Kavanagh: The Green Fool

While deliberating whether Patrick Kavanagh would be acceptable as a ‘local’ poet to our readership, the great irony struck me: that Kavanagh himself, from the black hills and sour fields of Monaghan, struggled to demonstrate the universality of man in his verse and indeed celebrated his people, their time and their landscape to encapsulate the problems of mankind, and of the artist through all regions and ages.

In short, he feared lest he be seen as just a ‘local’ poet!

Of course Patrick Kavanagh belonged to our immediate region, as the quotation below demonstrates! Not just one of Ireland‘s greatest poets of the century, he was accomplished also in prose.

Around our house there stood little hills all tilled and tame. Yellow flame-blossoms of the whin lit bonfires all over the landscape; the whin was as persistent and as fertile as sin and disease.

The sunny side of the hills was good soil and boasted some tall thorn trees, but the black side facing the north was crabbed and poverty-stricken and grew only stunted blackthorns and sorrel plants. There were no trees to speak of except the poplar and the sally; here and there a cranky old elm which had survived the crying of a cold kitchen spread about his trunk and tried to look a forest. From the tops of the little hills there spread a view right back to the days of Saint Patrick and the druids.

Slieve Gullion to the north fifteen miles distant, to the west the bewitched hills and forths of Donaghmoyne; eastwards one could see the distillery chimney of Dundalk sending up its prosperous smoke, or, on a very bright day, one could see the sun-dazzled tide coming in at Annagasson. To the south stood the Hill of Mullacrew where once was held a fair famous as Donnybrook and it had as many cracked skulls to its credit too.

The name of my birthplace was Mucker; some of the natives wanted to change it to Summerhill which would have been worse. All who could do so, without risking the loss of their scant mail, cut ‘Mucker’ out of their postal address altogether. The natives of the place were known far and near as Muckers, which in after years was rhymed obscenely by corner-boys. 

The name was a corrupted Gaelic word signifying a place where pigs were bred in abundance. Long before my arrival there was much heart-aching among the folk who had to put up with, and put up in, such a pig-named townland. In spite of all this the townland stuck to its title and it was Mucker in which I was born.


Patrick Kavanagh, The Green Fool, 1938 (Michael Joseph)

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