radio & podcasts

Sublimer Wishes

Sublimer Wishes explores the lives and poetry of Irish women from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries whose work, after years of neglect, is being re-discovered.

Episode 1: Olivia Elder, Cathleen O’Neill, Madge Herron – first broadcast Sunday 28th November 2021 at 6 pm on RTÉ lyric fm

Episode 2: Angela Greene, Dorothea Herbert, Florence Mary Wilson – to be broadcast Sunday 6 March 2022 at 6 pm on RTÉ lyric fm

Episode 3: Ellen Taylor, Emily Lawless, Freda Laughton – broadcast to be confirmed


“For spite of all sublimer wishes

I needs must sometimes wash the dishes.”

(Olivia Elder, 1735-1780)

Ah, yes, we can all empathise with Olivia Elder’s lament about daily life getting in the way of her desire to spend time writing poetry and reading. 

On Sunday 28th November at 6 pm on RTÉ lyric fm Claire Cunningham presents Sublimer Wishes, which tells the stories of three poets whose work has been recently rediscovered. Andrew Carpenter introduces us to Olivia Elder, who was born in Aghadowey in Northern Ireland in 1735. Andrew edited The Poems of Olivia Elder, published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission in 2017, and her lively poems are read on the programme by Eleanor Methven.

Emma Penney tells us about the work of Cathleen O’Neill, who played a key role in setting up writing groups and encouraging adult education in the 1980s, and reads poems by Cathleen which describe the lives of working class women in 20th century Dublin.

In Donegal, we meet Patricia Herron, who recalls meeting her aunt, the poet Madge Herron. Patricia’s biography of her aunt, Madge: portrait of Donegal actress and poet Madge Herron (copies available by contacting, was published in 2016. Poet Jane Robinson admires Madge Herron’s nature poetry and describes a performance she gave in Dublin in the 1970s. We also hear rare recordings of the poet’s own voice from a 1977 RTÉ radio documentary by Kevin O’Connor.

The book Irish Women Poets Rediscovered, edited by Maria Johnston and Connor Linnie and published by Cork University Press, includes chapters on these three poets: Olivia Elder (by Andrew Carpenter), Cathleen O’Neill (Emma Penney) and Madge Herron (Jane Robinson) and the work of a further 14 poets.

This episode of Sublimer Wishes is the first in an occasional series of programmes produced by Rockfinch Ltd for RTÉ lyric fm and funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland from the Television Licence Fee. The producer for RTÉ lyric fm is Eoin O’Kelly. Later episodes, due for broadcast in 2022, will feature the work of more poets from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

After broadcast, the programme will be available to podcast on the usual podcast platforms and on the RTÉ Radio Player.


Madge Herron (courtesy of Patricia Herron)