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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon


      Every year since 2011 a celebration of the life noted Irish author of Myles na gCopaleen/ Flann O’Brien/ Brian O’Nolan is held in The Palace Bar, Dublin, on the 1st of April. This year, once again organised by John Clarke, it happened on Monday the 2nd of April just to make things easier and so it didn’t coincide with a rugby game.
       Myles was the author of ‘An Béal Bocht’, The Third Policeman, ‘At Swim Two Birds’, and other literary works as well as a wildly popular column in The Irish Times. He died on April 1st 1966, hence the date of the celebration.
       Myles, along with other noted literary figures of the day was a very frequent visitor to The Palace Bar on Fleet Street. The pub was one of several pub associated with the literary types of the day, including The Pearl, McDaid’s, The Bailey, and Davy Byrnes. While McDaid’s was the sawdust on the floor type of place, The Palace was considered a deal more refined and respectable. Myles seemed to enjoy and frequent The Palace more so than the other pubs.
      From 3-6pm there was a celebration of the life and work of Myles na gCopaleen in The Palace Bar in the form of readings and performances of some of his work in costume. Entrance was free and it was packed to the rafters.

      The contributors were all fans of Myles/ Flann/Brian.

Val O’Donnell

Racker Donnelly

      There were Val O’Donnell, Racker Donnelly, Tim Casey, Louis O ‘Brien, Jim Butler, Henry Mitchel, Vincent Kenny, Jack Lynch, Peter Prior, Frank Swords and Andrew Basquille. Andrew graced the company with original renditions of his own. This all had a Mylseian flavour.

       I have to tell you about Myles and a certain theatre reviewer who was writing for a national newspaper at the time. Myles’s play Faustus Kelly was running at the abbey Theatre. Myles asked the reviewer “Will you give my play a good review?” The answer was, “I will . . . I’m not that honest.”
      The reviewer was none other than Patrick Kavanagh.

      And speaking of Kavanagh, I have been a fan of Kavanagh’s works and stories about him for many decades. From his “Great Hunger” to tales by others such as the following.

       One day about sixty years ago in “The Duke” pub in Duke Street, Dublin Paddy put the hammer on Donal Foley, a respected and prolific journalist, for a loan of a pound. A pound was a lot of money at the time and Donal couldn’t afford to part with that much. But he gave the Inniskeen poet ten shillings. A short while later as Foley was making his way towards Grafton Street he heard Kavanagh mumbling behind him. The following dialogue took place;
      “Donal, Donal, will you do me another favour.”
      “I suppose I will Paddy, what is it?”
      “Don’t tell anybody that I’m in the ten-bob bracket.”

       Much informative and entertaining biographical material has been written about Kavanagh over the years.

      Now two County Louth people Una Agnew and her brother Art have brought out an “alternative biography” of Kavanagh “Love’s Doorway to Life”. It is a 3 CD compilation of Kavanagh’s work and traces the story of his life from birth in Mucker on 21st October 1904 to his death in his adopted Dublin on 30th November 1967 having collapsed at a performance of Tarry Flynn, in Dundalk Town Hall, eight days earlier. This collection containing snippets of information on Kavanagh which were touched on very lightly if not ignored completely by previous biographers. For instance how many people know that he sold his Shancoduff farm for €450 in 1949? He got much inspiration from this little farm even if, at times, he was,”writing poetry instead of digging drills.” The hedges of those small hilly fields were “the shelves of his library.” A poem or prose piece on a crumpled scrap of paper could be found hidden under almost every bush.

      Yet he had mixed feelings towards Shancoduff as the final stanza of this poem Shancoduff shows;

The sleety winds fondle the rushy beards of Shancoduff
While the cattle-drovers sheltering in the Featherna Bush
Look up and say: "Who owns them hungry hills
That the water-hen and snipe must have forsaken?
A poet? Then by heavens he must be poor."
I hear, and is my heart not badly shaken

       It is evident from this collection that Una Agnew has been a lifelong student of Kavanagh and has left no stone unturned in her research. When her brother Art recited a Kavanagh poem it comes to life. It’s almost possible to see the dead wasp floating in the barrel of potato or hear the canal water “niagarously roaring ” as it flows over a lock.

      Those two siblings, with their “across the Boyne” accents bring the Mucker poet to life. Listening to them both it is possible, like Kavanagh, to find yourself, “ . . . standing above the world of Drumnay and Miskin and looking far into the east where the dark fields of Cavan fanned out through a gap in the hills into the green fertile plains of Louth.”

Love’s Doorway to Life can be found on and is not to be missed.

      I’ll see you in June. In the meantime I’ll listen, listen and listen to the Agnews.

      A Reminder: Listowel's Writers' Week begins May 30 through June 3rd.

       I have just learned through an article by top journalist Billy Keane that a seven-year-old Anna Brown in County Cork, who suffers from cerebral palsy, needs an operation to help her walk. The operation is only available in the United States and will cost about €100,000. Billy Keane has started the ball rolling himself and has already being instrumental in raising several thousand euro. But more is needed. You can contribute through Anna's GoFundMe page;

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