Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin was born in Cork in 1942. Her father, Cormac O’Chuilleanáin was a university professor of Irish, and her mother, Eilis Dillon, was a prolific novelist. She graduated from University College Cork in 1962, with a B.A. in English and history, followed by a master’s in English in 1964. She later studied at Oxford. Ní Chuilleanáin was Associate Professor of English, Dean of the Faculty of Arts (Letters), and a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin until her retirement in 2011. Since then she has continued to teach an option on John Donne and also contributes to the M.Phil in Medieval Language, Literature and Culture, and to the M.Phils in Literary Translation and Comparative Literature, in the School of Modern Languages Literatures and Cultures.
She edits the literary journal, Cyphers, with two other poet-editors, including her husband MacDara Woods. She and her husband have a son, Niall.
She is often cited not only as a major poet in the generation after Kinsella, Montague and Murphy, but also as the foremost female poet now writing in Ireland and Great Britain.
She won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for her first book, Acts and Monuments (1966), which was followed by Site of Ambush (1975), both published by the Gallery Press. Selections from these two books, published by Wake Forest University Press as The Second Voyage (1977), were re-issued in 1991 in a revised version, complimentary to a new book, The Magdalene Sermon and Earlier Poems. The Magdalene Sermon was chosen as one of the three best books of poetry of 1989 by the Irish Times/Aer Lingus Poetry Book Prize Committee. Wake Forest published The Brazen Serpent in 1995, and included many of her poems in The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women’s Poetry, 1967-2000, which came out in 1999. She and Medbh McGuckian translated the poems of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill in The Water Horse (2001), and her volume, The Girl Who Married the Reindeer, came out in 2002. Wake Forest published her Selected Poems in 2009, and The Sun-fish, which was the International Winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2010. Wake Forest published her newest volume, The Legend of the Walled-Up Wife, translations from the Romanian poetry of Ileana Mӑlӑncioiu, in 2012.
In 1992, she was awarded the prestigious O’Shaughnessy Poetry Award by The Irish American Cultural Institute, which called her “among the very best poets of her generation.”