Patrick Kavanagh: Biography
Patrick Kavanagh was born in October 1904 in Mucker, Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan. His father was a shoemaker, and Patrick also entered the trade after leaving school. Kavanagh never got beyond 6th class –“I majored in kicking a rag ball”, but his education continued as he sat at his father’s side and as he carried out the routine chores on the little farm. For twenty years he lived the life of the ordinary young Irish farmer of the period, toiling for a few shillings’ pocket money in fields he expected some day to inherit. Like all the other local farmers, he bought and sold at fair and market, went to Sunday Mass, attended wakes, funerals and weddings of neighbours, played pitch and toss at the crossroads, cycled to dances. He was also goalie for the Inniskeen Gaelic football team. It was through these every day moments that something of life revealed itself to Kavanagh.
He began to write verse in his early teens –“I dabbled in verse and it became my life”
He began submitting poems to local and national newspapers. In 1928 he walked to Dublin to meet and make his first contact with the literary world. Macmillan’s of London published his first book of poetry “Ploughman and Other Poems” in 1936. They also gave Kavanagh an advance on a book about rural life thus “The Green Fool” was born.
He became increasingly dissatisfied with life as a small farmer, and in 1938 he left Inniskeen for London and remained there for about five months. In 1939 he finally settled in Dublin. There he was welcomed into the literary community as “The Ploughman Poet”, but when it became clear that he had ambitions of being a great poet he soon lost his popularity. He eked out a living as a journalist, where his refusal to tell anything less than the whole truth made him an enemy of many.
During his journalistic career Kavanagh continued to write poetry.
His epic poem “The Great Hunger” was published in 1942 and his classic novel “Tarry Flynn” was published in 1948 (- the only true account of rural life in Ireland), both books were initially banned on publication.
In 1954 two major events changed Kavanagh’s life: firstly he embarked on a libel action and ended up being torn apart in the dock himself, then shortly after he lost the action (which was subsequently won on appeal) he was diagnosed with lung cancer and was admitted to hospital where he had a lung removed. It was while recovering from this operation by relaxing on the banks of the Grand Canal in Dublin that Kavanagh rediscovered his poetic vision, which had first captured him as a young man in Inniskeen, and a new and wonderful phase of poetry followed. Kavanagh was now receiving the acclaim, which he had always felt he deserved. He gave lectures at UCD and in the U.S.A. He represented Ireland at literature symposia and became a judge of the Guinness Poetry Awards. Seamus Heaney was the recipient of this award in 1967.
The Abbey Theatre had a major success with their stage version of Kavanagh’s “Tarry Flynn” which they also staged at Dundalk’s Town Hall. This was the triumphant return of a prophet to his own land.
Patrick Kavanagh took ill at the opening performance and he died later that week in a Dublin nursing home on November 30th 1967.
(From www.patrickkavanaghcountry.com )
For more information on Kavanagh’s life, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Kavanagh
Patrick Kavanagh discusses his experience of moving to Dublin
Self Portrait: Patrick Kavanagh
In ‘Self Portrait: Patrick Kavanagh’, the poet made his debut on television. In this extract, Kavanagh tells the audience of his dislike for talking about himself and comments on the growth of interest among the media in “personal data”.
“…I dislike talking about myself in a direct way: the self is only interesting as an illustration. For some strange reason, whenever we talk about our personal lives, it turns out to be both irrelevant and untrue. Even when the facts are right, the mood is wrong…”
Kavanagh’s script for the documentary ‘Self Portrait’ was later published in print
In the radio documentary ‘Gods Make Their Own Importance’, Kavanagh’s sisters and a neighbour talked to Tom McGurk about the poet’s early days. Kavanagh finished school early but maintained an interest in reading through the books his sisters and brother used in their schooling.
Listen here: Neighbours discuss Kavanagh’s early life
The actor Russell Crowe is a big fan of Kavanagh’s work; reciting his poem ‘Sancity’ at the BAFTA awards.
The poem was put to music when the poet met Luke Kelly of the well-known Irish band ‘The Dubliners’ in a pub in Dublin called The Bailey. It was set to the music of the traditional song “The Dawning of the Day” (Fáinne Geal an Lae). An Irish-language song with this name (Fáinne Geal an Lae) was published by Edward Walsh (1805-1850) in 1847 in Irish Popular Songs, and later translated into English as The Dawning of the Day, published by Patrick Weston Joyce in 1873.
The song, often known simply as “Raglan Road”, has since been sung by the Dubliners, the Young Dubliners, Van Morrison, Sinéad O’Connor, Dire Straits, Billy Bragg, Roger Daltrey, Loreena McKennitt, Orla Fallon, and Nyle Wolfe among others.
The Luke Kelly version was also featured in a poignant scene in the 2008 film, In Bruges.
Luke Kelly sings ‘Raglan Road.’
Useful Links:Trinity College’s Kavanagh website: http://www.tcd.ie/English/patrickkavanagh/ —
The Patrick Kavanagh Centre website: http://www.patrickkavanaghcountry.com/ — Text of the poems: http://www.poemhunter.com/patrick-kavanagh/ —
RTE’s Kavanagh site contains audio and video from their archives.