because I was driven to the event by Fr. Peter… along with the Irish Ambassador to the United States… in a golf cart,” O’Donoghue said. “I will never forget that adventure!”