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forget raglan road ... it was drumcondra where it all began for patrick

You must admire the forward-thinking nature of Dublin's planning officials. Some years ago, when erecting a statue of Brendan Behan on the Royal Canal at the start of Drumcondra Road, they positioned Behan looking southwards towards the city.

I previously presumed that this was to ensure that he could enjoy gazing towards numerous Dublin hostelries he once loudly frequented.

But last Saturday week I realised they had positioned his statue to ensure that Behan could keep its back resolutely turned away from the celebrations when a plaque was finally erected on Drumcondra Road, in memory of his long-term adversary, the poet Patrick Kavanagh.

territorial

Writers are territorial and Behan's statue must have felt secure in thinking that he owned the northside - because people either associate Kavanagh with his native Monaghan or with Baggot Street on Dublin's southside, which Kavanagh turned into a private fiefdom of his imagination during his later years.

After all, Pembroke Road is where he told future generations to seek out his ghost, "Dishevelled with shoes untied, playing through the railings with little children whose children have long since died."

Not long after arriving in Dublin, Kavanagh did indeed cross the Liffey to colonise the area around Baggot Street - where his daily routine would commence by visiting the hospitable and formidable ladies of Parsons Bookshop on Baggot Street Bridge - one of whom would slip out to a pub to purchase a baby Power to fortify the morning cup of tea they offered him.

But Kavanagh's first proper home in Dublin was actually located at No 51 Upper Drumcondra Road, where a plaque has now been unveiled.

In August 1939, he moved into a flat at this address with his younger brother Peter: the brothers forking out seven shillings and six pence to purchase a stretcher bed for Kavanagh to sleep on.

Or, more likely, Peter forked out the cash, because while Kavanagh had prospects of a dazzling career ahead of him, he was - and remained - singularly short of money.

Kavanagh was, however, also singularly lucky in possessing a brother with absolute faith in him, who was willing to bankroll Kavanagh while he worked on his novel Tarry Flynn.

Drumcondra was perhaps chosen because Peter had trained here as a teacher in St Patrick's College and knew the area well. Just a few doors down from Kavanagh's flat was No 37 Upper Drumcondra Road: formerly the home of Professor John Carolan of St Patrick's College, who lost his life in 1920 when murdered by British soldiers during a raid on his house, after he sheltered Dan Breen and Sean Treacy who shot their way out.

Kavanagh's new neighbours undoubtedly pointed out the site of this famous skirmish during the War of Independence, but another war quickly preoccupied Kavanagh's thoughts and profoundly affected his future.

Just weeks after moving in, Kavanagh - whose most famous works include Raglan Road - was walking down Drumcondra Road when a newsboy appeared, selling a stop press edition of a newspaper with one single word on the cover: WAR.

Kavanagh had recently left London, where he was acquiring a reputation until his memoir, The Green Fool, was withdrawn from sale because of a libel action. His brother had only purchased a cheap stretcher bed because Kavanagh harboured ambitions of returning to London, ambitions thwarted by that single word, War.

It is dangerous to second-guess history and speculate where Kavanagh might have ended up, but the outbreak of war meant that his Drumcondra Road flat became the first of many Dublin addresses. Peter - working as a teacher at a Christian Brothers' school in Westland Row - realised that his brother had suddenly become (as Antoinette Quinn says in her fine biography) "a semi-permanent, non-contributory guest". With just one salary between them, a cheaper flat needed to be found on Haddington Road.

Kavanagh's perilous financial circumstances improved sometime after when - with his stretcher bed barely cold in Drumcondra - he became the first winner of the prestigious AE Memorial Award.

As I was the last ever recipient of this award in 1985 (which was only granted once every seven years), it could be argued that it began and ended in Drumcondra.

Despite having several of his works banned, Kavanagh was also the recipient of generous financial support from a normally censorious, fellow Drumcondra resident - the imperious Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who felt a surprising empathy with his fellow Ulsterman-in-exile.

I'm not sure if this empathy inspired McQuaid to also flee across the Liffey to the Southside. The palatial Victorian-Gothic mansion in Killiney to whom McQuaid decamped from Drumcondra was very different to the small flats where the penniless Kavanagh lived, but McQuaid used the same excuse for leaving Drumcondra, claiming that he was obliged to move into his southside mansion (funded by anonymous benefactors) "because of my poverty".

Kavanagh's time in Drumcondra might have been forgotten about, were it not for the efforts of Peter McDonnell, energetic Chairman of the Monaghan Association and the prime mover behind the unveiling of this plaque last Saturday week, with a celebratory speech by the author Brendan Lynch, who has written so well about Kavanagh's life.

important

It was not Kavanagh's most important Dublin home, but it was one that he remembered with great affection in his wry poem, I Had a Future: "Show me the stretcher bed I slept on/ In a room of Drumcondra Road/ Let John Betjeman call for me in a car."

I don't know if Betjeman's ghost turned up in a car and if Brendan Behan's ghost relented and turned to look back from his seat on the Royal Canal - but, thanks to the Monaghan Association, lovers of poetry gathered last weekend to honour Kavanagh outside the house in Drumcondra where two Monaghan brothers once talked about their dreams of the future.

hnews@herald.ie


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