A splendidly life-like statue of Patrick Kavanagh seated on a bench in Dublin has had more than one visitor beg its pardon. He comes to life in just as real a way at the Centre in Inniskeen that bears his name. Born in 1904 into a poor farming family, Patrick, by all odds, should have become another small subsistence farmer like his father, scraping a bare living from poor soil and stony hills. But Fate intervened. Working the land, learning to make boots, participating in the life of a small village, Kavanagh began to write of ordinary events in his daily life of the sights, sounds, and people of his village.
“There is nothing as dead and damned as an important thing,” he wrote. “Only the bits and pieces of everyday can achieve immortality.”
So he dabbled in verse. The young dabbler became one of Ireland’s foremost literary figures.
The drama that unfolded in his fictional village of Dargan in his novel Tarry Flynn is only slightly upstaged by the remarkable achievement of his real life admirers. The community of Inniskeen, with financial help from county and state, purchased Kavanagh’s parish church, St. Mary’s, which had been vacant for several years. An extensive renovation and remodelling project produced a showcase resource centre. It houses exhibitions on local history as well as on Kavanagh, a 60-seat audio visual theatre, and a research library. Also on view are 12 specially-commissioned paintings illustrating Kavanagh’s epic poem, “The Great Hunger,” and a miniature model depicts his much loved poem, “A Christmas Childhood.”
Some of his most memorable lines come from that poem, simple lines like, “One side of the potato pits was white with frost,” and “the light between the ricks of hay and straw was a hole in heaven’s gable.”
And what light was that? It was starlight, for the family was up early preparing by oil lamp to attend 6:00 Mass on Christmas morning. While his father played his melodeon at the gate, celebrating in his own way, “outside the cow house,” his mother made the “music of milking.” And as his mother milked and his father played, “Mass-going feet crunched the wafer ice on the potholes.”
On such a frost cold morning, illuminated only by starlight, it would be easy to look out over Cassidy’s hill and see three evergreen bushes as the wise kings riding across the horizon.
Mark the last weekend in November on your calendar. A special program spread over three days combines music, drama, pageantry, and readings with a large helping of pure Inniskeen craic (fun).
Inniskeen and its surrounding area remain largely unchanged from the turn of the century landscape that inspired so much of Kavanagh’s writing. He died in 1967 and is buried in his native soil in the cemetery of St. Mary’s chapel among those with whom he lived.
How to get there:
From Dublin, take N2 to jct N52 at Ardee. At Ardee, take N52 north to Dundalk. From Dundalk, take R178, Carrickmacross Road, approx 6 miles. Turn right at Conlin’s Pub and follow signs.
From Belfast, take A3 to Monaghan Town, then A2 South to Carrickmacross. Take R178, Dundalk Road, approx 5 miles. Turn left at Kelly’s Pub and follow signs.
1 December – 16 March Tues – Fri 11:00 – 4:00
17 March – 31 May Tues – Fri 11:00 – 4:00 (Sundays, holidays, 2-4)
1 June to 30 September Tues – Fri 11:00 – 5:00 (S/S/Hol. 2-5)
1 October to 30 November Tues – Fri 11:00 – 4:00 (Sun, holiday, 2-4)
Patrick Kavanagh Rural and Literary Resource Center
Inniskeen, Co Monaghan
T: +353 (0) 42 9378560, Oliver or Rosaleen
Written by Joy Davis - Summer of Travel 2007