Boylan, Clare Catherine (1948–2006), journalist and writer, was born 21 April 1948 in Dublin, the youngest of three daughters of Patrick Boylan, a clerk, and his wife Evelyn (née Selby). Clare's mother felt trapped by the limitations that domesticity imposed on women in 1950s Ireland, and had wanted to have a writing career; she encouraged her daughter to send off stories and poems to newspapers. The first piece was published when Clare was 14, and she won a prize in the national Texaco Children's Art Competition when she was about 10 years old.
The family lived in the Dublin suburb of Terenure; Clare went to school in the Presentation convent, then St Louis convent in Rathmines, and did her leaving certificate in Rathmines College. She then began working as a sales assistant in Eason's bookshop, but was still submitting pieces to newspapers, and took a job in the library of the Irish Press newspaper; almost immediately, at the age of 18, she became a journalist with the paper.
In the patriarchal realm of 1960s newspapers, the petite and pretty Boylan was assigned 'soft' news stories and wrote mainly women's interest features. But she was ambitious and capable of writing perceptively and incisively, and in 1967 at age 19 became editor of Young Woman magazine, and then of Woman's Choice (1968–9). She then moved back to the Press group as a feature writer on the Evening Press, and in 1973 won the Benson and Hedges National Press Award for journalist of the year for a series of articles on 'derelict women'. By 1980 she was one of the best-known journalists in Ireland, and contributed feature articles and book reviews to British newspapers and magazines. Her appointment in that year to the editorship of the successful glossy magazine Image consolidated her position, giving her considerable influence in the literary and cultural circles in which she moved.
However, her experience of life had not been all glamour; she and her sisters had experienced the distress occasioned by the mental illness of their father, who as an elderly man was committed to a secure mental hospital. The disappointments of her mother's life, and the human interest stories that Boylan had researched as a young journalist, contributed to her motivation for becoming a creative writer; for her, as she wrote in an article in the Irish Times (13 July 1984), 'fiction is merely a different kind of vehicle for truth', and she had become impatient with the constraints imposed by the conventions of journalism. She first published short stories, and then her novel Holy pictures (1983) appeared. In the spring of 1984, she surprised everyone by leaving the prestigious editorship of Image to concentrate on writing novels. She did not return to full-time journalism, though she continued to write articles and to do restaurant reviews for Image. Holy pictures was very positively reviewed by several of Boylan's former colleagues. Later novels – Last resorts (1984), Black baby (1988), Home rule (1992) and Beloved stranger (1999) – did not receive universal critical acclaim, but all sold well, and with the passage of time may come to be seen as significant re-creations of women's experiences of life in Dublin in the twentieth century. Room for a single lady (1997) won the Spirit of Life award. Boylan's short stories, collected in several volumes (A nail on the head (1983), Concerning virgins (1989), and That bad woman (1995)) were particularly skilfully written, often with sardonic humour cutting across pathos. One story was made into the film Making waves (1987, dir. Jenny Wilkes), nominated for an Oscar short film award in 1988. A nail on the head was chosen as one of the ten books to launch the Talking Books for the Blind project in Ireland in 1989.
Boylan contributed to creative writing courses and workshops, and also edited The agony and the ego: the art and strategy of fiction writing explored (1993). She delighted in the quirky, and was editor of The literary companion to cats (1994). She had an international popularity and most of her work has been translated into various languages. Interviews with Boylan appeared frequently, in magazines and in television and radio programmes, and she was often asked to be a judge in literary competitions, including the Booker prize in 1978 and the Irish Times literature prize in 1993. She was a member of Aosdána from 1996.
In 2003 Boylan's most ambitious novel appeared: Emma Brown was written as the completion of a tantalising story fragment, left unfinished at the death of the nineteenth-century author Charlotte Brontë, with whom Boylan felt considerable empathy. Critics and readers were impressed by the research-based period accuracy and inventiveness of Boylan's story, which attempted to explore themes that characterise Brontë's fiction, as well as her own work, such as construction of identity and the roles that society allowed women. The book had only just been published, to international acclaim, when Boylan was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had to undergo gruelling but unavailing treatments. At her death aged 58 in Dublin at Our Lady's Hospice, Harold's Cross, on 16 May 2006, she was survived by her husband, Alan Wilkes, a journalist, who had been a colleague on the Irish Press. They had been married in St Patrick's church in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, on 18 September 1970, and lived most of their married life in Co. Wicklow; they had no children.