Patrick Kavanagh - poet and sportsman

Patrick Kavanagh is acknowledged as one of the greatest poets of modern times and one of the foremost Irish poets of the 20th century. He was the son of James and Bridget Kavanagh and was born at Mucker, Inniskeen and spent his youth there on the family farm. In this the centenary year of his birth it is somewhat fitting that in the Monaghan GAA Yearbook some thought should be given to Kavanaghıs place in the sporting ethos of his native area. By John Graham.

Kavanagh departed Inniskeen in 1939 and went to Dublin where he worked as a journalist, writing a gossip column in the then Irish Press from 1942 to 1944 and acted as Film Critic for that publication from 1945 to 1949. His rural background was reflected in his first volume of poems, the Ploughman and Other Poems which was published in 1936 and two years later The Green Fool, which is variously described as autobiographical or Stage Irish biography appeared in 1938. By the early forties his poems were beginning to attract attention of the literary circle and in 1942 The Great Hunger, which was probably his greatest work, appeared. The Great Hunger however did not enjoy unanimous or universal approval and all copies of The Horizon literary magazine in which it was published were seized by The Gardai on the order of the Minister for Justice because the work was alleged to be obscene. It is now seen as a work of great genius.

If The Green Fool was regarded as semi autobiographical then Tarry Flynn was in fact the outline of Kavanagh's life in fictional form when it was published in 1948. It was later made into a play and performed in the Abbey Theatre in 1966. It still continues to be one of the classics of the Irish stage. The early fifties saw Kavanagh publishing his own magazine, Kavanagh's Weekly which ran to some 16 editions and in 1956 and 1957 he was a touring lecturer in the USA. Ten years later Patrick Kavanagh died on November 30th 1967 in a Dublin nursing home and his remains were interred in Inniskeen two days later.

Based on reminiscences of his brother Peter it would appear that Patrick Kavanagh was very interested in sport of all kinds and had a very special interest in horseracing. It is claimed however that he could well have been a successful athlete as he showed a great aptitude for cross-country running and accounts of its participation in tug-of-war competitions in Inniskeen make interesting reading. His football career began about 1927 as a member of the Inniskeen Junior team and about two years later he was elevated to the senior team where he played in goals. Deciding to actually play football at that time was a brave decision by Kavanagh as he was risking serious injury to his bad leg, a condition that developed from a thrombosis that he contracted as a complication from an attack of typhoid fever. Playing football did not have the blessing of his mother either and she is reported to have spent most of the time that Patrick was out playing football praying for his safe return. As goalkeeper Patrick Kavanagh was replacing the regular Inniskeen keeper Tom Callan, which was not an easy thing to do as he was a very popular player.

Football around Inniskeen that time was played in a number of venues, Toal’s Meadow near the village or Jackie's Meadow down in Lannet or in McCaffrey’s field down at Drumcatton and Paddy Kavanagh played on all of those pitches. As well as becoming a member of the Inniskeen senior team, Patrick Kavanagh also served for a time as Treasurer of the club and also represented them on a number occasions at County Committee meetings. Inniskeen were becoming one of the forces in Monaghan football around that time and featured prominently, not only in domestic competitions but in tournaments which were a growing feature, particularly for fund raising by clubs. Accounts of games at that time make interesting reading with incursions by the crowd, disputes over scores and results, and then faction fights developing among some teams own supporters.

Patrick Kavanagh was a shoemaker by trade having learned the art from his father and as a person who could “work the leather” he was also entrusted with looking after and repairing the one football that the Inniskeen club owned. Patrick Kavanagh's mother was a native of Donaghmoyne and there was great rivalry between those two clubs, just as there is today and if his mother wanted to rile her son about footballing matters in South Monaghan she could always get a reaction by saying to him that Inniskeen “could never beat Donaghmoyne.

Other accounts of matches at that time make interesting reading and some of this penned thoughts on the game have now entered the folklore of the GAA, but interspersed among the anecdotes are the names of players who are emerging in Inniskeen and who were to go on to become household names in later years. There is also one account of a game where Patrick Kavanagh played at full forward and in the words of the scribe “by keeping out of harm's way and waiting for the odd loose ball he scored six goals”. Kavanagh received many citations in the local press for his exploits as a goalkeeper and there are also some interesting items in a notebook that can be seen in the Kavanagh archive that lists teams from that time but more importantly it also contains very cryptic comments on matches.

Kavanagh in his time was not just a player who made up the numbers but was a valued member of the Inniskeen team that was on the verge of championship honours. He played in the senior championship in 1930 when Inniskeen were beaten by Latton in the final, Kavanagh taking the blame for the second goal which ensured victory for Latton but by the time Inniskeen won the 1938 senior championship his brother Peter had been called in as minder. That game wasn’t played until April 16th 1939 and ended in a draw with not a word appearing in any local newspaper by way of a reprot. The re-play in C’Blayney on May 14th did attract some attention and Joe Callan’s winning point being described as ‘historic”.

In 1932 special mention is made of a Lonergan Cup game between Inniskeen and Donaghmoyne and a result that would have given Kavanagh’s mother further ammunition regarding the Donaghmoyne hoodoo. However the greatest piece about Kavanagh’s sporting interest was the famous “Gut Yer Man” from The Envoy, where a football match was in progress in his imagination although he was “not a spectator but in there ploughing all around me, making myself famous in the parish as a man that never “cowed” even at the risk of a broken neck".

And the piece goes on interspersed with reminiscences from actual games that he had played in and cliches that abounded about the game at that time, indeed some of them are still in use today, his most cherished being when he was described as being “incisive” around the goals.

Patrick Kavanagh has made an acute contribution to the literary heritage of Monaghan and Ireland and it is with some justification that he could also claim to have made a substantial contribution to the footballing heritage of his native Inniskeen. “No man” he said “can adequately describe Irish life who ignores the Gaelic Athletic Association, which is true in a way, for football runs women a hard race as a topic for conversation”. In the 100 years since Patrick Kavanagh was born a lot has changed and yet were he to come back now nothing has changed.

Taken from Monaghan's Match
December 2004