Author Eilís Dillon:
Some assessments
of her achievement

The following tributes to Eilís Dillon were printed shortly after her death in 1994.

It is notoriously unwise to forecast which of the hundreds of thousands of children's books of the present day will join that very exclusive grouping which, in their timelessness and universality, will become the classics of future centuries. It does, however, seem certain that Eilís Dillon's best novels will continue to be read as long as children retain the urge to be taken out of themselves and into strong and powerful stories.

Robert Dunbar
Children's Books in Ireland


It was not just that she kept the inkwell of Irish children's writing brimming through pretty unproductive decades; for a long period she was that inkwell, an inspiration to other children's writers struggling to make an impact.

Eoghan Corry, The Irish Independent


Her books will be a lasting testament to her, as will her work for writers and writing in this country."
John Banville


Declan Kiberd wrote in The Irish Times:

The death of Eilís Dillon-Mercier has removed from the Irish scene not only a graceful and accomplished writer, but also a powerful and influential advocate in the cause of all artists. It would be difficult for any friend or commentator to do justice to the versatility of her literary output, the lucid grace of her prose, the warmth and range of her friendships, or to the firmness of spirit and shrewdness of purpose with which she launched herself into many worthy projects.
She first came to prominence as a writer of children's books in Irish and, a little later, in English. if today there are whole sections in our bookshops devoted to Irish children's literature, that is due in great part to her pioneering contribution, which helped to raise the prestige of this once-neglected area of literary endeavour. There was, however, nothing narrowly provincial in her writing: she simply assumed that books about children in Irish settings, if properly written, would be of universal interest. And so they have proved to be. [ ... ]
What Laura Ingalls Wilder did for children's literature in the US, she achieved in Ireland, imparting a sure historical sense in books such as The Singing Cave. That interest in history was a natural expression of her curiosity of mind, and of her family inheritance. Across the Bitter Sea is her most acclaimed historical novel for adults: it deals with the traumas of 19th century Ireland. Its sequel, Blood Relations, treats of the post-Rising period, whose struggles Eilís Dillon knew well: her earliest memory was of her mother's arrest by the Black and Tans. [ ... ]
All of her books were researched with scholarly scruple and written with a tremendous attention to exactitude of language. Of none was this more true than Citizen Burke; many will concur with her late husband, the critic Vivian Mercier, in judging it her finest achievement. This study of an Irish priest, set against the turbulent backdrop of the French and Irish revolutions at the end of the 18th century, is a work of imaginative reconstruction, but one in which the pressure of felt experience is registered on every page.

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