‘I could listen to him all day’ sighed a young woman, in front of her husband who took no offence. She was reacting to Michael Harding’s talk in the Patrick Kavanagh Centre in Inniskeen on Sunday last. She wasn’t the only one! Harding talked and read from his memoir, ‘Talking to Strangers’ was a big hit on a Kavanagh Weekend of big hits. And if the hall was overflowing with a predominantly female audience we all took pleasure in his easy eloquence. But let’s go back to the beginning.In his introduction, Art Agnew, Chairman of the Patrick Kavanagh Centre welcomed everyone and extended congratulations to the new Seamus Heaney Home Place Centre in Ballaghy, Co. Derry.
Brian Lynch, President of the Kavanagh Society announced the Winner and Runner-up of the 46th Annual Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award. There were 140 entries. Brian Lynch stated that it was an arduous but loving task which involved several readings and re-readings. The Runner-up announced was Kevin Conroy from Naas, Co. Kildare and the Winner was Laurence O’Dwyer from Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. Lynch said that ‘O’Dwyer is an exceptional talent and should go on to become an essential poet of the future.
Brian Lynch then accepted from Daig Quinn his sister Antoinette’s Kavanagh Collection which she has bequeathed to the Kavanagh Centre Library. They will be an invaluable reference point for all future students, scholars and poetry lovers.
The Keynote speaker was Pat McCabe, the internationally regarded Clones writer. The title was ‘Howl on: A Whiter Shade of Shancoduff: Patrick Kavanagh on the brink of Psychedelia’. It was an astounding dramatic monologue with a musical background. The Procul Harum fans quickly spotted the play on the big sixties hit ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. McCabe ranged through Kavanagh but focussed interestingly of the link with the Beat poets of the earlier times – Ginsberg’s great poem ‘Howl’ was central to the title and the talk itself. It was interesting for sociologist to note that men were in the majority for the McCabe performance. Contra Harding.
The musical offerings before and after Pat McCabe’s tour de force were select indeed. Paddy Martin Junior was the taster. Paddy who has played the pipes in Carnegie Hall and the Albert Hall was a perfect introduction. Later, spoiled for choice, Sean and Ceola Walsh, a father daughter duo entertained us with traditional airs. To finish, Brian Dooley took an audience round him and leading on accordion they played and sang till midnight.
The early birds were in Carrickmacross on the Literary Trail with Larry McDermott on Saturday morning while the programme got underway. We had Dundalk local radio with us and they interviewed guest speakers, weekend organisers and some of the casually curious.
Two of the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award winning poets read. The winner, Laurence O’Dwyer from Tipperary and Runner-up, Kevin Conroy from Naas. The Centre in Inniskeen is, bar none, the best venue in Ireland for sound and the poets made full use of the acoustics.
Next up was Dr. Una Agnew who had prepared a specially commissioned talk on Canon Bernard Maguire, alias Salamanca Barney, P.P. of Inniskeen 1915 -1948. She showed Fr. Maguire’s influence on the young Kavanagh as the poet himself acknowledged in his novel Tarry Flynn. Dr. Agnew traced Fr. Maguire’s life from his ordination to the priesthood, to his role as President of Salamanca College in Spain to his taking the clerical position in Inniskeen. He had a telling influence on Kavanagh and his parishioners and spoke out with authority and conviction on matters political, social and agricultural.
There was an animated audience reaction and the question and answer session was lively. Many of Fr. Maguire’s relatives were present and were happy that their uncle graced the pulpit in St. Mary’s in different voices.
Liz McManus, the former government Minister, read from her second novel ‘A Shadow in the Yard’ to a very appreciate audience. Many of those present took the opportunity to talk to her about her political career and she was gracious with her time.
The organisers of the programme were slightly concerned about an overly political content to the weekend but they need not have worried. Professor Emeritus at U.C.D., Dr. Michael Laffan led off after lunch with ‘That noble unrequited gentleman’: W.T. Cosgrave and the Irish Revolution, the North (and Patrick Kavanagh). Professor Laffan ranged through Cosgrave involvement in the Rising. He escaped the death penalty, was jailed but released and then committed his career to politics and the setting up of the Irish Free State. The talk was knowledgeable but aimed at a weekend audience whose attention never faltered in that dreaded after lunch slot.
If Kavanagh wrote that ‘the local is universal’, it aptly applied to the next speaker. Dr. Terence Dooley from the next parish of Killanny gave a brilliantly detailed talk on Inniskeen during War and Rebellion 1914 – 18. Professor Dooley stayed local, set the scene for local involvement, and focussed particularly on Bernard O’Rourke, local businessman and entrepreneur. His disillusionment with the Home Rule Movement was a catalyst and many were swayed by it. He was arrested after Easter Week and imprisoned in Portobello at Rathmines. An energetic question and answer session followed which went over time but this was entirely forgiveable in the circumstances.
When the programme was put together we had not factored an All-Ireland Football replay and unashamedly some of the audience left. But they missed a treat. Conor O’Callaghan, another almost native son read from his Gothic novel ‘Nothing on Earth’. Set in a ghost estate somewhere in Ireland it has a chilling feel running through it. Several in the audience had read the novel and the discussion was first class. One veteran of the Kavanagh Weekends said that Conor O’Callaghan was the finest reader of his own work that he had heard since John Banville over thirty years before.
Later that evening at the Commemorative Mass for Patrick Kavanagh and deceased family, Fr. John Chester, the homilist, engaged the congregation with a sermon which ranged wide through Kavanagh’s essential Christianity and the nature of God in everyday things. Saturday was the feast of Str. Therese. He drew comparisons between the Saint and Kavanagh, their spirituality and their inward journey to the soul.
Back in the Centre, the Fanebank Dramatic Society was preparing to stage the highly successful ‘Power without Glory’, a Tragedy of Troubled Times. This powerful drama situated in a small town in Ireland during the War of Independence has a savage ending which though it was hinted to them beforehand gave members of the audience quite a jolt. We thank Tom Lennon and his cast for their performance and especially Martha Kingham.
Sunday morning dawned bright and beautiful and a full coach started off on tour of Kavanagh Country. Monaghan may be the County of the little hills but there are more townlands beginning with Drum in Co. Cavan than in Monaghan. Into Carrickmacross, following the route that Kavanagh helped to drive cattle to the fair, seeing where eligible women padlocked their bicycles before going on parade before the romantic hairy-faced 50 to 60 year swains vied for their fair hands. On to St. Louis Convent, where Essex Castle once stood where Kavanagh’s satirical lines on a plaque evoke a harsher Landlord past.
We arrive at Aclint Bridge, between Louth and Monaghan, Ulster and Leinster, 5th September 1599. The Earl of Essex, Robert Devereaux parleys on the banks of the Glyde with Hugh, the great O’Neill.
Shaun O’Byrne and his son Oisin after a rapid run through Irish history engaged in a dialogue between O’Neill and Essex. It was a no holds barred debate and young Oisin’s upper class Essex accent was superb. From there to Killanny, Cill an Eanaigh, as Shaun O’Byrne told us where he revealed a hidden gem. Tracing the O’Byrne’s of Wicklow to their place in Killanny, granted to them by O’Neill, he told the audience about the O’Byrne’s of Wicklow, Killanny and France. This story requires more space than we have here.
On for refreshments to the Riverbank bar and lounge for refreshments and talk. Locky and Barbara were perfect hosts in an idyllic setting.
Some other key points of the area were examined. Corcreaghy hill, Stonetown, Drumcah, Kednaminsha, Shancoduff and back to the village.
At 2pm the annual graveside commemoration took place. Paddy Martin, Senior, played two airs on the pipes, The Dark Island and the Bridge of Scotland. Rosaleen Kearney laid the wreath and Peter Duffy, Laurence O’Dwyer and Noel Monahan recited favourite Kavanagh poems. Peter Murphy, the M.C., asked those present to reflect quietly on the poet and those buried in the family plot. At this stage the atmosphere in the Centre was bright with anticipation. A new audience coming to hear Michael Harding and the families of young prize-winners in the Patrick Kavanagh all Ireland schools Poetry had joined us. I referred to Harding’s magnetism at the beginning so I will concentrate on the School’s Poetry Awards.
No words of mine can do justice to the skill, sensitivity and sheer love that the adjudicator, Noel Monahan applies to this project. Noel, who is an outstanding poet of international acclaim, whose poetry is translated in many languages, devotes considerable expertise to choosing the highly commended and the outright winners. There were hundreds of entries from Kerry to Derry, from Antrim to Kilkenny. This is an unforgettable experience for young poets. To use a tired cliché – this is their Croke Park and Oscars in one. Noel Monahan invited the first three in each section to read their poems to a packed audience.
The Junior Winner was Bebhinn O’Brien a student from Dundalk Grammar School. Second, Joseph Mac Suibhne, Colaiste Ailigh, Letterkenny. Third, Tania Stokes, Columba’s College, Dublin 16.
The Senior Winner was Eileen Casey, St. Attracta’s Community School, Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo.
Second, Sean Skelly, St. Oliver’s Post Primary, Oldcastle, Co. Meath.
Joint Third: Gabriel Bador, Royal Belfast Royal Academy and Fionn O’Sullivan, Newpark Comprehensive, Blackrock, Co. Dublin.
We hope to have to have these poems on our website as soon as possible. We ended on a local note with the announcement of the winners from the two Primary Schools: St. Daigh’s, Inniskeen: 1ST Hugh McGrath. 2nd Oonagh Quigley.
Scoil Cholmcille, Blackstaff: 1ST Caitlin McElroy. 2nd Ryan Duffy.
Brian Lynch, President of the Patrick Kavanagh Society and Adjudicator of the Annual Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award was an unfailingly courteous M.C. throughout the weekend. His introduction of the various speakers put them at their ease and whetted the appetites of the audience.
Our thanks to the Centre Staff: Rosaleen Kearney, Elmar Marron, Margaret Lynch and Liam Kelly. Volunteers: Amy Flynn, Eithne Gernon. Fiona McMahon, Joe Callan, Ann Kelly and Mary McGee. To Walter McConville on Sound.
To Geraldine Martin for the brochure design. To our sponsors Monaghan Co. Council Arts Partners and Lakeland Dairies. To the Credit Union, Carrickmacross for their stage, to David O’Rourke and staff for delivering it. To all others ’whose small and unremembered acts of kindness and of love’ are the glue that keeps us together until next year.
Next year! 50 years since the poet’s death.
‘On the stem of memory imagination blossoms’.