Eilís Dillon

Eilís Dillon (1920-1994) wrote more than thirty books for young people, as well as fiction for adults, including the best-selling historical novel Across the Bitter Sea, about the struggle for Irish independence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. With few exceptions, her young people’s books are set in the west of Ireland, in small communities struggling to make a living on the islands and along the the Atlantic coast. As the critic Declan Kiberd wrote in Dillon’s obituary: “What Laura Ingalls Wilder did for children’s literature in the US, she achieved in Ireland, imparting a sure historical sense in books such as The Singing Cave. That interest in history was a natural expression of her curiosity of mind, and of her family inheritance.”

Building on a family tradition of agitation for Irish independence (her mother’s brother was one of seven men who signed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and was executed by the British at the end of the 1916 Easter Rising), Eilís Dillon committed herself to preserving and promoting Irish literature and culture. She was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member and strong supporter of Aosdána, the national association of writers, artists, and composers. She even wrote a few of her children’s books in Gaelic, the native Irish language. But, as Kiberd explains, “There was nothing narrowly provincial in her writing: she simply assumed that books about children in Irish settings, if properly written, would be of universal appeal. And so they have proved to be.”