Eilís Dillon Robert Bell - Essay

Robert Bell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Eilís Dillon's] particular and near-magical skill in evoking the atmosphere of Ireland and the attitudes and way of life of its people are nowhere more in evidence than in this superb story [The Sea Wall]. (p. 119)

Interest is caught from the first page and held firmly throughout. Description and character drawing are beautifully done, and the island will be a very real place to young readers. (p. 120)

Robert Bell, "Seven to Eleven: 'The Sea Wall'," in The School Librarian and School Library Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, March, 1966, pp. 119-20.

In the best adventure stories, the exploits and excitements seem to arise quite naturally from what people are; the characters are not mere cogs in the machinery of the plot. Eilís Dillon again and again achieves this sort of excellence; and it is tempting to suggest that she is helped by her setting. In the little Irish islands she writes of, people take to the sea, and have the natural adventures of the seafarer, as part of their daily existence. Again, there is not that severe articulation of life into the juvenile and the adult that is a feature of larger communities; and where handfuls of people live closely together, in isolation and according to restricted patterns of living, their characters ripen and grow rich. But having said all that—having made, as it were, a gesture of envy towards Miss Dillon's subject matter—one has to say that she is simply a good writer, loving and understanding people, and concerned to tell stories that are as exciting as adventure stories should be but in which the events are tied firmly to human probability.

The Cruise of the Santa Maria is one of her best…. The account of the journey and of the excitements that follow when they bring the daughter home with them is beautifully done, but under the narrative thrills there is the constant and more enduring excitement of language well used, of character sympathetically examined.

"Oh Boys! Oh Boys!" in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1967; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3404, May 25, 1967, p. 443.