Watch: Brendan Kennelly recites much-loved poem 'Begin'

President Michael D Higgins also paid his respects to the Kerry poet and said he enjoyed 'the gift of friendship with Brendan Kennelly for many years'
Watch: Brendan Kennelly recites much-loved poem 'Begin'

Brendan Kennelly, one of the country’s most popular poets and a former professor of English at Trinity College Dublin, wh died yesterday aged 85.

Figures from the worlds of the arts, politics, and academia have paid tribute to Brendan Kennelly, who died yesterday aged 85. 

Formerly professor of modern literature in Trinity College, and holding the title of Professor Emeritus since his retirement, Professor Kennelly had returned to his home county of Kerry for some years by the time of his death.

He was given the Irish Pen Award in 2010 and a list of other awards including the prestigious 1996 IMPAC International Dublin Literary Award. 

In 2017 a civic reception was held in North Kerry to mark his contribution to Irish literature.

Prof Kennelly told the Irish Examiner at the time: “I am back living near Bally again. I carry the Bally that I wrote about in The Crooked Cross within me and see it as I pass through the village and, although a lot has changed, I still know this to be my heart’s home place.”r

Kerry poet Gabriel Fitzmaurice said many people love Prof Kennelly’s early lyrical poems the best and Begin is probably his best-loved poem.

  • You can watch a video of Mr Kennely reciting the poem below:

“He was Ireland’s popular and one of our finest poets without a doubt, a great man on radio as well, captivated the nation with his mischievous smiles,” he said.

He also said: “He lived in Dublin, but his mind was in two places,” adding that Prof Kennelly played on the Kerry minor football team and no matter how long he lived in Dublin always shouted for Kerry.

Mr Fitzmaurice visited him regularly in the nursing home where he was living in north Kerry, until the advent of the Covid-19 lockdowns.

“He was in great form, and could quote reams and reams of poetry right up to the start of Covid,” he said.

President Michael D Higgins also paid his respects to the Kerry poet and said he enjoyed "the gift of friendship with Brendan Kennelly for many years".

"As a poet, Brendan Kennelly had forged a special place in the affections of the Irish people. 

Poet Brendan Kennelly honoured in native Ballylongford by Kerry County Council in 2017. File picture.
Poet Brendan Kennelly honoured in native Ballylongford by Kerry County Council in 2017. File picture.

"He brought so much resonance, insight, and the revelation of the joy of intimacy to the performance of his poems and to gatherings in so many parts of Ireland. He did so with a special charm, wit, energy and passion.

President Higgins praised the poet's body of work and recalled how the poet said he wanted to be remembered. 

"When asked on his 80th birthday event in the Abbey Theatre in 2016 how he would like to be remembered, he said that he hoped people would remember his poems and remember them ‘off by heart’, for the sharing.

"How apt then that so many would turn to his poem Begin and use it for comfort and compassion in our recent accounts of life in pandemic times.

"There are many for whom an insightful and twinkling intelligence has left us, but it will endure in the lines of the poems as he wished," he said. 

The President offered his condolences to Mr Kennelly's family and quoted the poet's poem Hope as a final tribute.

"Sabina and I offer our condolences to his sister Nancy, his brothers, Sean, John, Alan and Paddy, his granddaughters and the extended family as well as his wide circle of friends, all of whom treasured his presence among them, a friendship he valued.

'I love your company, dear friend, and always will, come what may.'

"Siochaín d’anam uasal," he said. 

Pioneer diplomat and poet

Sadly, Brendan Kennelly was not the only influential poet to pass away this past weekend. 

Irish language poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi died at her home on Saturday night. She was 99.

Gabriel Fitzmaurice, who was also a friend of Ms Mhac and tSaoi's, paid a moving tribute to his friends both in life and in literature on Sunday, saying the deaths are “an awful loss”.

Ms Mhac an tSaoi, one of the leading poets writing in Irish, was a diplomat serving with the Department of Foreign Affairs at the United Nations, France, and Spain.

She was awarded the O’ Shaughnessy poetry award in 1988 for her work over three decades in creating and changing the face of Irish poetry.

Conor Cruise O'Brien with his wife Máire Mhac an tSaoi and her parents Mairéad de Brun and Seán MacEntee, outside her house Whitewater, Howth, Dublin, shortly after the couple married in 1962.
Conor Cruise O'Brien with his wife Máire Mhac an tSaoi and her parents Mairéad de Brun and Seán MacEntee, outside her house Whitewater, Howth, Dublin, shortly after the couple married in 1962.

A public statement from her family said the announcement was made with “great sadness.” 

"She has lived a remarkable life, in remarkable times among remarkable people,” the statement said.

Ms Mhac an tSaoi was married to Conor Cruise O’ Brien, historian, and former politician, and was the daughter of former Táinaiste Sean McEntee.

Speaking on Sunday evening, Mr Fitzmaurice said of her: “She was undoubtedly one of three finest Irish-language poets. She with Martin O’ Direain and Sean O’ Riordan, kick-started Irish poetry into the 20th century during the 1950s.” 

Referring to her first book Margadh na Saoire, he said: “It was a voice for women, it was a contemporary voice for Irish poetry and it brought Irish poetry up there with the best of international poetry and it has remained so.” 

A documentary on her life ‘Deargdhúil: Anatomy of Passion’ which aired in 2016 said she fell in love with Irish while spending time on the Dingle Peninsula.

Documentary maker Paula Kehoe told the Irish Examiner at the time: “She has always defied definition.” 

President Michael D Higgins led tributes yesterday to the memory of the renowned poet as well as her love of the Irish language.

"It is with great sadness that the Irish language community will have learned of the death of Irish scholar, acclaimed writer, member of Aosdána and one of the leading Irish language poets of the twentieth century, Máire Mhac an tSaoi," he said.

The President described the poet as a "woman of immense talent" that was "proud of her roots in Kerry".

"Proud of her roots in Kerry, Máire Mhac an tSaoi was born in 1922 to Margaret Browne MacEntee and the politician and future Tánaiste Seán MacEntee.

"A woman of immense talent and one of our most gifted, creative writers, she made a profound and distinctive contribution to our society in terms of literature, diplomacy and above all poetry," he said.

Praising her unique personality, Mr Higgins said the diplomat had a "lifelong and contagious passion for the Irish language".

"Her fearless, powerful and intriguing personality led her to defy established convention and expectations in a unique way.

"A prolific writer she had a lifelong, and contagious, passion for the Irish language, and for the people of the Gaeltacht.

"While in her poetry she drew on the traditions of the Celtic Revival by giving voice to her own experiences, passion, skills and views, she made a distinctive personal contribution at a high level to Irish poetry, making her one of the most influential poets of the 20th century. I recall, for example, her keen critical judgement in her edition of Poetry Ireland," he said.

The President hailed her groundbreaking career in the Irish diplomatic service and said she would be missed by all who knew her.

A pioneer in the Irish diplomatic service, she served as one of the few female diplomats of her generation.

"Along with her husband, the late Conor Cruise O’Brien, she was replete with courage and an inspiration to many.

She will be sadly missed by all those, through the generations, who knew her and her work and, above all, by those who appreciate the Irish language and the power of its words.

"Sabina and I wish to express our deepest sympathies to her children, Patrick and Margaret, her step-daughter Fedelma and to her family and wide circle of friends.

"Siochán siorraí do a hanam uasal," he said.

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