Poet Patrick Kavanagh

Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967) in 1963. Photo by Elinor Wiltshire. Courtesy National Library of Ireland & Wikimedia Commons

Patrick Kavanagh
Born October 21 1904(1904-Template:MONTHNUMBER-21)
Inniskeen, County Monaghan, Ireland
Died November 30 1967(1967-Template:MONTHNUMBER-30) (aged 63)
Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Occupation Poet, novelist
Nationality Republic of Ireland Irish
Period 1928-1967
Genres poet, novelist
Subjects Irish life, nature

Patrick Joseph Kavanagh (21 October 1904 - 30 November 1967) was an Irish poet and novelist.



Kavanagh is regarded as a foremost poet of the 20th century,; his best known works include the novel Tarry Flynn and the poems "On Raglan Road" and "The Great Hunger".[1] His work can best be categorised as accounts of Irish life that achieved a universal appeal through reference to commonplace.[2]

Family and youthEdit

Kavanagh was born in the rural townland of Inniskeen, co. Monaghan in 1904. He was the 4th of 10 children.[3] His father, James, was a shoemaker and small farmer, the illegitimate son of a schoolteacher called Keaveney which the local priest changed to Kavanagh. The teacher had to leave the area following the scandal and never taught in a national school again.

Kavanagh's family were certainly intelligent - his brother Peter became a university professor and writer; two of his sisters were teachers, 3 nurses (two of which were formidable matrons); and 1 a nun. This was a considerable achievement for a poor family.

Patrick also entered the shoemaking trade after leaving school. He never got beyond 6th class, leaving Kednaminsha National School in 1916, at the age of 13. His love of poetry started at that young age. He once said, "I majored in kicking a rag ball", but his education continued as he sat at his father's side and carried out the routine chores on their farm. He self-educated himself with extensive reading, often while outside on the outlying farm under a bush.

Adult lifeEdit

For 20 years Kavanagh lived a life as an ordinary young Irish farmer of the period, toiling for pocket money on the small family farm. His parents bought an additional small farm for him at Shancoduff townland beside Rocksavage Fort. Like all the other local farmers he participated in rural life, bought and sold at fairs and markets, went to Sunday Mass, attended wakes, funerals, and weddings, played pitch and toss at the crossroads and cycled to dances. He was also goalkeeper for the Inniskeen Gaelic football team.

Kavanagh began writing verse at a young age and he began submitting poems to local and national newspapers. The first to be published appeared in 1928 in the Dundalk Democrat and the Irish Independent. This was followed by poems appearing in literary magazines. He walked the 80 kilometres to Dublin to meet leading literary figures in 1931. In Dublin he met George William Russell (AE), editor of the Irish Statesman, who encouraged him and gave him books, among them works by Feodor Dostoyevsky, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Robert Browning. AE also introduced Kavanagh to other literary figures.[4]

Kavanagh joined Dundalk library, and the 1st book he borrowed was The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. He became increasingly dissatisfied with the confines of rural life, wanting recognition as a poet and association with like-minded people. In 1938 he left Inniskeen for London and remained there for about 5 months. In 1939 he finally settled in Dublin.

After World War II Kavanagh needed money; work was nigh impossible to be found in the Irish Free State and the Dublin area in particular. His instinct was to return to Inniskeen, but for some unknown reason he sought work in late 1946 in Belfast as a barman, working in a number of Public Houses in the Falls Road area. During this period he lodged in the Beechmount area in a house where he was related to the tenant through the tenant's brother-in-law in Ballymackney, co. Monaghan.

A misunderstanding with the son-in-law of the tenant resulted in his leaving this house but almost immediately he found accommodation in the St. James' area of Belfast in a house owned by the previously named tenant's son. He stayed in this new accommodation until late 1949 whilst still working as a bar-man and earning some additional money writing articles for local publications under various names. He returned to Dublin circa. mid-November 1949.

Early work, recognition, middle ageEdit

His rural background was reflected in his debut volume of poems, The Ploughman, and other poems, published in 1936 by Macmillan to critical acclaim. The Green Fool, an autobiography, was published 2 years later. He was sued for libel by the writer Oliver St. John Gogarty for his description of his first visit to Gogarty's home: "I mistook Gogarty's white-robed maid for his wife or his mistress; I expected every poet to have a spare wife." Gogarty, who had taken unreasonable offense at the close coupling of the words "wife" and "mistress", was awarded £100 in damages and the book was withdrawn.[5]

By the early 1940's Kavanagh's poems were beginning to attract the attention of the literary circle. As an individual he was regarded as an uncouth outsider. In 1942 ‘’The Great Hunger’’, one of his most admired works, appeared. Patrick Maguire, the central character, is a hired hand in a rural, frugal land. Sex-starved and sex-obsessed, Maguire is a serial masturbator, a waster of seed who is mocked by teeming, fecund nature all around.‘’The Great Hunger’’ however did not enjoy universal approval; it was regarded by some as an attack on the sexual policies of the Catholic Church, and considered inappropriate by the conservative political establishment. and all copies of The Horizon, the literary magazine in which it was published, were seized on the order of the Minister for Justice. At the time of writing it he was being feted by John Betjeman (later British Poet Laureate), who was press attache/intelligence operative at the British Embassy in Dublin during World War II.

Kavanagh worked as a part time journalist, writing a gossip column in the Irish Press under the pseudonym Piers Plowman from 1942 to 1944, and acted as film critic for that same publication from 1945 to 1949. In 1946 the Archbishop of Dublin John Charles McQuaid found Kavanagh a job on the Catholic magazine The Standard, and continued to support him throughout his life.

Kavanagh's novel Tarry Flynn was published in 1948, and was also banned in Ireland (although later unbanned on appeal). It was a fictional account of rural life, which would later be made into a play and performed in the Abbey Theatre in 1966. Kavanagh's personality, varying from gruff to charming, became progressively erratic as his drinking increased over the years and his health deteriorated. Eventually, a disheveled figure, he would move about the Dublin bars drinking whiskey with a predilection for turning on benefactors and friends.[6]

Later career and deathEdit

Patrick Kavanagh

Courtesy PoemHunter.

In 1949 Kavanagh began to write a Diary for Envoy, a literary publication founded by John Ryan, who became a lifelong friend and benefactor. The Envoy offices were at 39 Grafton Street and most of the journal’s business was conducted in the nearby pub, McDaid’s, which Kavanagh subsequently adopted as his city-centre local.

Antoinette Quinn writes of Kavanagh in her biography: " His association with Envoy brought him into contact with a circle of young artists and intellectuals. Chief among these, apart from John Ryan himself, were Anthony Cronin, Patrick Swift and, to a lesser extent at first, John Jordan.... In conversation with Anthony Cronin, Kavanagh sometimes referred to his Envoy days as a time of poetic rebirth." [7]

In 1952, in conjunction with (and financed by) his brother Peter, Kavanagh published his own journal, Kavanagh’s Weekly: A journal of literature and politics, which ran to some 13 editions. In 1954, 2 major events changed Kavanagh's life: firstly, he embarked on a libel action and ended up being defeated; then shortly afterward he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and was admitted to hospital, where he had a lung removed.

While recovering from this operation by relaxing on the banks of the Grand Canal in Dublin, Kavanagh rediscovered his poetic vision. He began to appreciate nature and his surroundings, and took his inspiration from this for much of his later poetry; and a new phase of poetry followed.

Kavanagh was now receiving the acclaim which he had always felt he deserved. In 1956, through Patrick Swift’s efforts, he had 19 poems appear in the English literary journal Nimbus. Antoinette Quinn says " Publication there was to prove a turning point…The publication of his next volume of verse, Come Dance with Kitty Stobling, was to be directly linked to the mini-collection in Nimbus, and his Collected Poems (1964)...".[8] In 1960 Kavanagh appeared in Swift's legendary[9] X magazine.

During this period Kavanagh sheltered on and off with the Swifts in Westbourne Terrace.[10] He gave lectures at University College Dublin and in the United States(under the patronage of a contact Swift had introduced Kavanagh to). He represented Ireland at literary symposia and became a judge of the Guinness Poetry Awards.

In London he often stayed with his publisher, Martin Green, and his wife, Fiona, in their house in Tottenham Street. Fitzrovia. It was at this time Martin produced Kavanagh's Collected Poems ("following the suggestion of the painter Patrick Swift and the poet Anthony Cronin")[11] for Martin Brian & O'Keeffe. In the introduction Kavanagh wrote: "A man innocently dabbles in words and rhymes and finds that it is his life".

He married his long-time companion Katherine Barry Moloney (niece of Kevin Barry) in April 1967. That year his novel Tarry Flynn was adapted for the stage by P.J. O'Connor and performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Kavanagh fell ill at the premiere performance of the play in the Dundalk Town Hall, and died later that week in a Dublin nursing home on 30 November 1967.

His grave is in Inniskeen adjoining the Patrick Kavanagh Centre. His wife Katherine died in 1989, and is also buried there.


Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney acknowledged being influenced by Kavanagh.[12] He was introduced to Kavanagh's poetry by Michael MacLaverty when they taught together at St Thomas's, Belfast. Their poetry shares a belief in the capacity of the local, or parochial, to reveal the universal. Heaney has said that Kavanagh's poetry "had a transformative effect on the general culture and liberated the gifts of the poetic generations who came after him." He noted that "Kavanagh is a truly representative modern figure in that his subversiveness was turned upon himself: dissatisfaction, both spiritual and artistic, is what inspired his growth.... His instruction and example helped us to see an essential difference between what he called the parochial and provincial mentalities." He concludes that Kavanagh's poetry vindicates his "indomitable faith in himself and in the art that made him so much more than himself.".[13]


Kavanagh was formed by his experiences in his native Monaghan and later in his adopted Dublin. He constantly repeats country townland names to connect with his native countryside. This is repeated with street names in Dublin in later poems. Most of his poems are geographically rooted. This is summed up in the concluding lines of "Epic": "I inclined / To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin / Till Homer's ghost came whispering to my mind. / He said : I made the Iliad from such / A local row./ Gods make their own importance."

"Stony Grey Soil" depicts Kavanagh's awareness of nature. It shows the bitterness and the tragedy of his life there. In the poem he is ill at ease in a countryside and culture he condemns. He uses verbs such as "clogged, and burgled to display his sense of desperation and loss.

Kavanagh has a love-hate relationship with his native countryside. In Dublin he wrote many satirical poems condemning the prevalent hypocrisy of the literary and political establishment. Kavanagh's love of nature was rekindled following his operation for lung cancer. He said "As a poet I was born in or about 1955, the place of my birth being the banks of the Grand Canal". After having been near death he could look at life and nature with new found wonder. Nature is glorified in a pantheistic manner in the poetry written from then on. Kavanagh had come full circle and was at peace with himself and the world.


Kavanagh's use of language in some poems conveys the mystery and magic of a child's mind, looking at the commonplace as though for the first time with wonder. He uses simple language forms and edited his poetry continuously to simplify them. Colloquial language is an intrinsic element of Kavanagh's style. His phraseology is conversational and many of his phrases owe their origin to his Monaghan background-: "And we'll hear it among decent men too/ Who barrow dung in gardens under trees", "he stared at me half eyed", and "every blooming thing".

He sometimes creates new uses of words by coining adverbs and adjectives from existing nouns. In the poem "Lines Written on a seat on the Grand Canal Dublin" words such as 'stilly', 'greeny', 'Niagariously' and 'Parnassian' represent this feature of Kavanagh's language. He occasionally combined existing words to form a new one (neologism). In "Advent", the word "dreeping" is a fusion of the words dripping and creeping which is designed to create in the mind of the reader the qualities of both words.

He occasionally used hyperbole for poetic effect, eg: "The tremendous silence of mid-July". In "Inniskeen Road: July evening", the comparison with Alexander Selkirk leads him to consider Inniskeen Road as "a mile of kingdom". In "Advent" "The spirit-shocking wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill", or "the luxury of a child's soul".

Kavanagh's use of allusion is another aspect in many of his poems. In "Stony Grey Soil", he refers to the poise and stride of Apollo. In "Advent" he alludes to the nativity "old stables where Time begins".

He has been criticised for over-use of classical sonnet forms and rhymes in many poems which constricted his poetic capabilities. This was undoubtably a result of his self-education which began by using The Golden Treasury.


Dublin - Grand Canal - Poet Patrick Kavanagh - - 1616492

Patrick Kavanagh statue, Grand Canal, Dublin, by John Coll. Photo by Joseph Mischyshin. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy

There is a statue of Kavanagh on the banks of the Grand Canal at Mespil Road, inspired by his poem "Lines written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin": "O commemorate me where there is water, canal water preferably, so stilly greeny at the heart of summer. Brother commemorate me thus beautifully." Every 17 March, after the St Patrick's day parade, a group of Kavanagh's friends gather at the Kavanagh seat in his honour.

There is also another, original, seat situated on the South Bank at the Lock Gates close to Baggot Street Bridge (As was known from his poem and heavy hints to his friends, he wished to be commemorated with a simple canal side seat near the lock gates of Baggot Street Bridge). It was erected by his friends, led by Denis Dwyer and artist John Ryan, in 1968.[14]

His poetic tribute to his friend, Irish American sculptor Jerome Connor, was used in the plague overlooking Dublin's Phoenix Park dedicated to Connor.

There is also a statue of Patrick Kavanagh located outside Raglan Road, the Irish pub and restaurant at Walt Disney World's Downtown Disney in Orlando, Florida.

The Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award is presented each year for an unpublished collection of poems

The annual Patrick Kavanagh Weekend takes place on the last weekend in November in Inniskeen.

The Patrick Kavanagh Centre, an interpretative centre set up to commemorate the poet, is located in Inniskeen.

In popular cultureEdit



When the Irish Times compiled a list of favourite Irish poems in 2000, 10 of Kavanagh's poems were in the top 50, and he was rated the second favourite poet behind W.B. Yeats.

Kavangh's poem "On Raglan Road" (set to the traditional air "Fáinne Geal an Lae" composed by Thomas Connellan in the 17th century) has been performed by numerous artists as diverse as Van Morrison, Luke Kelly, Dire Straits, Billy Bragg, Sinéad O'Connor, and Joan Osborne.

Actor Russell Crowe has stated he is a fan of Kavanagh. "I like the clarity and the emotiveness of (Patrick) Kavanagh. I like how he combines the kind of mystic into really clear, evocative work that can make you glad you are alive". In February 2002, Crowe quoted Kavanagh during his acceptance speech at the annual BAFTA awards. When he became aware that the Kavanagh quote had been cut from the final broadcast he became aggressive with the BBC producer responsible.[15] he said "the thing is that it was about a one minute fifty speech but they've cut a minute out of it".[16] The poem that was cut was "Sanctity", a 4-line poem that he delivered in less than a minute: "To be a poet and not know the trade, / To be a lover and repel all women; / Twin ironies by which great saints are made, / The agonising pincer-jaws of heaven."

Kavanagh ArchiveEdit

In 1986, Peter Kavanagh negotiated the sale of Patrick Kavanagh's papers, as well as a large collection of his own work devoted to the late poet, to University College Dublin (UCD). The purchase was enabled by a public appeal for funds by the late Professor Gus Martin. He included in the sale his original hand press which he had built.[17] The archive is housed in a special collections room in UCD's library, and the hand press is on loan to the Patrick Kavanagh Centre, Inniskeen.

The contents include:[17]

  • Early literary material containing verses, novels, prose writing and other publications; family correspondence containing letters to Cecilia Kavanagh and Peter Kavanagh; letters to Patrick Kavanagh from various sources (1926–40).
  • Later literary material containing verses, novels, articles, lectures, published works, galley page proofs, Kavanagh’s Weekly, and adaptations of Patrick’s work (1940–1967).
  • Documents concerning the libel case of Kavanagh v.The Leader (1952–54).
  • Personal correspondence including correspondence with his sisters, Peter Kavanagh, Katherine Barry Moloney (1947–1967).
  • Printed material, press cuttings, publications, personal memorabilia, and tape recordings (1940–67).

Peter Kavanagh's papers include a thesis, plays, autobiographical writing, and printed material, personal and general correspondence memorabilia, tape recordings, galley proofs (1941–82) and family memorabilia (1872–1967).

Ownership of the copyright is vested in Trustees of The Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Trust by virtue of the terms of the will of the late Kathleen Kavanagh, widow of the poet, who in turn became entitled to the copyright on the death of her husband. The proceeds of the trust are used to support deserving writers. The Trustees are Leland Bardwell, Patrick MacEntee, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Eunan O'Halpin, and Macdara Woods.[18] The copyright assignation was disputed by Peter Kavanagh, who continued publishing Patrick's work after his death. This dispute led some books to go out of print. Most of his work is now available in the United Kingdom and Ireland, but the status in the United States is more uncertain.



  • Ploughman, and other poems. London: Macmillan, 1936.
  • The Great Hunger: A poem. Cuala, 1942; Irish University Press, 1971.
  • A Soul for Sale: Poems. London: Macmillan, 1947.
  • Recent Poems. Hand Press, 1958.
  • Come Dance With Kitty Stobling, and other poems. Longmans, Green, 1960; Dufour, 1964.
  • Collected Poems. Devin-Adair, 1964.
  • Complete Poems of (edited by brother, Peter Kavanagh). Hand Press, 1972.
  • Lough Derg. Goldsmith, 1978; Martin Brian & O'Keefe, 1978.
  • The Great Hunger: Poem into play (with play by Tom Mac Intyre). Mullingar, CO: Lilliput Press, 1988.


  • The Green Fool (fictionalized autobiography). M. Joseph, 1938; Harper, 1939; Martin Brian & O'Keefe, 1971.
  • Tarry Flynn: A novel. Pilot, 1948; Devin-Adair, 1949; Martin Brian & O'Keefe, 1972.
  • By Night Unstarred: An autobiographical novel (edited by Peter Kavanagh). Goldsmith, 1977; Hand Press, 1978.


  • Afterword to Peter Kavanagh, Irish Mythology: A dictionary (3 volumes). Hand Press, 1958-1959.
  • Self Portrait (autobiographical television script). Dolmen, 1964.
  • Introduction to W. Steuart Trench, Realities of Irish Life. MacGibbon & Kee, 1966.
  • Collected Prose. MacGibbon & Kee, 1967.
  • Introduction to The Autobiography of William Carleton. MacGibbon & Kee, 1968.
  • Kavanagh's Weekly: A journal of literature and politics (anthology; (with Peter Kavanagh & others). Goldsmith, 1981.
  • No Earthly Estate: God and Patrick Kavanagh: An anthology. Dublin: Columba Press, 2002.


Collected editionsEdit

  • November Haggard: Uncollected prose and verse (edited by Peter Kavanagh). Hand Press, 1971.
  • A Patrick Kavanagh Anthology (edited by Eugene Robert Platt). Commedia, 1973.


  • Lapped Furrows: Correspondence, 1933-1967, between Patrick and Peter Kavanagh, with other ocuments (edited by Peter Kavanagh). Hand Press, 1969.
  • Love's Tortured Headland: A Sequel to 'Lapped Furrows' (edited by Peter Kavanagh). Hand Press, 1974.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[19]

Audio / video Edit

Inniskeen Road July Evening & On an apple-ripe September morning

Inniskeen Road July Evening & On an apple-ripe September morning

In memory of my mother by patrick kavanagh

In memory of my mother by patrick kavanagh

  • Almost Everything (LP). Dublin: Claddagh, 1964.
  • English Poets: Spender, Tomlinson, Kavanagh (by Stephen Spender, Charles Tomlinson, & Patrick Kavanagh) (LP). New York: Applause, 1968.
  • Abbey Theatre, The Abbey Reads Yeats / Kavanagh (cassette). Dublin: Paycock, 1985.
  • P.J. Kavanagh: Reading from his poems (CD). London: Poetry Archive, 2005.

Except where noted, discographical information courtesy WorldCat.[20]

See alsoEdit




  1. "Patrick Kavanagh, 1904-1967". Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  2. "RTÉ Libraries and Archives: preserving a unique record of Irish life". Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  3. "National Archives". 2009-08-27. Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  4. "Patrick Kavanagh Criticism". Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  5. O'Brien, Darcy (1975). Patrick Kavanagh. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press. p. 29. 
  6. "Patrick Kavanagh - A Biography by Antoinette Quinn:". 2001-11-18. Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  7. Patrick Kavanagh: A Biography, by Antoinette Quinn, Gill & Macmillan Ltd, 2001, p: 291-296 (ISBN 071712651X / 0-7171-2651-X )
  8. Patrick Kavanagh: A Biography, by Antoinette Quinn, Gill & Macmillan Ltd, 2001, p: 359 (ISBN 071712651X / 0-7171-2651-X )
  9. "Commentary: Michael Schmidt on poetry magazines | Books". London: The Guardian. 2006-07-15. Retrieved 2009-12-01. 
  10. Martin Greene, Gandon Editions Biography of Patrick Swift, Patrick Swift (1927-83), published 1993: "but it was in that basement flat that Patrick Kavanagh sheltered on and off for a while. And it is the mention of Kavanagh that brings back to me that infectious gaiety and generosity that is at the heart of my memory of Paddy Swift.... It was he, together with Tony Cronin, who initially put up the idea of bringing together Kavanagh's poems for the Collected Poems."
  11. Martin Green in a letter to The Guardian, 2005
  13. Heaney, Seamus (2005-01-01). "Review: Collected Poems by Patrick Kavanagh | Books". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  14. Liam Brady. His father and namesake was one of the original committee members, with John Ryan, of the Grand Canal South Bank Seat [1]
  15. "ARTS | The poet behind Russell Crowe's rage". BBC News. 2002-03-05. Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  16. "Crowe 'clarifies' Bafta outburst | Film |". London: Guardian. 2002-02-28. Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Audio Visual Centre, UCD, "The Kavanagh Archive". Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  18. "The Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Trust". Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  19. Patrick Kavanagh 1904-1967, Poetry Foundation, Web, Oct. 20, 2012.
  20. Search results = au:Patrick Kavanagh + audiobook, WorldCat, OClC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Sep. 7, 2019.

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