Chronicles Insight - Ireland's Poetic Past

Friday, 15 January, 2021
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Ireland is renowned the world over for the great literary works which it has produced. Here we take a look at three of our most beloved poets. 

Chronicles Insight - Ireland's Poetic Past

Antoine Ó Raifteiri

Antoine Ó Raifteiri (Anthony Raftery) was born in Kiltimagh County Mayo on the 30th of March 1779. 

His early years were marked by tragedy. Anthony was one of nine children born to his parents but by 1788 he would be their only surviving child. All nine children contracted smallpox with Anthony being the only one to beat the disease. Although he lived, Anthony was not left unmarked by the sickness. He lost his sight. This would have huge ramifications on his life to come. Losing his sight meant that many avenues were closed to him in terms of work. However, Anthony was gifted with a talent for music and poetry which meant that he not only got by, but would go on to become one of Ireland's best known Irish language poets. 

In his early career, Anthony's patron was his father's landlord Frank Taafe, but after they had a falling out he became a travelling poet. He moved along the roads of County Galway playing his fiddle and reciting his poems as he went. He is believed to be one of the last travelling bards. 

Interestingly, none of Anthony Raftery's poems were written down in his lifetime. Instead they were passed on as spoken word until some literary figures including Lady Augusta Gregory took it upon themselves to commit his work to paper. 

Anthony Raftery died on Christmas Eve 1835. He is buried in Craughwell County Galway where his headstone was erected by Lady Gregory and Douglas Hyde. 

An annual Féile Raifteiri in Loughrea County Galway celebrates the life and work of this great Irish poet.

Mary Devenport O’Neill

Mary Devenport O'Neill was born in Loughrea County Galway on the 3rd of August 1879. Her father John was a sub-constable in the local Royal Irish Constabulary. 

As a young girl Mary was educated in the Dominican Convent on Dublin's Eccles Street. When she was 19 years old she enrolled in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art where she spent the next four years training as an art teacher. Though she excelled in her training as a painter, she would gain her notoriety as a poet. 

On the 19th of June 1908, Mary married writer and fellow Galway native Joseph O'Neill. The pair made a home for themselves in Dublin's Kenilworth Square. She became a prominent figure in a number of Dublin salons, even establishing her own, called ‘Thursdays at Home’. She became good friends with a number of important Irish poets and was particularly close to William Butler Yeats

In 1929 Mary published a book of poetry entitled Prometheus and Other Poems. The work has long been out of print and much of her contribution to Irish literature has been somewhat forgotten. She was a long time contributor to a number of literary and news publications. Her poetry often described her childhood in Galway, with one poem titled Galway giving a wonderful description of life in the windswept city by the sea. 

Mary died in 1967. In her later life she had suffered from poor health and often travelled with her husband to France and Switzerland for treatment. 

Patrick Kavanagh

Patrick Kavanagh was born on the 21st of October 1904 in Inniskeen County Monaghan. 

One of 10 children, Kavanagh left school at the age of 13 and began working with his father on the farm and as a cobbler's apprentice. However his lack of formal education did not hold him back in life. Kavanagh would go on to become an incredibly well known poet who is still revered and widely studied to this day. 

As one of the later poets of the Irish Literary Revival, Kavanagh has been highly praised for his accurate depictions of rural Irish life. His first book of poetry, Ploughman and Other Poems was published in 1936. Two years later he published a book called The Green Fool which although sold as a novel has been described by the poet himself as semi-autobiographical. This gained him great acclaim and brought him to the fore as a name to be watched in Irish literature. 

In 1939 Kavanagh moved to Dublin where he would spend the rest of his life. He had felt disillusioned in his rural home and believed that in Dublin he would find a greater sense of belonging amongst the literary figures of the time. However when he made the move, he found that he felt like just as much of an outsider in the city as he had in the countryside. This theme of being on the outside of society looking in would become a common thread in much of his poetry. He became quite the social critic and was known for his less than favourable views and comments on society. Although in his later years he softened his opinions and became more enamoured with the simple pleasures in life. 

Patrick Kavanagh died on the 30th of November 1967. He is buried in his native Inniskeen and a statue of him sits on a bench in Dublin city by the Grand Canal. 

His most famous works are On Raglan Road, The Great Hunger, and Iniskeen Road: July Evening.

A Litany of Literature

The three individuals discussed here represent just a small sample of the great poetic works of Ireland. There are many more avenues to be explored and the work of countless poets, both historical and contemporary to enjoy.

Do you have a favourite poet of Irish blood? Add them to the IrelandXO Chronicles and share their story so that we can all enjoy their work. 


Click on the images to learn more about the entries that inspired this Chronicles Insight.

Antoine Ó Raifteiri 1779

Rafferty


Mary Devenport O'Neill 1879

Mary Devenport


Patrick Kavanagh 1904

Patrick Kavanagh


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