The celebrated poet, Patrick Kavanagh was reared on the "stony grey soil" (Kavanagh) of Co
Monaghan. He was born in the parish of Inniskeen in the townland of Mucker, about ten
miles from Dundalk, but generally the knowledge of his life is not widely known.
Patrick Kavanagh's grandfather, called Patrick Keaveney was a teacher in Kednaminsha
school. It was one of the six National Schools in the parish at the time. He was a native of
Sligo and lodged in McEnteggarts, a house near the school which is still standing. He became
friendly with Nancy Callan who was a maid in the house. When she became pregnant he was
expelled from the school and Nancy (who was later to have twins, one of whom died),
wouldn't marry him. The parish priest, Fr. Kinlon, because of this "scandal" baptised the
surviving child as James Kavanagh. Meanwhile his father moved to Tullamore where Trench,
the local landlord of Inniskeen got him a job as Governor of the workhouse in Tullamore. At
that time primary school teachers needed a degree in agriculture to teach. This was very
useful as there was a farm attached to the workhouse. Later his produce won many prizes and
the workhouse improved while he was there.
Originally Nancy Callan was married to Pat McHugh from Inniskeen who died after twelve
months. Even though she was married to him, Nancy still kept the name Callan. She had a
son by him also called Pat. When he grew up he went to England where he became a Member
of the Board of Guardians of Sunderland as well as being the organiser of the British Labour
Party. Nancy never married again. Patrick Keaveney wanted to support his son, James. He
would send a ten shilling note every so often. At that time the post wasn't very trustworthy so
he would tear the note in two and send them separately. Later on he used to arrange meetings
with James in Dublin. He also married and had more children.
James learned the shoemaking trade and lived at his mother's house in Mucker. It is believed
that he was very good to her and looked after her well. He didn't go to Kednaminsha school
but went to Inniskeen school (the village school) instead, because McCaffrey, a cousin of his
taught there. He went to Campbells of Drumcatton to learn the shoemaking trade. While he
was there he was being picked on by bigger lads as he was small and light. William Woods
who was born around 1880 and was a big man of 6' 4", saved James many times from the
bigger boys and so they became good friends. James told William about a farm that was for
sale beside them in Mucker and so he bought it and they remained friends down through the
In 1896 James' mother died and by coincidence this was also the year in which Patrick
Keaveney died. The following year James married Bridget Quinn of Tullerain, Killany, Co
Louth. They had ten children in the following order: Annie, Mary, Bridget ("Sissie"), Patrick
(born on 21st October 1904), Lucy, Theresa, Josie, James (died shortly after birth), Cecilia
and Peter. They had great debates among themselves about anything they could think of. The
Kavanaghs were intelligent people who had photographic memories. Though they were poor
they got the daily paper and knew all that was going on. They got books from Paddy
Brennan, a neighbour of theirs who got them from the Maguires, his relations in America. As
the children grew up they moved off, mainly into the nursing profession and by the money they
sent home helped to rear the remaining members of the family. Peter Kavanagh is the only
member of the family who is alive today.
Patrick Kavanagh grew up in the townland of Mucker in the parish of Inniskeen, Co
Monaghan. He was born on the 21st of October 1904. The relationship between his father
and himself went beyond the ordinary relationship of father and son. Unlike his father he went
to Kednaminsha School but he could not be persuaded to finish it. He thought that he knew
more than the teacher, Mrs Cassidy. His father told him that if he answered correctly each of
the six questions that he would ask him he could stay at home. Patrick answered them all
correctly which meant that he could stay at home, and so he father apprenticed him to the
shoemaking trade. As he worked he wasted more leather than he used as he mind wasn't on
During the busy farming periods Patrick left the shoemaking bench to help neighbours with
their work. While he was working his mind was on poetry. His interest was entirely in
reading and writing. He spent several hours each evening trying to write. The Kavanaghs as
children loved the fields, the rocks and the ditches. In 1923 Patrick contracted typhoid fever
from drinking out of running streams and was in Monaghan Hospital for three months.
Patrick's mother and father realised that he would never make a shoemaker and so with two
boys in the family, they decided to buy an extra piece of land - Reynold's Farm, which
consisted of seven watery hills. This extended their existing farm of four acres of land and
two acres of bog. Patrick, Peter and the other members of the family got great enjoyment
from these hills. They knew every bush, rabbit-hole and when they sat down to rest (which
was frequent) they had a magnificent view of Slieve Gullion and the Mourne Mountains in the
distance. They had a fairy fort behind them, sacred wells, every kind of magic and all of which
they feared or respected. Patrick was no more interested in farming than he was in
shoemaking but he managed to produce good crops in his crooked drills.
Patrick played the bagpipes in the local band, the Inniskeen Pipers Band, and attended the
Gaelic language class. His strong interest in athletics lasted throughout his life. Once he
failed to clear an iron gate and broke his collar bone. He could run a mile in less than five
minutes and jumped 5'2" in the high jump. He was goalkeeper for the Inniskeen football team,
"The Rovers". He also liked to gamble with the little money he had and so he played "Pitch
and Toss" at Kednaminsha Cross. When he let a goal in, his own team-mates turned on him
and saying things like "My ould mother could have stopped that one". Once when the team
was defeated by Annamullen, Patrick and Peter had to run home from Kednaminsha
crossroads because it was said that Patrick sold out to the opposition. There is a rumour in
Inniskeen that during one game Patrick left the pitch to get an ice-cream and a goal went in,
but I cannot say whether this is true or not. By the year 1932 Patrick had risen to the position
of Captain-Treasurer of the team. He kept the money underneath his bed and since he was a
voracious cigarette smoker and always short of money it is possible that on occasions he
helped himself to some of the treasure.
By the time Patrick began writing verse, about the age of twelve, the local Bard of Callenberg
was retiring from verse. He was a man with a wicked tongue and was ready to use it in rhyme
on the slightest provocation. Although it was well-known in the neighbourhood that Patrick
was practising verse no one would mention it unless in a quarrel: "Your brother's a bard", they
would jeer then. It was Patrick who eventually made the exposure. In 1927 Uncle Jemmy
Quinn finally presented Patrick with his old bicycle. On the handlebars of "ould Quinn"
Patrick brought Peter on Sundays to sporting events. They often went to soccer matches in
Dundalk, viewing the game free from a promontory overlooking the pitch. At this time, the
Weekly Irish Independent ran a Poet's Corner competition. The standard was very high and in
August 1928 Patrick submitted verses to this competition. The exciting news came that three
of his verses had been accepted, 'Summer'. 'The Pessimist' and 'Freedom'.
In February 1929 local fears were aroused when Patrick published in The Dundalk Democrat
'An Address To An Old Wooden Gate'. Patrick was becoming a menace, for the gate was
easily identifiable as Cassidy's and they weren't a bit pleased. It began:
Battered by time and weather, scarcely fit
For firewood: there's not a single bit
Of paint to hide those wrinkles: and those scringes
Break hoarsely on the silence~rusty hinges...
On August 1929 Patrick's father died and he became head of the family although his mother
held a tight grip on the reins. He felt the loss, for he and his father were great friends. He
knelt at his deathbed, speaking into father's ear revoked a pact that they had made for father to
appear to him after death if that were possible. One of the first decisions that Patrick made
was that Peter should go to the High School in Carrickmacross. Later he went on to be a
school teacher and for a year he taught in the De La Salle in Dundalk at forty-seven and three
pence a week in 1936. He could never understand how the three pence was arrived at. Now
that Patrick had "ould Quinn" it was possible for him to visit Dundalk more often. Here
Patrick came across The Irish Statesman. He submitted verse and on 19th October 1929 he
published his first verse there, 'The Intangible'.
Patrick often drank in Daniel McNello's pub in Inniskeen and for a time it was known as
'Kavanagh's Hide-Out'. A few people would talk to him but most people would try to avoid
him as they were afraid that he might write about them. He was never really accepted as a
poet by the people of Inniskeen until after his death. At times Patrick Kavanagh could be
quite ignorant and aggressive in his manner which also led to people isolating him. In 1939 he
left farming to work in Dublin where he took up writing full-time. A few times previously he
had walked to Dublin which took him three days. For most of his life he had very little money
and was often frustrated because very few recognised his genius. At this time Peter supported
Patrick as he was working in Dublin too.
On November 10th 1945 Patrick and Peter got the word that their mother was dead and they
hastened to Inniskeen. She was aged seventy-three. Her brother was with her at her death.
Peter was deeply affected by her death and yet Patrick was her favourite. In 1955 Patrick
Kavanagh had an operation to remove one of his lung's that was suffering from cancer. This
operation was to prolong his life by two years but it actually extended it by twelve. After it he
made a full recovery. Often Kavanagh's work took him to London and this is where he met
his wife-to-be, Catherine Moloney. There is some speculation that Eoin Ryan and his friends plotted
to make Patrick drunk on the day of his wedding in April 1967, six months before his death.
Otherwise he might have changed his mind and when he died Catherine wouldn't get the royalties
from his work. This dispute is still on-going.
In November 1967 Patrick Kavanagh finally died and was buried in the "stony grey soil" of
Inniskeen graveyard. There were stepping stones on his grave and a wooden cross with his
name inscribed on it, with a few lines of one of his poems written on the stepping stones.
When his wife died there was a dispute between the Kavanaghs and the wife's people which
resulted in Peter removing the stepping stones and the cross, and arranging them near the gate
of their original home.
Today in Inniskeen there is a Patrick Kavanagh Society and this great poet is finally recognised. Peter doesn't approve of all that takes place in memory of Patrick as he thinks it is too commercialised. Due to Patrick Kavanagh, Inniskeen was put on the map.