Eileen Battersby funeral takes place in Drogheda

Former Irish Times literary correspondent died in crash on December 23rd

Eileen Battersby wrote about all aspects of the arts. Photograph: Alan Betson

The funeral of former Irish Times literary correpsondent Eileen Battersby is taking place in Drogheda this morning.

Battersby (60) died on December 23rd following a single-vehicle crash outside Drogheda in Co Meath the previous day. Her daughter Nadia, who was also in the car, survived the incident.

Her funeral was held at St Peter's Church of Ireland in Drogheda followed by cremation at Glasnevin Crematorium.

She is survived by her daughter Nadia, her mother Elizabeth Whiston, sister, Elizabeth, and brothers, William and Breffini.


In her career with The Irish Times Battersby wrote about all aspects of the arts, particularly literature, as well as on classical music, archaeology, historical geography and architectural history.

Four-time winner of the National Arts Journalist of the Year award, she also won the Critic of the Year accolade and published a number of books.

John Banville arrives at the funeral. Photograph: Donall Farmer for The Irish Times

Originally from California, she studied history and English at UCD and later earned a masters degree in literature at the university, with her thesis on the American writer Thomas Wolfe.

Literary reviewer

She started her career in journalism with the Sunday Tribune before moving to The Irish Times as a literary reviewer and arts journalist in 1988, joining the staff in 1990. She was appointed literary correspondent in 2000 and left The Irish Times in July 2018.

Often controversial in her reviews, she became one of the country’s leading critics with an encyclopedic knowledge of the literary canon.

With her interest in archaeology she also reported each year from the winter solstice at Newgrange, Co Meath.

Former Irish Times colleagues arrive. Photograph: Donall Farmer for The Irish Times

A horsewoman and animal lover, she frequently wrote about animals including in her own books. Second Readings: From Beckett to Black Beauty was published in 2009. Ordinary Dogs — A Story of Two Lives was published by Faber in 2011. Teethmarks on My Tongue, her first novel, was published in the US by Dalkey Archive in 2016, and in the UK by Apollo, Head of Zeus, in 2018.

As a literary critic she was a major supporter of fiction in translation. In one of her last articles she wrote a review of Brothers in Ice by Alicia Kopf, a pseudonym of Catalan artist Imma Avalos Marques.

Her view of the debut: “Is it a novel? Who cares? This is fast, fluid, exciting narrative; random, philosophical, alive, questioning, full of precise set pieces, sensations, regret, emotion, self-doubt, defiance, curiosity and a feel for history, fact and human behaviour.”

Poet Michael Longley described the “brilliant” Battersby as a “soul-encounter”. “Conversation with Eileen was tumultuous, full of ideas, sometimes hilarious: a soul-encounter,” he wrote following her death. “She educated us about fiction from around the world. About poetry she could also be wise and perceptive.”

American author Richard Ford noted there was “no best way, and surely no fullest way, to illuminate the precious life or to calculate the dismal loss of Eileen Battersby”.


“I won’t see Eileen be old now, and am the poorer for it,” wrote Ford. “Eileen was intended – more than most – to get old. She was meant to have all her teeming passions, her fruitful language, her wisdom-encrypted-by-reading-and-time, go on being useful to us in the way Walter Benjamin meant useful; which is, to be of counsel about what’s worth it and what’s not regarding the things we read and think and judge to be beautiful and true.

Poet and journalist Katie Donovan wrote that Battersby’s championing of fiction in translation meant that “for decades, Irish readers were afforded a window to a much wider world”.

“Eileen had an intense energy that drove her to pursue excellence, but her broad grin was accompanied by a wistful vulnerability as she dashed through life, always talking about books and her latest conversation with one of her favourite writers,”she wrote, adding that she always remembers former Irish Times literary editor Caroline Walsh at Christmas who was “a great champion of Eileen’s work”. “Like Caroline’s, Eileen’s life ended with shocking suddenness. She will not be forgotten.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast