seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

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Death of Poet & Novelist Patrick Kavanagh

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,” dies in Dublin on November 30, 1967. He is known for his accounts of Irish life through reference to the everyday and commonplace.

Kavanagh was born in rural Inniskeen, County Monaghan, on October 21, 1904, 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 abhorred. 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.


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First Meeting of Oscar Wilde & Walt Whitman

walt-whitman-oscar-wildeOn January 18, 1882, while on a successful speaking tour of the United States, the 27-year-old Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde, newly famous at home and abroad, visits 62-year-old poet Walt Whitman at Whitman’s home in Camden, New Jersey at 431 Stevens Street, a building that no longer exists.

Wilde’s mother had purchased a copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in 1866 and had read passages to Oscar when he was a child. It is not surprising, therefore, that Wilde seeks out Whitman when he has the opportunity to visit the United States. Wilde, through his friend and publisher in Philadelphia, J.M. Stoddart, requests that Whitman meet them for dinner in Philadelphia on the afternoon of Saturday, January 14. The ailing Whitman is not well enough to make the crossing of the Delaware River to Philadelphia. The meeting is then arranged to take place at Whitman’s home.

On Wednesday, January 18, after giving his lecture in Philadelphia the previous evening, Wilde travels by ferryboat across the river to visit Whitman. The two poets spend two hours together in a pleasant discussion over wine and milk punch.

Wilde is known to speak publicly about their meeting only once, in an interview with the Boston Herald about ten days after the meeting. He says, “I spent the most charming day I have spent in America. He is the grandest man I have ever seen. The simplest, most natural, and strongest character I have ever met in my life. I regard him as one of those wonderful, large, entire men who might have lived in any age, and is not peculiar to any one people. Strong, true, and perfectly sane: the closest approach to the Greek we have yet had in modern times. Probably he is dreadfully misunderstood.”

Wilde and Whitman meet for a second time in early May. Due to so little being known about the visits, some biographers incorrectly speculate that the two poets are estranged. However, Whitman sends Wilde an inscribed copy of November Boughs in 1888. This is sold a decade later when Wilde’s library is liquidated for debts while he is in prison after being found guilty of “gross indecency with men.”

Whitman always defends Wilde against the accusations of his detractors. “Wilde was very friendly to me – was and is, I think – both Oscar and his mother – Lady Wilde – and thanks be most to the mother, that greater, and more important individual. Oscar was here – came to see me – and he impressed me a strong, able fellow, too.”