Brendan Kennelly

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Brendan Kennelly
Born(1936-04-17)17 April 1936
Ballylongford, County Kerry, Ireland
Died17 October 2021(2021-10-17) (aged 85)
Listowel, County Kerry, Ireland
OccupationWriter, professor, translator
Alma materTrinity College, Dublin
Leeds University
SubjectOliver Cromwell
Notable works"Poetry My Arse"
"Book of Judas"
"Cromwell" "Begin" "Poem from a three-year old"[1]
Notable awardsIrish PEN Award
Margaret O'Brien
(m. 1969, divorced)
ChildrenDaughter, Doodle Kennelly[1][2]
RelativesThree granddaughters: Meg, Hannah and Grace

Brendan Kennelly (17 April 1936 – 17 October 2021) was an Irish poet and novelist.[3] He was Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin until 2005. Following his retirement he was titled "Professor Emeritus" by Trinity College.

Early life[edit]

Kennelly was born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, on 17 April 1936.[4] He was one of eight children of Tim Kennelly and Bridie (Ahern). His father worked as a publican and garage proprietor; his mother was a nurse.[5] Kennelly was educated at the inter-denominational St. Ita's College, Tarbert, County Kerry. He was then awarded a scholarship to study English and French at Trinity College Dublin. There he was editor of Icarus and captained the Trinity Gaelic Football Club. He graduated from Trinity in 1961 with first-class honours, before obtaining a Doctor of Philosophy there five years later. He also studied at Leeds University for one year under the tutelage of Norman Jeffares.[5][6]


Kennelly's poetry can be scabrous, down-to-earth, and colloquial. He avoided intellectual pretension and literary posturing, and his attitude to poetic language could be summed up in the title of one of his epic poems, "Poetry my Arse".[6] Another long (400-page) epic poem, "The Book of Judas", published in 1991, topped the Irish best-seller list.[7]

A prolific and fluent writer, there are more than fifty volumes of poetry to his credit, including My Dark Fathers (1964),[6] Collection One: Getting Up Early (1966),[8] Good Souls to Survive (1967), Dream of a Black Fox (1968), Love Cry (1972), The Voices (1973), Shelley in Dublin (1974),[6] A Kind of Trust (1975), Islandman (1977),[9] A Small Light (1979),[10] and The House That Jack Didn't Build (1982).[6]

Kennelly edited several other anthologies, including "Between Innocence and Peace: Favourite Poems of Ireland" (1993), "Ireland's Women: Writings Past and Present, with Katie Donovan and A. Norman Jeffares" (1994),[11] and "Dublines," with Katie Donovan (1995). He also authored two novels, "The Crooked Cross" (1963) and "The Florentines" (1967),[6] and three plays in a Greek Trilogy, Antigone, Medea, and The Trojan Women.[12]

Kennelly was an Irish language (Gaelic) speaker,[13] and translated Irish poems in "A Drinking Cup" (1970) and "Mary" (Dublin 1987).[14][15] A selection of his collected translations was published as "Love of Ireland: Poems from the Irish" (1989).[16]


Language was important in Kennelly's work – in particular the vernacular of the small and isolated communities in North Kerry where he grew up, and of the Dublin streets and pubs where he became both roamer and raconteur for many years.[17] His language is also grounded in the Irish-language poetic tradition, oral and written, which can be both satirical and salacious in its approach to human follies.[6][12]

Regarding the oral tradition, Kennelly was a great reciter of verse with tremendous command and the rare ability to recall extended poems by memory, both his own work and others, and recite them on call verbatim.[18] He commented on his own use of language: "Poetry is an attempt to cut through the effects of deadening familiarity … to reveal that inner sparkle."[17]

Personal life[edit]

Kennelly married Margaret (Peggy) O'Brien in 1969.[5] They were colleagues at the time,[5] and she taught at English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst at the time of his death.[19] Together, they had one child, Doodle Kennelly. They resided in Sandymount before getting divorced, which Kennelly attributed to his overindulgence in alcohol. He ultimately became teetotal in about 1985.[5] Doodle died in April 2021, six months before her father.[20]

Kennelly died on 17 October 2021, at a care home in Listowel, where he resided in the two years leading up to his death. He was 85 years old.[21][22]

Awards and honours[edit]

List of works[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Brendan Kennelly". Archived from the original on 19 November 2007. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  2. ^ "wise kennelly's labours of love". Irish Independent. 23 December 2012.
  3. ^ McDonagh, John (2004). Brendan Kennelly: a host of ghosts. Liffey Press. ISBN 978-1-904148-44-9.
  4. ^ Fitzmaurice, Gabriel (16 April 2016). "Brendan Kennelly at 80: forever beginning, the balladeer of our age". The Irish Times. Dublin. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Brendan Kennelly obituary: Gifted poet, academic and storyteller". The Irish Times. Dublin. 18 October 2020. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Ferguson, Katelyn (January 2016). "Brendan Kennelly". Trinity College Dublin. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d Longstaff, Molly (17 October 2021). "Provost Leads Tributes to Brendan Kennelly". The University Times. Trinity College Dublin. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  8. ^ a b Kennelly, Brendan (1966). Collection One: Getting Up Early. Figgis.
  9. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1977). Islandman: A Poem. Profile Press.
  10. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1979). A Small Light: Ten Songs of O'Connor of Carrigafoyle. Gallery Books.
  11. ^ Donovan, Katie; Jeffares, Alexander Norman; Kennelly, Brendan (1994). Ireland's Women: Writings Past and Present. Gill & Macmillan. ISBN 9780717122028.
  12. ^ a b "Burns Visiting Scholars: Brendan Kennelly (Fall 2007)". Boston College. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  13. ^ Doyle, Martin (18 October 2020). "Brendan Kennelly: friends and fellow writers pay tribute". The Irish Times. Dublin. Retrieved 19 October 2020. As a public speaker and performer of his work – mostly in English, but occasionally in mellifluous Irish …
  14. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1970). A Drinking Cup: Poems from the Irish. Figgis. ISBN 9780900372261.
  15. ^ a b Kennelly, Brendan (1987). Mary: (from the Irish). Aisling.
  16. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1989). Love of Ireland: Poems from the Irish. Mercier Press. ISBN 9780853428886.
  17. ^ a b "Brendan Kennelly". International Literature Festival Dublin. 7 June 2009. Archived from the original on 19 October 2021. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  18. ^ "Brendan Kennelly Lifetime Achievement Award". Bloodaxe Books. 1 June 2017. Archived from the original on 12 July 2017. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  19. ^ "Faculty: Department of English". University of Massachusetts Amherst – via
  20. ^ McCarthy, Barbara (25 April 2021). "Obituary: Doodle Kennelly, trailblazing writer who fearlessly tackled her mental health struggles". Irish Independent.
  21. ^ "Irish poet and author Brendan Kennelly dies". BBC News. 17 October 2021. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  22. ^ Sheehy, Paschal (18 October 2021). "President leads tributes to poet Brendan Kennelly". RTE. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  23. ^ "Brendan Kennelly". Kerry Writers' Museum. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  24. ^ "Rives takes Wild Geese award". The Irish Times. Dublin. 12 March 2005. Archived from the original on 19 October 2020. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  25. ^ "Provost Leads Tributes to Brendan Kennelly". Trinity College Dublin. 1 February 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  26. ^ Kennelly, Brendan; Holzapfel, Rudi (1959). Cast a Cold Eye. Dolmen Press.
  27. ^ Kennelly, Brendan; Holzapfel, Rudi (1961). The rain, the moon. Dolmen Press.
  28. ^ Kennelly, Brendan; Holzapfel, Rudi (1963). The Dark about Our Loves. John Augustine and Company.
  29. ^ Kennelly, Brendan; Holzapfel, Rudi (1963). Green Townlands: Poems. University Bibliographical Press.
  30. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1963). Let Fall No Burning Leaf. New Square Publications.
  31. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1964). My Dark Fathers. New Square Publications.
  32. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1965). Up and at it. New Square Publications.
  33. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1967). Good Souls to Survive: Poems. Figgis.
  34. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1967). The Florentines. Figgis.
  35. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1969). Selected Poems. Figgis.
  36. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1971). The Penguin Book of Irish Verse. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140421217.
  37. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1981). The Penguin Book of Irish Verse. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140585261.
  38. ^ Kennelly, Brendan (1974). Shelley in Dublin. Dublin Magazine Press.

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