”Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.”
– Patrick Kavanagh
Kavanagh was born on the 21st of October 1904, in the village of Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan. His father was a shoemaker and had a small farm of land. Kavanagh received only primary school education and at the age of thirteen, he became an apprentice shoemaker. He gave it up 15 months later, admitting that he didn’t make one wearable pair of boots. For the next 20 years, Kavanagh would work on the family farm before moving to Dublin in 1939.
Kavanagh’s interest in literature and poetry marked him out as different to other people in his local place. In a society that was insular and agricultural, a man’s worth was measured by the straightness of the furrow he could plough, rather than the lines of poetry he could write. Kavanagh’s first attempts to become a published poet resulted in the publication of some poems in a local newspaper in the early 1930’s, and by the publishing of his autobiographical novel by Tarry Flynn. In 1939, urged by his brother Peter, who was a Dublin based teacher, Kavanagh moved to the city to establish himself as a writer. At that time, the Dublin Literary Society was dominated by an educated Anglo-Irish group with whom Kavanagh had nothing in common, among them were Oliver St. John Gogarty and Douglas Wylie. They saw Kavanagh as a country bumpkin and referred to him as “That Monaghan Boy”.
Kavanagh’s early years in Dublin were unproductive as he struggled for recognition. In 1947, his first major collection “A Soul for Sale”, was published. These poems were the product of his Monaghan youth. In the early 1950’s, Kavanagh and his brother Peter, published a weekly newspaper called “Kavanagh’s Weekly”, it failed because the editorial viewpoint was too narrow. In 1954, Kavanagh became embroiled in an infamous court case. He accused “The Leader” newspaper of slander. The newspaper decided to contest the case and employed the former Taoiseach, John A. Costello, as their defence council. Kavanagh decided to prosecute the case himself and he was destroyed by Costello. The court case dragged on for over a year and Kavanagh’s health began to fail. In 1955, he was diagnosed as having lung cancer and had a lung removed, Kavanagh survived and the event was a major turning point in his life and career. In 1958, he published “Come Dancing with Kitty Stobling”. In 1959, he was appointed to the faculty of English in UCD by John A. Costello. His lectures were popular, but often irrelevant to the course. In the early 1960’s, he visited Britain and USA. In 1965, he married Katherine Malony. He died in 1967 from an attack of bronchitis. Kavanagh’s reputation as a poet is based on the lyrical quality of his work, his mastery of language and form and his ability to transform the ordinary and the benal into something of significance.
See Antoinette Quinn, Patrick Kavanagh: a Biography. Gill and Macmillan, 2001
Poems of Patrick Kavanagh
- Canal Bank Walk
- Come Dancing with Kitty Stobling
- In Memory of My Mother
- On An Apple- Ripe September Morning
- On Raglan Road
- Patrick Kavanagh Poems
- Stony Grey Soil