By Theo Dorgan

Once Was a Boy

In this vivid, unsparing, new collection, Theo Dorgan reaches deep into his Cork childhood to examine, among other things, the wellsprings of what would become a life in poetry.


All Poetry, Poetry from Ireland


In this vivid new collection, Theo Dorgan reaches deep into his Cork childhood to examine, among other things, the wellsprings of what would become a life in poetry. At times with the forensic detachment of adult distance, at other times given over to reliving a child’s conscious attention to his own life, these poems explore a past where everything is new in the living moment and yet, somehow, “everything will go on forever”.

If the family is where we learn to understand feelings and affections, school is the hard place where we meet the powers of the world, where we encounter and learn to deal with both the liberating and the oppressive powers of language. School, as the growing boy experiences it, is the place where we learn either to surrender or to stand free in the world, and freedom comes with embracing, understanding, the weight and responsibility of choosing your words, of speaking for yourself.

Poet Theo Dorgan’s beloved native city is a ghostly, sustaining, presence throughout — city familiar and mysterious, cradle of possibilities the young boy dreams of, gazing longingly through the classroom window. In that place, in those days, Dorgan made certain promises to himself. Once Was a Boy asks if those promises were kept.

Once Was a Boy
Theo Dorgan
13 November 2023
82 pp. 140 x 216 mm
ISBN 9781915629135 paperback, €12.50

Cover image by Gaetano Tranchino, by kind permission of the artist.

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About The Author


Theo Dorgan was born in Cork in 1953. He is a poet, prose writer, documentary screenwriter, editor, translator and broadcaster. Dedalus reissued his first two poetry collections, The Ordinary House of Love (1991) and Rosa Mundi 1995) in a single volume, What This Earth Cost Us, in 2008. His most recent collections are Greek (2010) and Nine Bright Shiners (2014). Songs of Earth and Light, his versions from the Slovenian of Barbara Korun, appeared in 2005 (Southword Editions), and his translation of the poems of Maram Al Masri's Barefoot Souls appeared in 2015. He has also published a selected poems in Italian, La Case ai Margini del Mundo (Moby Dick, 1999), and a Spanish translation of his long poem Sappho’s Daughter La Hija de Safo (Poesía Hiperión, 2001). Dorgan's prose account of a transatlantic crossing under sail, Sailing For Home, was published by Penguin Ireland in 2004 and reissued by Dedalus in 2010. His libretto Jason And The Argonauts, to music by Howard Goodall, was commissioned by and premiered at The Royal Albert Hall, London in 2004. A further prose book, Time On The Ocean: A Voyage from Cape Horn to Cape Town, was published by New Island in 2010. He has edited The Great Book of Ireland (with Gene Lambert, 1991); Revising the Rising (with Máirín Ní Dhonnachadha, 1991); Irish Poetry Since Kavanagh (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 1996); Watching the River Flow (with Noel Duffy, Dublin, Poetry Ireland/Éigse Éireann, 1999); The Great Book of Gaelic (with Malcolm Maclean, Edinburgh, Canongate, 2002); and The Book of Uncommon Prayer (Dublin, Penguin Ireland, 2007). A former Director of Poetry Ireland/Éigse Éireann, Theo Dorgan has worked extensively as a broadcaster of literary programmes on both radio and television. He was presenter of Poetry Now on RTÉ Radio 1, and later presented RTÉ's TV books programme, Imprint.
 His awards include the Listowel Prize for Poetry, 1992, and The O'Shaughnessy Prize For Irish Poetry 2010. A member of Aosdána, he served on The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon 2003–2008. Theo Dorgan lives in Dublin.