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Former Irish Times critic Eileen Battersby dies following car crash

Literary correspondent critically injured in single-vehicle crash 4km outside Drogheda

Eileen Battersby with one of her dogs ‘Kingsley’ in 2011. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Former Irish Times literary correspondent Eileen Battersby has died following a car crash in Co Meath on Saturday.

Ms Battersby (60) was critically injured in the single-vehicle crash in the townland of Sheephouse on the Oldbridge to Donore road, 4km outside Drogheda. She and her daughter, Nadia, who was also injured in the incident, were taken to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

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-times 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.

Originally from California in the US, 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.

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.

Horsewoman

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.”

Eileen Battersby pictured in 2010 near her home in Co Meath. File photograph: Alan Betson

The Editor of The Irish Times, Paul O’Neill, said Battersby’s “distinctive voice, passion, insight and sharp critical faculties” had made “an immeasurable contribution to Irish Times literary coverage over three decades and won her an international audience and reputation as one of the most influential critics of her generation”.

On behalf of her former colleagues and friends, he extended his sympathy to her daughter, Nadia.

Irish Times Books Editor Martin Doyle said: “This is truly shocking news. My heart goes out to Eileen’s daughter Nadia. 

“Eileen was a fearless and forthright critic and was internationally renowned as a passionate champion of literature, particularly works in translation. 

“Her enthusiasm was infectious, be it for her beloved horses and dogs or a newly discovered or neglected author. She will be greatly missed.”

‘Passionate curiosity’

Irish Times writer, columnist and former literary editor Fintan O’Toole said: “Everything Eileen wrote was marked by a passionate curiosity. She had an insatiable interest in art, in architecture, in archaeology and of course in literature, especially fiction.

“That curiosity extended to fiction in translation: she wanted to know what was being written in Korea or in Bangladesh just as much as in Ireland or Britain,” he added.

“As a critic she could be fierce, but I think everyone recognised that the fierceness was a product of her passion and of the very high expectations she had of what a book could and should achieve. And it was that same fierce passion that made her such a powerful advocate of the books she loved and championed.

“You always knew that if she raved about a book it would be well worth reading, and that’s the best thing you can say about a critic.”

Man Booker prizewinner and former Irish Times literary editor John Banville said: “Eileen was my dear friend – and the most delightfully difficult person I ever worked with.

“Part of the difficulty was that she would NEVER relent when the question was of quality – in her purview, no talent went uncelebrated, no mediocrity went unmasked.

“She loved literature with a passion almost as intense as her love of animals and the natural world. And she had such a rich sense of humour, especially when the joke was on her. Oh dear, how we shall miss her.”

Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins said news of Battersby’s death “ will have been heard with both shock and enormous sadness by those familiar with her work.”
 

He added: “They will have been impressed over the years by the sheer breadth of her interests, her insatiable curiosity for what was being produced in writing in both English and lesser known languages, which she reviewed in translation.

“Among all those, including Sabina and I, who have read her unique pieces over the years, there will be a feeling that criticism of fiction in particular has suffered a great loss. Indeed, to all those in the world of
books, there will be a sense that a critic relied upon by so many readers, and respected by writers, has been taken from us.

“All of us owe her a debt of gratitude for her unstinting efforts to bring the best writers from around the world to our attention, her unflinching standards, and for the enthusiasm with which she brought her celebration of all aspects of the arts to so many different audiences. Sabina and I send our deepest condolences to her daughter Nadia, and the members of her family”.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan said she was saddened to hear the news. 

“Eileen was an immensely well-regarded arts critic and journalist – winning numerous awards during her career including the National Arts Journalist of the Year award – as well as publishing a number of works of both fiction and non-fiction.,” she said. “She will be greatly missed.  I would also like to offer my sincere condolences to Eileen’s family and friends at this sad time.”

Séamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, expressed condolences to the family and friends of Battersby, whom he described as a “unique figure in Irish journalism.

“Eileen was a unique figure in Irish journalism. She brought style, colour and flair to her work. Eileen loved language and in recent years as a novelist and a regular contributor to Sunday Miscellany enjoyed reaching new audiences. Our sympathy to Nadia, to her extended family and to all who knew and admired her work”.

Appeal for witnesses

Gardaí in Ashbourne are investigating the crash which happened at about 2pm and have appealed for witnesses or anyone with information to contact them on (01) 801 0600, the Garda confidential line on 1800 666 111 or any Garda station.