01: Patrick Kavanagh
RTÉ Archives looks back at the life of one of Ireland's best-loved poets, as told by the poet himself and those who knew him.
Presented here is a selection of television, radio and documentary testimonials to the work of Kavanagh, the man, and the poet.
Patrick Kavanagh was born on 21 October 1904 in Mucker, Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan. Having attended the local national school, Kavanagh worked as an apprentice shoemaker to his father and then on the small family farm. His first collection of poems was published while he was still working on the farm. In 1939, Kavanagh moved to Dublin, where he became a full-time writer, contributing articles and poems to a number of publications and writing as a film critic for the Catholic journal 'The Standard'. From 1963 to his death he had a weekly column in the RTV (now RTÉ) Guide.
The long poem 'The Great Hunger', published in 1942 and the novel 'Tarry Flynn' published in 1948, challenged the romantic pastoral visions of the Irish Revival writers with a semi-autobiographical depiction of the misery of the bachelor farmer. Kavanagh validated the trivial detail of modest rural life as subjects for poetry and thereby, allowed later Irish poets of a rural background to find their own voice, most notably Seamus Heaney.
Following a serious illness in 1955, Kavanagh spent much of his convalescence on the banks of Dublin's Grand Canal. Here, Kavanagh experienced a spiritual awakening and his poetry flourished with a new strength of purpose:
For many a good-looking year, I wrought hard at versing but I would say that, as a poet, I was born in or about nineteen-fifty-five, the place of my birth being the banks of the Grand Canal.
(Self-Portrait: Patrick Kavanagh)
'Come Dance With Kitty Stobling', the collection of poems written at this time which includes 'The Canal Bank Sonnets', was acclaimed by critics.
Patrick Kavanagh died of pneumonia in 30 November 1967.
Extracts of Patrick Kavanagh's writings are published here by kind permission of the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Trust.
The extract of Paul Durcan's poem 'November 1967' appears courtesy of Paul Durcan.