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Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

I am open to PhD applications in the fields of Contemporary Poetry; Modern Irish and British poetry; Poetics.


Research activity per year

Personal profile

Research Interests

I am the author of The Sun is Open (Penned in the Margins, 2021), Northern Irish Poetry and Theology (Palgrave, 2014), and two pamphlets of poetry: Fothermather (Ink Sweat & Tears, 2019) and Fourteen (Green Bottle Press, 2018). My writing interests include the living and the dead, violence, creatureliness, queerness, and the possibilities and politics of language and form.

The Sun is Open sifts through a boxed archive of public and private materials related to the life and death of my father, who was murdered by the IRA outside our Belfast home in 1984. Moving between child and adult voices, past and present, it attempts to decode the fragments left behind and, with them, piece together a history and a life.

The Sun is Open won the The John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Award and The Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize. It was a Poetry Book of the Month in the Guardian and in The Observer, a book of the year in the TLS and The White Review, and a poetry book of the year in The Telegraph and The Irish Times. The Sun is Open was warmly reviewed in the Dublin Review of Books, Some Flowers Soon and Blackbox Manifold. I write about the book in The Irish Times and further coverage appeared in The Telegraph and the Belfast Telegraph. I discuss the book in conversation with Emily Berry for the Poetry Society podcast, with Pádraig Ó Tuama for the Corrymeela podcast and on Sunday with Steven Rainey on Radio Ulster. With Conor Garrett I made 'The Open Box', an arts feature based on the book for BBC Radio 4. An audiobook with Penned in the Margins is also forthcoming.

Northern Irish Poetry and Theology analyses the relationship between theology and form in the work Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Derek Mahon. I have also written on Northern Irish poetry after the peace process, and on Seamus Heaney and photography. 

With a playfully genderqueer title containing both father and mother, Fothermather explores love, queerness, baby talk, new parenthood and forms of attachment beyond biology. It was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Poetry Award and made into a programme for BBC Radio 4 and the Seriously… podcast produced by Conor Garrett. Fothermather was a BBC Radio 4 Pick of the Week and one of The Observer's Picks of the Week.

Fourteen explores creatureliness, bonds, breaks and IVF. Type Face’, a long poem, concerns my experience of reading a Historical Enquiries Team report about my father's murder.

My research has been published in boundary 2, Irish University Review and The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry. I co-edit The Irish Review. My poems have appeared in Poetry ReviewPN ReviewVirginia Quarterly Review, The Manchester Reviewpast simple, Eborakon, The Tangerine and Stand and been reviewed in The Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, PN Review, Cyphers and Sphinx

In 2021, I was selected by Kei Miller as one of 10 unmissable writers working in the UK for The National Centre for Writing and the British Council. I have received two awards from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

I have had the pleasure of hosting public conversations with a variety of writers including Jeanette Winterson, Maggie Nelson, Alice Oswald, Tracy K. Smith, Siri Hustvedt and Michel Faber. I have given and hosted readings in a wide variety of festivals and venues: Poetry in Aldeburgh, Cúirt, Poetry Now, Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Happy Days International Beckett Festival, Dublin Writers Festival, Aspects Festival, Belfast Festival.

Research Projects

With Karl O’Hanlon (PI) I am Co-Investigator for ‘“Our roots travel widely": Beyond Regionalism and Nationalism in Irish Poetry’ funded by the HEA’s North-South Research Programme (€186k). The project aims to provide a new paradigm for thinking about culture, identity, and politics on the island between 1920 and 1965 by looking beyond regionalism and nationalism as the key arbiters of cultural allegiance on the island and recovering and exploring forgotten voices: feminists, cross-border collaborations and international exchanges, ideological positions outside nationalism/unionism, and the migrants and minorities who enriched Irish poetry. The project began in August 2022 and will run for two years.

I was Principal Investigator for 'Listening to Voices: Creative Disruptions with the Hearing Voices Network' funded by the AHRC (2015-16). The project brought together voice-hearing networks, independent artists and academics to develop resources for creative listening practice, to analyse notions of ‘voice’ and to foreground what is challenging and meaningful about the collaborative process and the politics of authority in textual production.




'The Sun is Open is a work of extraordinary emotion, written with extraordinary control. It is also - perhaps extraordinarily - a work of joy.' Joanna Walsh

'Each page is rich with exquisite and surprising language, pain, and wisdom.' Maggie Nelson

'In this devastating yet immersive book, McConnell skilfully utilises juxtaposition, understatement and negative space to offer us an intimate work of poetic testimony.' Mary Jean Chan, The Guardian 

'one of the most startling elegies in print.' Adam Piette, Blackbox Manifold

'The Sun is Open employs a grammar in which everything is significant, from Wendy Houses, to the very hairs of your head, to the poetry of First Aid instructions, to slaters. This is meticulous and painstaking - sometimes pain-making work - making the words fit the columns, be they inches of newsprint or entries in an Account Book, negotiating or nudging the meanings into alternative senses. A series of ethical considerations and transactions, credits and debits that sometimes demand to be accounted for, or judged, or at least spoken of in the light of whatever the forensics might or might never unfold.' - Ciaran Carson

Fothermather… startles and astounds with wit and the fulsomeness of love’ - Donika Kelly (author of Bestiary)

‘An astonishing series of nineteen poems, where the traditional literary equation between stanza and room, or the biologistic equivalence of room and womb, yield to pages of undersea fluidity and pre-linguistic play... Fothermather is a vision of queer parenthood [whose] many formal pleasures... are accompanied by a needling vulnerability. This is a book of thoughtful welcome and letting-go, where language gives way to newness and wonder.’ - Vahni Capildeo, PN Review

Fothermather is a playful and intriguing venture into understanding identity’ - Poetry Book Society

‘There is a poetry which makes other poetry look and sound like it’s been recorded on C90 cassette tapes. Gail McConnell’s pamphlet Fourteen – impressive, dense, playful, formally nimble – marks out one such completely new register in Irish poetry.' - Damian Smyth, Arts Council of Northern Ireland

‘Poems that deal with issues of the utmost gravity – matters of life and death – nevertheless display a rueful lightness of touch’ - Ciaran Carson

‘Here are the fragments and little moons of the everyday, changed by the filter of an explicit conceptual architecture... a continued formal orchestration and lyrical capability’ - Cyphers

‘a special talent’ - Poetry Ireland Review



‘Often outstanding… McConnell’s analysis of Seamus Heaney’s much-read early poem, “Blackberry Picking,” is a bravura piece of close reading, bringing to the surface (or rather, showing how it is already there on the surface) Heaney’s drive toward a poetics of sacramentalism and Real Presence (all of this read brilliantly alongside his confessed debts to Hopkins). McConnell applies this degree of clarity to many other poems... More than any other critic, McConnell makes Heaney’s Catholic reflexes on the level of diction, metaphor, structure, and symbolism fully visible; at the same time, she shows how those very reflexes trouble the poet, and produce a degree of counter-pressure that is itself just as central to his achievement… Her readings are telling, detailed, and hugely sensitive ones. A fine and significant study.’ - Professor Peter McDonald, breac

‘Gail McConnell is an insightful and incisive writer. Northern Irish Poetry and Theology… is striking in its care and attention to detail. The close readings of each poet’s work are the sites of deep insights and persuasive questioning. A compelling analysis… Northern Irish Poetry and Theology is an important and challenging document within contemporary criticism that clearly situates Gail McConnell as a key figure within upcoming Northern Irish criticism.’ - Literature and Theology 

‘Gail McConnell is adept in her uses of the theology of the text… An admirable analysis… rich hermeneutical drive’ - Irish Studies Review

‘A significant contribution to the field, deepening our understanding of the theological issues at stake in modern Irish and Northern Irish poetry.’ - Irish University Review


I am convenor of the MA in Poetry: Creativity and Criticism, and I convene and teach on a range of postgraduate modules: 'Reading and Writing Poetry', 'The Poetry Collection' and 'Irish Poetry from W.B. Yeats to the Present Day' and the MA Poetry Dissertation module. At undergraduate level I lecture and teach on 'English in Transition' and 'English in Context: An Introduction to Contemporary Fiction' and convene the final year module 'Contemporary Literature: Poetry and Precariousness in the Twenty-First Century'. I supervise undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations in literary criticism and poetry.

Current PhD supervision

Jamie Anderson, 'Things in Northern Irish Poetry: From Mahon to Morrissey'. (With Professor Fran Brearton) AHRC-funded.

Shannon Kelly, 'No Foreign Sky: Censorship and poetry in the Soviet Union and Northern Ireland'. (With Dr. Stephen Sexton) AHRC-funded.

James Costello O'Reilly, 'Northern Irish Poetry and the News'. (With Professor Fran Brearton) AHRC-funded.

Eva Isherwood-Wallace, 'Sculpture and Silence: Laura Riding and her Female Contemporaries'. (With Professor Fran Brearton) AHRC-funded. 

William Keohane, 'Boxing Day: Time and Contradiction in Transgender Poetry'. (With Dr. Stephen Sexton) AHRC-funded.

Christina McCambridge, 'Louis MacNeice and America'. (With Professor Fran Brearton). AHRC-funded.

Completed PhD Theses

Mícheál McCann, Devotion (Creative Component) & 'The Queer Body in Elegy: Two Approaches' (Critical Component). (With Dr. Leontia Flynn) AHRC-funded. Completed Jan 2024.

Susannah Dickey, Isdal (Creative Component) & '"I was ashamed, but undaunted (my epithet?)": intersections of shame and elegy in Maggie Nelson's Jane: A Murder'. (With Dr Stephen Sexton) AHRC-funded. Completed June 2023.

Dawn Watson, 'We Play Here' (Creative Component). 'Strangely Alive': Elizabeth Bishop and the 'Art of Story Writing'. (Critical Component). (With Dr Leontia Flynn) AHRC-funded. Completed Nov 2022.

Milena Williamson, ‘The Garden Cannot be Unplanted' (Creative Component). 'Ciaran Carson's War Correspondences: Intertextual Fusion in Breaking News’ (Critical Component). With Dr Stephen Sexton and Professor Fran Brearton. Completed Nov 2022.

Patrick Macfarlane, 'Yeats and Labour'. AHRC-funded. Completed August 2020.

Tara McEvoy, 'Forms of Dissent in the work of James Simmons and Padraic Fiacc: poetry, politics, and publishing in Northern Ireland, 1960–1980'. (With Professor Fran Brearton) AHRC-funded. Completed September 2020.

Timothy Carson, '"Perpetual Benedictions": Wordsworth and the Bible'. (With Dr Daniel Roberts) Completed June 2017.

Stephen Sexton, Creative thesis: If All the World and Love Were Young; Critical Thesis: “A Body That is Made into A Sign”: Elegy, Translation and Ekphrasis in Anne Carson’s Nox (With Professor Sinéad Morrissey). Completed May 2017.

Charlene Small, 'The Father Figure in Contemporary Irish Poetry’. (With Professor Fran Brearton) Completed March 2015.

Alice Lyons, 'The Breadbasket of Europe: new poems and moving images; Perpetual Speech: Hollis Frampton's Gloria! as Lyric Poem’. (With Professor Ciaran Carson and Dr Colin Graham) Completed May 2014.


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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