Tag Archives: Patrick Kavanagh

Patrick Kavanagh — No Man’s Fool

 My film’Patrick Kavanagh — No Man’s Fool’ was com­mis­sioned by the Irish Film Board and RTE to cel­e­brate the cen­te­nary of the poets birth in 1904. The notion to make the film began when I filmed a year­ly gath­er­ing of Kavanagh devo­tees at his favourite spot on the Grand Canal in Dublin. Every year some­one would make a speech in the spir­it of Kavanagh and that year it was the poet  Mac­dara Woods.


Near the end of his speech he implored every­body to write to the parish priest in Inniskeen where Kavanagh was buried and to plead with him to rein­state the head­stone of Kavanagh’s wife Kather­ine Moloney to the poets grave­side. Mac­dara to my aston­ish­ment  explained how a few years after Kather­ine was buried along­side Kavanagh her head­stone had been destroyed  by per­sons unknown. My inter­est was piqued and I set out to Kavanagh’s birth­place in Inniskeen Coun­ty Mon­aghan to inves­ti­gate the mys­tery of the miss­ing head­stone. All I spoke to remained tightlipped but Bar­ney Cun­ning­ham a local farmer told me that there was bas bad blood between Patrick­’s broth­er Peter and Kather­ine over the lega­cy of his writ­ings. In 1989 Peter removed the cross over Patrick grave because he dis­agreed with the open­ing of his grave for the bur­ial of Kather­ine.  Some­time after Kather­ine’s bur­ial a  memo­r­i­al sculp­ture erect­ed in her mem­o­ry was destroyed and in 1998 Peter rein­stat­ed the cross.  Peter denied all knowl­edge as to how Kather­ine’s  head­stone dis­ap­peared. To this day there is no mark­ing to sig­ni­fy Kather­ine is buried there.

I edit­ed the lit­tle mate­r­i­al I had from the Canal gath­er­ing and in time the film was com­mis­sioned. Iron­i­cal­ly the sto­ry of Kather­ine’s head­stone being destroyed was not fea­tured in the film. This was not because of cen­sor­ship but more because the poets life took over my imag­i­na­tion. In the end the film con­cen­trat­ed on his extra­or­di­nary life. Kavanagh became known as the peas­ant poet and after good notices for his first pub­lished poems in ‘Plough­man and oth­er Poems’ he quit  the rur­al life he led and decamped to Dublin. Life was hard in the big city and he was always short of a shilling but against all odds per­se­vered in writ­ing the poet­ry that would immor­talise him. 

The film is lit­tered with the highs and lows of his poet­ic life.  The with­draw­al of his first nov­el ‘The Green Fool’ because of alleged libel by Oliv­er St. John Gog­a­r­ty. The police vis­it­ing him and giv­ing him a warn­ing about the overt sex­u­al­i­ty in his epic poem ‘The Great Hunger’. The col­lapse of his week­ly news­pa­per ‘Kavanagh’s Week­ly’ which was financed in the main by his broth­er Peter. He was a thorn in the estab­lished intel­lec­tu­als of the day and nev­er let a chance go to throw a wit­ty barb their way. Worse tragedy of all hap­pened when in his final years he sued a mag­a­zine ‘The Leader’ for libel and as a result his health dete­ri­at­ed. Out of this dark peri­od he wrote his great­est poet­ry known fond­ly as The Canal Bank Poems. This lit­tle stretch of water was his tran­quil space that was a short walk from his home and that he called Baggotonia.

John Montague

John Mon­tague

We filmed a lot in Inniskeen and Dublin. We inter­viewed his friends, John Mon­tague, Mac­dara Woods, TP McKen­na and the won­der­ful Leland Bard­well. We cre­at­ed visu­al sequences to con­vey the poet­ry which was read by the actor Ger­ard McSor­ley. Stephen Walsh wrote and nar­rat­ed the film. A 52 minute ver­sion aired on RTE but the longer ver­sion of 70 min­utes is the film I want­ed every­one to see. That ver­sion went on to win best doc­u­men­tary at the Boston Film Fes­ti­val. The film now lies in the vaults of the Irish Film Archive and gets the occa­sion­al outing.