Marie Cadden – An Appreciation

‘A poet of the physical world, a poet of the senses’

Marie Cadden, who has died, aged 69, on December 16th, 2017, was an accomplished poet and teacher, known for her sensuous, funny and observant take on life.

Close friend, fellow poet and NUI Galway (NUIG) lecturer Dr Lorna Shaughnessy described her as “a poet of the physical world, a poet of the senses and vivid metaphors”.

She was born to Irish parents George and Monica Maher on May 9th, 1948, in Devon, England, and spent her early childhood in Malahide, Co Dublin. In 1956,the family returned to England and settled in Wallasey, Cheshire, where George once again set up a plastering business. She left school at 16 to study at secretarial college but a serious car accident was to change the course of her life and, after recovering, she gained a place at New College of Speech and Drama in Golders Green, London, where she would pursue the love of the written and spoken word nurtured in her by her mother.

After time spent teaching in further education in Liverpool, she took a post at the Alice Eliot School for the deaf and was subsequently seconded to Manchester University, where she studied education in the audiology department. It was at Manchester University’s postgrad club that she met architect student and future husband, Mick Cadden.


When Mick was offered a job in Galway in 1977, the couple married and moved to Ireland, settling in An Spidéal where they reared a family of three. She worked as a play therapist at St Anne’s Centre, Taylor’s Hill, Galway, and later taught pupils with hearing disabilities in Scoil Niocláis Naofa primary school in the Claddagh, where she was instrumental in setting up a specialised unit for pupils diagnosed with autism. Attending NUIG in her forties, she qualified into arts administration and took up posts in various galleries in the city.

She had enjoyed a close and active involvement with the Galway arts scene throughout her life but it was after retiring from teaching and recovering from breast cancer that she joined a poetry workshop for new writers run by Kevin Higgins in the Galway Arts Centre and began to write herself. “Marie’s contributions were always considered and constructive because she had no artistic baggage, no ego-driven agenda,” Lorna Shaughnessy recalled in her funeral tribute. “Her poems arrived fully formed and as multifaceted as herself: sensuous, wickedly funny and observant, with vivid metaphors”.

In 2011, she won the Cúirt International Festival of Literature new writing prize for poetry and thereafter was placed or shortlisted for various awards including the Fish Poetry prize, the Francis Ledwidge poetry award and Westport Arts Festival poetry prize. Her work was published in anthologies and also in translation.

She became co-editor of Skylight 47 poetry magazine, and in 2017 she was joint winner of the Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust "Poems for Patience". By this stage she had been diagnosed with an advanced stage of lung cancer. She instructed close friend and fellow writer Fr Pat O'Brien not to use the term "after a battle with cancer" at her funeral.

“I didn’t battle,” she said in her instructions to the priest. “I looked it in the eye and with what knowledge we, the family had learned, made my body as unfriendly and as unreceptive as possible for cancer to thrive. Beyond that, I learned acceptance,” she wrote.

At her funeral, Fr O’Brien spoke of how he is constantly inspired by one of her poems installed at University Hospital, Galway – her award-winning verse, “In Praise of Denial”.

Struck by how many female Galway poets had written of their experiences of breast cancer, she put together a collection with seven contemporaries, entitled Bosom Pals, which was published by Doire Press last year, with illustrations by her daughter, artist Ruth Cadden, with all proceeds to breast cancer research.

Marie Cadden is survived by her husband Mick, daughters Una and Ruth, son Conor, grandchildren Shay and Aidan and sister Fiona.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times