Feature Articles

CELEBRATING THE PATRICK KAVANAGH CENTENARY by Antoinette Quinn

(Poetry Ireland News, September/October 2004)

BLOOMSDAY's sausages had scarcely been digested when the Patrick Kavanagh Centenary commemorations got under way. Patrick Kavanagh was born a hundred Patrick Kavanaghyears ago this October. His birth date was 21st, if one goes by his father’s note in his Cobbler’s Account Book; 23rd, if we are to believe the Register of Births; and, sometime before 22nd, according to Inniskeen parish’s baptismal records. A decision to adopt the date on the Birth Certificate for the official launch of the centenary was overtaken by events, fittingly, given Kavanagh’s dislike of officialdom. However, we are delighted to report that President Mary McAleese has agreed to become the Patron of the Patrick Kavanagh Centenary, thereby amply compensating for the less than welcoming attitude of her predecessor, Douglas Hyde, when the young poet visited Áras an Uachtaráin.

The Patrick Kavanagh centenary programme is being coordinated by the Inniskeen Enterprise Development Group, who have appointed Emily Cullen as programme director. Several centenary celebrations have already taken place over the summer, among them the controversial inauguration of the Patrick Kavanagh Literary Trail in Carrickmacross on 24 May by Rosanna Davison, Miss World. It is intended that two of these summer events will become annual happenings: the reading of Kavanagh’s poetry by waterways countrywide and by the Grand Canal in Dublin on 18 July, and the Raglan Road Festival of music and literature held in Inniskeen over the August Bank Holiday weekend. This year, many visitors to the Raglan Road Festival, accustomed to seeing Inniskeen under grey October skies at the annual Kavanagh Weekend, were delighted to find themselves strolling about the village in glorious sunshine.

Most items in the festival programme are scheduled for the autumn. First off are talks by Eddie Holt and Derek Hand sponsored by the Monaghan Men’s Association in Buswells Hotel at 8pm on Tuesday 14 September. On Thursday 23 September Antoinette Quinn will give a talk on the new centenary edition of Patrick Kavanagh’s Collected Poems (Allen Lane/Penguin) in the National Library at 7 pm. The launch of the book itself will take place at a reception sponsored by Guinness in the Hop Store on 13 October, with John McGahern as guest speaker. This invitation-only reception is a case of history repeating itself, since forty years ago Guinness hosted the launch of Kavanagh’s first Collected Poems (1964) at its Harp Headquarters in Mayfair when the Irish Embassy in London had refused. On the evening of 5 October, Poetry Ireland and Lilliput Press will co-host the launch of Dancing with Kitty Stobling at 6.30 pm at the Royal College of Surgeons. This is an anthology by the 32 winners of the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award, 1971-2003. It is expected that many of the award-winning poets will attend and sign books at the reception, at which the guest speaker will be one of their number, Paul Durcan, the incoming Ireland Chair of Poetry. The award is still flourishing and this year’s winner will be announced in the course of the evening. The anthology is a poetic response to Kavanagh’s invitation to ‘dance with Kitty Stobling’ in the title poem of his finest volume, Come Dance with Kitty Stobling (1960). Kitty was the zany, carefree muse of his later poetry.

The official Centenary Commemoration of Patrick Kavanagh’s birth will take place in Dublin’s City Hall at 1pm on Thursday 21 October. All are welcome at this commemoration which will feature dramatised readings from The Green Fool and Tarry Flynn, and a ‘request reading’ of Kavanagh’s poems by John and Tommy McArdle. A number of celebrities from all walks of Irish life will appear as special guests and music will be by the Cullen Harpers. Refreshments will be provided. On the same evening there will be a Special Commemorative Evening at the National Concert Hall organized by Noel O’Grady. It is advisable to book early for this ticket-only concert. Other theatrical and film treats are planned for the Centenary festival period. On 14 October there will be a screening of Kavanagh-related films at the National Film Centre, Dublin, which may be booked through its box-office. The Trustees of the estate of the late Katherine B Kavanagh are sponsoring a reading by Irish writers of The Great Hunger and a selection of Kavanagh’s poems on Sunday 24 October at the Gate Theatre, Dublin. This ticket-only event will be recorded by RTÉ. Loopline Film’s new documentary on Patrick Kavanagh will be screened by RTÉ as part of its autumn schedule. Also scheduled by RTÉ for the autumn is a radio documentary by John Cunningham. Northern Sound Radio is planning a dramatised version of Tarry Flynn and, during November, Upstate Theatre will tour a drama based on The Green Fool. Watch out for the Patrick Kavanagh commemorative stamp, designed by Robert Ballagh, which will be issued in October. Also, throughout that month, Dublin’s Dart trains will feature six of Kavanagh’s poems in their Poets’ Corner. Internationally, the Patrick Kavanagh centenary will be celebrated by a conference at Boston College and receptions in London, Paris and Athens. The Kavanagh centenary festival will conclude with the annual Patrick Kavanagh Weekend in Inniskeen from 26–28 November at which the keynote lecture will be given by Seamus Heaney. Other speakers have yet to be confirmed, but will include Sr. Una Agnew, Maurice Harmon and Antoinette Quinn. Professor Enda McDonagh of Maynooth College will deliver the oration at Saturday’s evening mass and the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the poet’s grave will take place on Sunday afternoon.

For the latest, accurate information on all aspects of the Patrick Kavanagh Centenary Festival, consult the website at www.patrickkavanaghcountry.com

Antoinette Quinn’s Patrick Kavanagh – A Biography was published by
Gill & Macmillan in 2001.

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