Patrick Kavanagh is widely acknowledged as one of the great Irish poets. Born in County Monaghan on the 21st of October 1904 in the rural village of Inniskeen Kavanagh rose from his obscure roots to become one of Ireland’s most beloved poets. In many ways, Kavanagh was the great alchemist. Here was a poet who turned the plod, the muck, and mundane of everyday rural life into poetic gold.
But it wasn’t always plain sailing for the poet. In the area where he grew up in Kavanagh was viewed as a bit of an oddity. In the rural Inniskeen area there were only two ways to make a living and one was via labouring and the other was starting a trade, and anyone who bucked this well-established trend was viewed as a virtual outcast.
And not only did Patrick decide to buck this trend, he decided to burn the house down by becoming a poet. His father became enraged with the young Patrick when it was discovered that instead of ploughing the land like he was supposed to be doing he would wander off into the fields reading books and writing poetry.
Kavanaghs first big break through came in 1936 when Macmillian published his collection of poems titled the Ploughman and Other Poems. In 1938 Kavanagh was catapulted to an entirely new level when he published the acclaimed book The Green Fool. But the book wasn’t without its controversy when he was successfully sued for libel by rival author Oliver Saint John Gogarty.
In spite of some of his early success’s the Monaghan man was viewed with great suspicion by Dublin’s literary elite who never entirely grew to accept him as one of their own seeing him in many ways as being a country bumpkin who had no real right to be in their midst. Kavanagh’s literary output continued when he published the Great Hunger which received rave reviews in the New York Times.
But it is for the poem on Raglan Road that he is most remembered for. At the time when Patrick was 40 years old a young beauty by the name of Hilda Moriarty challenged him to write something more than his usual country/land type topic and the lovesick Kavanagh rose to the challenge by producing the iconic poem on Raglan Road. But it wasn’t until he met Luke Kelly one night in a pub and he asked the great singer to sing the poem that it really took off. Nowadays, the song is one of Ireland’s most beloved. The poem/song came equipped with some spine-tingly powerful lines which included,
“On Raglan Road on an Autumn Day, I saw her first and knew That her dark hair would weave a snare That I may one day rue.
I saw the danger, yet I walked Along the enchanted way And I said let grief be a falling leaf At the dawning of the day.”
As the years progressed the great Bard grew despondent at what he would have seen as being the lack of recognition that he was afforded. He turned to liquor for solace and could regularly be seen drinking whiskey and gambling in bars in Dublin. As Patrick Kavanagh went towards the end of his years his poems where subject to a spirited revival when a body of work titled Nimbus was published. Eventually, in Kavanagh’s last years, he was afforded the recognition and respect that he long and yearned and craved. He died on the 30th of November 1967.
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