English poet PJ Kavanagh was interviewed on RTE Radio 1’s Arts Tonight recently, and he told a sort-of-fond anecdote about his namesake and fellow poet Patrick Kavanagh.
Kavanagh (PJ)’s father, Ted Kavanagh, was a New Zealand-born, UK-resident, BBC-employed scriptwriter whose family came from Co Carlow.
While he has never lived in Ireland he has always felt a foreigner in England – “I was good at rugby in school because I was Irish; I was funny because my father was funny and I was Irish” – but it was his recollection of meeting his namesake that was among the most illuminating moments of a fine interview.
I met him twice. The first time, it was before he was really known in England. I was about 20 I suppose. I was a great admirer of his poem ‘The Great Hunger’.
And I was introduced to him. Patrick, said a man, come and meet Paddy Kavanagh. He had just had a throat operation and I went up humbly to congratulate him but he drew away and said to me, ‘Why don’t you change your fuckin’ name?’
That’s the only thing he ever said to me, really. But that’s why as a writer I call myself PJ Kavanagh, in a somewhat vain attempt to distinguish myself from him.
Then I met him later with the distinguished John Jordan, who was a great friend of his. And again he wouldn’t speak to me. And John Jordan got very angry. He said, Paddy, this is a friend of mine, he’s a good man, you must talk to him.
I turned to John and said, ‘What should I do?’ He said ‘Buy him a brandy’. So I bought him a brandy, but he remained standing with his back to me, but with his hand cupped out behind him for the brandy!
The full interview, with the excellent interviewer Vincent Woods, can be listened to here (probably for a limited time, unfortunately). It’s just short of 60 minutes long, but for anyone interested in poetry, Ireland, Irish poetry, the Ireland of the ‘50s, Seamus Heaney, Louis MacNeice, Father Ted, John Berryman and everything in between, it’s 60 minutes well spent.
Anecdotes follow Kavanagh (the deceased, Monaghan one) around, of course, and one of the most cherished is the story of his time playing as goalkeeper for his local GAA club. During one game, with play concentrated at the other end of the field, Kavanagh is reputed to have headed off to the pub, leaving the goals disastrously unattended.
However, that may well be an urban myth; certainly, local histories would suggest that Kavanagh was a much more responsible member of the club, having come close to senior championship honours with Inniskeen as well as serving as Treasurer.
But the legends are always most fondly recalled. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, etc. etc.