May 23, 2024


Publication Date: November 15, 2022

Print Length: 200 pages

Previous Author Publications:

  • Selected Poems (2016)
  • Four Sides Full (2016)
  • Double Negative (2019)
  • Link: Poet and World (2021)
  • Women of Winter (2023)


In Hereafter, The Telling Life of Ellen O’Hara, acclaimed Irish poet, Vona Groarke, combines archival materials, family stories and historical records along with imagined conversations to recreate the life of Ellen O’Hara, the great-grandmother she never knew.

Facing the economic hardship common in Ireland in the late 19th century, Ellen, along with many other Irish women, immigrated to New York city in pursuit of a better life. After finding work as a domestic, records show she married John Grady and had two children, but Ellen was later abandoned by her husband.

After moving her children back to Ireland, Ellen continued to support them by managing a boarding house in New York City until she saved enough money to reunite her family including her daughter. Years later, after Ellen’s daughter married, she decided to return to Ireland with her children one of whom was Vona’s mother. The family became separated once again and all that remained of Ellen’s legacy were the stories Vona’s mother would recount about Ellen, the feisty grandmother she left behind when her family moved back to Ireland.

After Groarke was awarded a Cullman Fellowship in 2018, she set out to gather archives from the New York Public Library to trace her great-grandmother’s life as an Irish immigrant at the end of the 19th century. In the process, she was able to compile a broader narrative that documented the difficulties Irish women faced as domestics in New York City as well as the contribution they made to the Irish economy when they transmitted a portion of the wages back to their families in Ireland.


Redwine, Elizabeth Brewer, “Vona Groarke, Hereafter: The Telling Life of Ellen O’Hara.” Edinburgh University Press, Volume 53, Issue 2,

McDermott, Peter, “Resilient Ellen left a light trace.” Irish Echo, November 16, 2022.

Sutherland, Matt, “A genre-bending book from one of the best poets writing in Ireland today.” Foreword,


  • While Groarke used a variety of archival resources to trace her great-grandmother’s life, she also imagined having conversations with her great-grandmother.  Did this combined approach help Groarke to craft an authentic picture of the person her great-grandmother once was?

  • Groarke’s account has highlighted the difficult life Irish women encountered when they immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s. What combination of resourcefulness and determination allowed these women to survive and prosper?

  • Throughout her book, Groarke incorporated copies of historical records, newspaper clippings and other narrative accounts to depict the lives of Irish women who worked as domestics. Did you find that her descriptions captured what life was like during this era in America, as well as in Ireland?

  • Groarke’s narrative is a journey of discovery. Did her account highlight the many challenges associated with reimagining the past when historical records can provide only a partial picture of the lives working class women like her great- grandmother once lived?

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