Margaret Martin has acted in and directed plays and musicals throughout Ireland. She graduated with an MA in Modern Theatre Studies in The National University of Ireland Dublin. Margaret is a Public Speaking and Debating coach with the Galway Education Centre, and lectures at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. A native of Monaghan, she grew up in a county immortalised in the Poetry of Patrick Kavanagh and has performed at the Kavanagh poetry festival in Iniskeen and recently address a Conference of Speech Drama Teachers in Cork. She has played leading roles with Patrician Musical Society and An Taibhdearc.
Patrick Kavanagh stands as a monument to nobility
By Margaret Martin
(This paper was delivered to Society of Teachers of Speech and Drama 2014 Cork Conference)
Inniskeen to 2014
I have called this paper Inniskeen to 2014 because that is what it is. In it I will talk about how Patrick Kavanagh stands as a monument to a nobility and gentleness of soul – that surprises even as it inspires how his works transcended a life of extreme poverty by his love of the stony grey soil of Monaghan.
I will bring you through his life with dramatic adaptations of characters,relevant poetry and the legacy he has left us with to the present day.
In the peasant poet genre ..Wales has Dylan Thomas, Scotland has Robbie Burns, earlier times England had John Clare but we in Ireland have Patrick Kavanagh.
He was born in Inniskeen,1904 near Dundalk and about 50 miles from Dublin
My connection with Patrick Kavanagh started with my father. My father was born in 1908 in Drumkeath, Inniskeen. He was four years younger than Patrick Kavanagh.
He was one of nine children and when he finished school in Inniskeen he went to serve his time as a bar man in Belfast. He later became Manager of a pub and then he met my mother,and in 1950 he bought a pub from P.J.Higgins in Main Street,Carrickmacross. This pub is mentioned in ‘The Green Fool’ the Hiring Fair Chapter.
I worked in that pub as a child and I remember, my father with pride would say we were an ‘Inniskeen Pub’ . I can remember the talk among the farmers especially on the Fair Days of the ‘mad poet’ in Inniskeen. We were central on Main Street and even though Ollie O’Rourke, also from Inniskeen,had a pub at the bottom of the town we liked to think people came to us first.
Let me start with Miss Cassidy, his teacher… I will share the observation of his teacher Miss Cassidy, indeed, she observed as any of us teachers observe, our students be they blessed, burdened or both.
All of this section is based on fact from his autobiographical book ‘The Green Fool’ and Una Agnew’s excellent ‘The Mystical Imagination of Patrick Kavanagh A Buttonhole in Heaven.?
I have also used an interview I did with Owen Kirk, (father of Bernard Kirk, Director of Galway Education Centre). Owen’s mother, Katie Mc Geogh, (the grandmother of Bernard), was a class mate of Patrick Kavanagh. I would love to have had Patrick’s copy book but we are very privileged to have Katie’s copy as the Kirk family have kindly donated the copy book his mother kept complete with Miss Cassidy’s corrections. The Original Copy Book is in the Museum in the Patrick Kavanagh Center, this is a photocopy of it and feel free to look at it if you wish.
In 1909 Patrick started school in Kednaminsha.
Patrick left school in 1918 but until 1939 he lived and tried to work as a farmer with the family on a small farm. They were a thrifty family and money was universally scarce in rural Ireland during the 30s and 40s. Kavanagh’s family were living in constant struggle to make ends meet and rear a large family (nine eventually) From owning merely a garden they progressed to becoming one of the small farmers of the locality.
According to Una Agnew this small farm played a greater role in Patrick’s life than the Kavanagh parents had envisaged. As a poet-farmer, he would learn enough about the land, ploughing, harrowing, sowing,spraying,digging potatoes,threshing and harvesting, to make the land yield its harvest. ‘It grew good crops for me, more by good luck than good guiding…He struggled ‘with the crude ungainly crust of earth and spirit’ to immortalize Irish rural life in poetry and prose.
The Great Hunger was to become one of the 20thc better long poems. Later in 1983 Tom Mac McIntyre adapted it for the theatre and was produced in Abbey Theare .During this time he published Ploughman and other poems,also The Green Fool was published and he visited London where he met G.B. Shaw and Sean O’Casey.
Next I am going to introduce you to Mrs. Flynn. Tarry’s mother. From his novel Tarry Flynn which has also been adapted for stage. Banned for a time then in 1966. Thomas Mac Anna was working at The Abbey Theatre Company at this time. He was one of the first producers of this play and Donal Mc Cann played the lead
Set on a farm in Co. Cavan it deals with the conflicting aspirations of a young man to be a poet and to get hold of a wife. Constantly outwitted by his narrow minded neighbors, Tarry is also mocked by his sisters and larger-than-life mother – but she adores him too. In the end Tarry suddenly leaves home wifeless but still poetic …Lyrical,realistic and bitingly funny.
On opening night Patrick Kavanagh collapsed in the theatre lounge before the performance but sat through the play beside his sister Mary who was a nurse.
In 1939 Patrick left Inniskeen and went to live permanently in Dublin He was influenced by AE who befriended him and Gertrude Stein …’was whiskey to me…her strange rhythms broke up the cliche formation of my thought’.He was a columnist for the Irish Press from 1942 to 1944.The archbishop of Dublin John Charles Mc Quaid found Kavanagh a job on the Catholic magazine The Standard and continued to support him throughout his life.
This support was needed as Kavanagh states in the Author’s Note of Patrick Kavanagh Collected Poems’ On many occasions I literally starved in Dublin. I often borrowed a ‘shilling for the gas’ when in fact I wanted the coin to buy a chop.’
But he was still driven by his verse. In the Green Fool he says ‘Having knocked and knocked and knocked at the door of literature it was eventually opened and then I did not want to enter. The clay of wet fields was about my feet and on my trouser bottoms. I was not a literary man. Poetry is not literature: poetry is the breath of young life and the cry of elemental beings: literature is a cold ghost wind blowing through Death’s dark chapel. I turned from the door of literature and continued my work among poetry,potatoes and old boots.’
He transcended poverty throughout his life….magical work of poetic transfiguration …. examples of this are seen in his portrayal of Paddy Maguire in The Great Hunger. Kavanagh had the nerve to include a hero without any heroic qualities. This is a poem of 759 lines I will recite four of them.
Men build their heavens as they build their circles
Of friends. God in the bits and pieces of everyday-
A kiss here and a laugh again and sometimes tears.
A pearl necklace round the neck of poverty.
Seamus Deane has said ..’He climbed down from the dizzy heights of mythology, the glories of battle and concentrated instead on the stony grey soil of his native Monaghan and the actualities of living in the here and now.’
Kavanagh acknowledged that 1954 was the worst year of his life. He was undergoing an intense phase of frustration and purification. He lost a libel case, he had serious lung cancer and his lung was removed. He experienced spiritual renewal during his convalescence. There followed in 1955 his happiest years during which he produced some of his greatest poems.
One of those poems was God in Woman written at a time when women held a very lowly position in society. After having a baby they had to be ‘churched’. When the mother wanted to attend Mass or go back into the church after having the baby, she remained outside until the priest came to her and ‘cleansed her of the devil’.This was practiced until the 1970s. Patrick Kavanagh was radical in writing this poem in the 1960s.
Let me bring you to the parallel worlds of then and now.
Then we got married first then lived together. Time sharing meant togetherness. A stud was something that fastened a collar to a shirt and ‘going all the way’ meant staying on the bus to the terminus. Grass was mown, coke kept in the coal house, a joint was a piece of meat you eat on Sundays. You cooked in a pot and a gay person was the life and soul of the party.
Then 3 pennies was decent pocket money. 4 got you into a cinema. You could reach into the drain for a penny and with that penny you could go to a sweet shop, get a hap’worth of sweets and hap’worth change…from the lady in the sweet shop who knew you.
You have a plastic card. Remember your password, hide your password Carry out transaction with the machine. No communication.
In the Grocery shop bacon was sliced into rashers in front of you.
Cheese was cut off a massive orange chunk.
Tea,sugar,biscuits all weighed in bags with price tags – then entered into a book, added up, money exchanged, into cash register, rang open, change and receipt given. Enteries then written into ledger and all accounts recorded by hand.
We have honey roasted ham. Tea, sugar and biscuits all parceled, packaged in plastic.
Pay with card, remember password, hide password all goes to central computer…in the Era of big data..and governments see everything.
At the butcher shop beef and lamb carcasses were displayed, sides and quarters and meat were cut as required. All organs available, liver, kidney, hearts and tails…low carbon footprints.
A world where on marriage women gave up their jobs, became stay at home mothers and men were never seen pushing prams.
Beef and lamb displayed in exotic sauces and complete meals made up with flavorings,antioxidants, colorings,emulsifiers, preservatives,sweeteners and Es. 160.234.307.440,501 to name but a few. Many carbon footprints.
Now there is greater equality for women and men are proud to push prams.
From Inniskeen in 1904 to the BAFTA awards in 2010 when Russell Crowe used the poem Sanctity in his acceptance speech. This was given great publicity as the BBC cut the poem in editing and Crowe objected strongly in social media. Crowe has now been invited to make a film based on the life of Patrick Kavanagh.
To be a poet and not know the trade,
To be a lover and repel all women;
Twin ironies by which great saints are made,
The agonizing pincer-jaws of Heaven.
Let me finish with Seamus Heaney. Heaney has admitted in several interviews that Kavanagh was ‘a stepping stone’ for him and those that followed. In his acceptance speech of his Nobel Prize when speaking of his influences he stated..’…..the barefaced confrontation of Patrick Kavanagh. I encountered further reasons for believing in poetry’s ability – and responsibility – to say what happens.’
In a later interview he stated ‘ Kavanagh was a poet of pure spiritual force to the extent that many of his lyrics now belong in the common mind as if they were pre- natal possessions – even perhaps pre-natal necessities. Whats more his impact and relevance are to be felt wherever English is spoken’.
His legacy, the volume of poems he left us 253 in all, The Green Fool and Tarry Flynn all stand as monuments to a nobility and gentleness of soul that will continue to inspire and surprise those who read him. From Inniskeen to 2014, the ordinary in the extraordinary.