Cast a cold eye (1959)The Library of Trinity College Dublin
This exhibition celebrates the anniversary of the first appearance in print, in 1959, of the work of the poet Brendan Kennelly.
The poet in pensive mood (1970s) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Born in 1936 in Ballylongford, Co. Kerry, Brendan Kennelly made Dublin, and Trinity College, his home. He was Professor of Modern Literature in Trinity for forty years and is one of Ireland’s greatest, and most beloved, poets.
'Begin' from ‘Good souls to survive’ (1960s) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
The title of the exhibition 'Begin Again' is from a poem which the poet says was inspired by his admiration of the courage of ordinary people in doing whatever it takes, every day, to just keep going.
Begin AgainThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Poetry is meant to be heard and Kennelly has always been a moving performer of his own work. His voice was once voted the most popular on Irish radio!
The poet as a young academic (1970s) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
The most remarkable changes can be observed in Kennelly's work through the decades. As a young man he was influenced by the male poets of early twentieth-century Ireland.
The great hunger (1960s) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967), among the foremost poets of rural Ireland, was a particular influence on Kennelly.
The ability to find 'ebullient fragments of mystery’ in commonplace experiences is a trait Kennelly shared with the older poet.
Kennelly's transcription of Kavanagh's The Great Hunger (1942).
Notebook of 'My dark fathers' (1960s) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
The long-form poem (which he learned from Patrick Kavanagh) remained vital to Kennelly's work. Kennelly garnered critical attention for poems, such as 'My dark fathers' (1966), that deal with the effects of Ireland’s colonial history.
My dark fathers (1960s) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
The Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth-century in Ireland is an awful presence (in every sense of the word 'awful') in the Irish psyche. This true story of the woman dying in her dying husband's arms is the subject of another poem ('Quarantine'), by another great poet Eavan Boland.
Jottings on boarding pass (1970s) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
The Kennelly Archive in Trinity College Library Dublin contains much that is valuable in documenting the poet's literary practice. These boarding passes are among several little scraps used by Kennelly when he was caught out for want of paper when inspiration struck.
Being a very popular teacher - as well as a prolific publisher and a regular broadcaster - the poet had remarkable influence.
Reading list (1981) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Kennelly's archives document the poet's teaching practice. This reading list was produced for his undergraduate classes in the 1980s; note the almost all-male line-up. This is an important starting point for a significant change in the poet's literary practice.
Launch of 'Ireland's women' (1994) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
A change to be noted over the poet's lifetime is his increasing respect for the female voice. In 1970, Kennelly edited an anthology of Irish verse which contained only six female authors out of ninety. However, he was the first to react, twenty years later, to the 'Field Day' debacle (another gender-discriminatory anthology) with Ireland’s women: writings past and present (Dublin,1994) which he invited poet Katie Donovan to edit with him.
Introduction to 'Ireland's women' (1990s) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Kennelly's introduction to Ireland's Women: writings past and present selected by Katie Donovan, A. Norman Jeffares and Brendan Kennelly (Dublin 1994).
Programme for 'Medea' (1980s) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
In Kennelly's early poetry, women were observed from the outside, as exotic or eccentric. Later, as he lent his poetic voice to others, he foregrounded the purely female voice. His adaptation of Medea opened in 1988. He also produced a version of Euripides' Trojan women in 1993.
The poet's increasing modesty about what can be known of another person, without permitting them to speak for themselves, marks a change from his more confident, even arrogant, youthful work and is eloquently distilled here.
From Selected poems edited by Kevin Byrne (Dublin, 1985).
Invitation to book launch 'Prose and Cons' (1999) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Kennelly's belief that poetry has a democratic function underwrites one of the defining characteristics of his later poetry - letting others' voices take over from his own in his work. In this way the poet contrives to give a voice to marginalised individuals and communities.
Poem from a Three Year OldThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Among a multitude of widely loved poems, Kennelly's 'Poem from a three-year-old' is treasured. Kennelly allows the child's voice to take centre stage. Furthermore, as a teacher, realising he had no answers to give the child, he shows that questions can be deeply thought-provoking if they have no answers.
Cromwell (1997) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Among the most notorious outsiders to whom Kennelly gave voice was Oliver Cromwell (d.1658). Kennelly's wish to leave behind the 'fierce simplicities of hatred' inspired his long-form poem on the most loathed figure in Irish history.
Oliver to his brother (1990s) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Kennelly's imagination permitted Cromwell to speak, not merely as a murdering tyrant, but as a brother and as an affectionate father to his daughter. The poet said 'the imagination provides the most effective means of confronting the inherited hatreds buried in the self ... I tried to open my mind, heart and imagination to a man I was from childhood taught to hate'.
The book of Judas (1991) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Continuing his act of imaginative expression of outsiders' voices, Kennelly wrote The Book of Judas (Hexham, 1991). He wanted to explore 'how people who are thought to be "beyond all hope" can be allowed to have a voice?'
Heigh HoThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
His belief in the democratic role of poetry inspired the poet to use demotic forms, as well as language, to express profoundly grave issues. Here the ballad form is turned to an account of the death of Judas, who had betrayed Christ.
'Heigh-ho' from The Book of Judas: a poem (Hexham, 1991).
words (1990s) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
Kennelly not only gave voice to historical outcasts such as Cromwell and Judas, but to prisoners, the mentally ill, and, as in this poem, to the almost-illiterate, the wordless and the violent.
Poetry my arse (1995) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
We did warn you about 'demotic language'.
Kennelly and his peers (2010s) by Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
The poet among poets.
Front: Leanne O’Sullivan, Brendan Kennelly, Rita-Ann Higgins, Katie Donovan
Back:John O’Donnell, Terence Brown, Gerald Dawe, Michael Longley, Gerard Smyth
Brendan KennellyThe Library of Trinity College Dublin
His open, approachable personality, his honesty about personal struggles, his good humour, and his famous smile have made Brendan Kennelly a household name in Ireland.
Curator: Jane Maxwell (email@example.com) with Professor Emeritus Nicholas Grene
Technical curator: Greg Sheaf
Images: Gill Whelan
Conservation: Clodagh Neligan
Thanks to Leanne Harrington (thanks, Leanne) and to the Kennelly family, especially Dr Mary McAuliffe (UCD) and Bridget McAuliffe, for support and additional photographs.
A Brendan Kennelly Trust is to be inaugurated. Any one interested in the development of a philanthropic campaign to prepare the Kennelly Archive for access and teaching please contact the curator.