A man whose words were his wealth and eternal legacy

“O commemorate me with no hero-courageous Tomb - just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.” (From the Paddy Kavanagh poem: Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin).
“O commemorate me with no hero-courageous Tomb - just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.” (From the Paddy Kavanagh poem: Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin).

Country Living with Francis Farragher

Afew years back, I had a conversation with former TD, Paul Connaughton Senior, which took its usual ramble through various diversions. We started to talk about Patrick Kavanagh and his writings, with both of us agreeing on the delights of his free-flowing prose and delightful poetry.

His umbilical connection with the land and his descriptiveness of country life in Ireland during the harsh and hungry years of the country through the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, made his poems all the more insightful with words beautifully crafted.

At this point, I enquired off the former Junior Minister for Agriculture, what Kavanagh was like as a farmer, and he replied: “Well, the world’s worst – the writing was lovely but the farming was terrible.”

This week, on the 50th anniversary of Paddy Kavanagh’s death (November 30, 1967), the thought struck my mind that even if the man had been a brilliant farmer and an awful writer, there wouldn’t be a word about him, but now he has secured his own very notable piece of immortality, with his stature as a writer and poet having grown immeasurably over recent decades.

Like most people of my generation, Kavanagh came to my notice in a book simply entitled: Poetry, Leaving Cert Anthology, edited by a W. J. Steele, and from the point of view of exams, Kavanagh’s poems seemed a lot easier to understand and to tune into, rather than the more spiritual and ethereal musings of W. B. Yeats.

There seems little doubt that Kavanagh was a contrarian, in any walk of life he was in, getting involved in ‘scrapes’ with writers, newspaper and publishers. One of 10 children and born in 1904, he played in goals for the local Iniskeen Gaelic football team, before deciding in 1931 to ‘follow his star’ and go to Dublin to further his writing career.

He used local language to write about the unembellished lives of ordinary people, a style that didn’t exactly ingratiate him with the more upmarket literary ‘set’ in Dublin of the time and almost from the word go, there was artistic friction between the farmer and the ‘upper crust’ of the arts world in the capital.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.