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
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
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
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