Patrick Kavanagh, Irish poet and novelist whose best-known works include the novel Tarry Flynn, and the poems “On Raglan Road” and “The Great Hunger,” is born in rural Inniskeen, County Monaghan, on October 21, 1904. He is known for his accounts of Irish life through reference to the everyday and commonplace.
Kavanagh is the fourth of ten children of James Kavanagh, a cobbler and farmer, and Bridget Quinn. He is a pupil at Kednaminsha National School from 1909 to 1916, leaving in the sixth year at the age of 13. He becomes apprenticed to his father as a shoemaker and works on his farm. He is also goalkeeper for the Inniskeen Gaelic football team.
Kavanagh’s first published work appears in 1928 in the Dundalk Democrat and the Irish Independent. In 1931, he walks 80 kilometres to meet George William Russell in Dublin, where Kavanagh’s brother is a teacher. Russell gives him books, among them works by Feodor Dostoyevsky, Victor Hugo, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Browning, and becomes Kavanagh’s literary adviser.
Kavanagh’s first collection, Ploughman and Other Poems, is published in 1936. It is notable for its realistic portrayal of Irish country life, free of the romantic sentiment often seen at the time in rural poems, a trait he abhors. Two years after his first collection is published he has yet to make a significant impression. The Times Literary Supplement describes him as “a young Irish poet of promise rather than of achievement.”
In 1938 Kavanagh goes to London and remains there for about five months. The Green Fool, a loosely autobiographical novel, is published in 1938 and Kavanagh is accused of libel by Oliver St. John Gogarty who sues Kavanagh for his description of mistaking Gogarty’s “white-robed maid for his wife or his mistress.” Gogarty is awarded £100 in damages. The book, which recounts Kavanagh’s rural childhood and his attempts to become a writer, receives international recognition and good reviews.
Patrick Kavanagh dies on November 30, 1967 from an attack of bronchitis, bringing to a close the life of one of Ireland’s most controversial and colorful literary figures. 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 into something of significance.