A genius in the family

In the week marking the centenary of Patrick Kavanagh's birth, the Longford Leader caught up with Kavanagh's family in Longford to find that, to them, he will always be uncle Paddy.

You get a sense when you're talking to Maureen Lynch and Andy Quinn, that they still find it somewhat strange that people are so interested in their late uncle.

But when your uncle happens to be Patrick Kavanagh, one of the giants of Ireland's literary history, you have to get used to it.

Andy and Maureen are two of the four children of Lucy, Paddy Kavanagh's sister and Andy Quinn, the others being Fr John, a well-known priest currently in Gorletteragh and late sister Breda, who were all brought up in Shroid.

These two are among two of the many connections the late Kavanagh, the centenary of whose birth is now being celebrated, has in County Longford.

Lucy, a well known primary school teacher, was one of seven sisters and one brother of the late great poet, whose most famous poems include “On Raglan Road' and “Stony Grey Soil”. Only one of the family, Peter is still alive today.

Another sister Annie lived on Church Street in the town, where Paddy stayed for nine months in the 1950s recuperating after having a lung removed.

Maureen and Andy then growing up in Shroid, didn't see a great deal of him at the time.
“I'm not sure he was in the best of form”, says Maureen, “He was sick and recovering from a hard operation.”

Antoinnette Quinn's biography of the poet mentions his time in Longford.

“Unhappy with having to leave Dublin, he made little effort to be sociable or even civil. He isolated himself by keeping to his room or, as he became more mobile, walking around the town on his own,” she writes.

Maureen does, however, remember him buying her a tennis racket to play with.
On another occasion she and her mother, who, like all the sisters, doted on their somewhat wild brother met up with Paddy in Dublin and he bought them two red raincoats.

Or rather, Paddy bought them, and Lucy paid for them!

It was a typical gesture for the penniless poet, who at that time was not seeing too much acclaim, not to mind royalties, for his work.

When writing about Kavanagh, there is no way of getting around the fact that he was no angel. Like many men and women of an artistic disposition, he found it difficult to function well in everyday life.
“He never had any money when alive,” says Andy. “He drank all he got. I remember a cheque for £2,000 he got from UCD just a week before he died and he said it was the first he ever got.”

The family remarked how sad it was that the man himself, whose estate has generated a lot of money since his death, never lived to see it.

Andy Quinn, lives with wife Maureen on Farnagh Hill. They have three children, Enda and Fionnula and the late Andrew. He has some hair-raising memories of meeting up with Paddy while studying in Dublin.

“I met up with him with my good friend Jimmy Quaine from Ardagh, once hoping to get a few pounds as I was broke,” he recalls. “He asked me what I drank and I said only pints and he nodded approvingly.” Paddy brought the two lads to a ‘right kip of a place on Leeson Street. Paddy ordered whiskey and when young Andy did the same he scowled and said he'd only give him five pounds as opposed to ten.

‘He didn't approve of me spending all my money on whiskey,” he laughs.

“We didn't hold him in any awe,” says Andy. “We knew he was a poet and that was all. It was no big deal. When we were at home, he wouldn't have been the best to write or phone. Though my mother would always include Patrick in the prayers.”

He always had a great welcome for family when they would visit him in Dublin, says Maureen.
In the years which followed his death, both Maureen and Andy became more aware of the ever growing legacy of their uncle.

“When I first met my husband (Maureen, who lives in Mohill, is married to Tom Lynch from Kerry) he knew all the poets, and more about Paddy than I did,” she explained.

“I remember being most impressed while he was alive that he married Katherine Barry Moloney, a niece of Kevn Barry,” says Andy.

Mother Lucy, however, was always aware and fiercely proud of her brother's achievements and she and her sisters minded Patrick as much as they could .

Asked about their favourite poems by Maddy, Maureen mentions “A Christmas Childhood”, while Andy enjoys his account of a football match “Gut yer man”, while his wife Maureen likes a “A Christmas Childhood”.

Over the years as his fame grew as his fame grew, Kavanagh's extended family have been proud to go along to the various functions organised to celebrate his life.

Just on Thursday last, the Quinns went up to a function in City Hall, in Dublin attended by the likes of Mick Lally, Ardal O' Hanlon and Pat McCabe.

For all of the legend that grows out of a famous figure in death, the two retain unique insights into what made Kavanagh such a great poet.

“Paddy was a very direct man. He didn't beat around the bush and told you exactly what you were thinking. He had an insight.”

As for Patrick Kavanagh, great poetic genius. It's hard for either of them to relate to.
“Genius is relative,” says Andy. For he and his sister he'll always be plain Uncle Paddy.

Courtesy of the Longford Leader
October 2004