“God’s make their own importance” – Patrick Kavanagh
The Cribber Kelly has mounted a one woman protest against St Patricks Day outside the bookshop. The Cribber claims that St Patricks Day has become an excuse for the rest of the world to culturally misappropriate the very worst stereotypes of Irishness – leprechauns, drunkenness, brown paper envelopes, etc.
“I see the Cribber is at it again,” Flash says, staring out the window, making no attempt to hide his nosiness. “Last week it was the refugees she was moaning about, week before it was misogyny. Hard to keep up.”
“Weekly pickets aren’t doing anything for business,” I lament.
“It is your fault in a way. She never protested anything before she started reading your books. Education drives wans like her cracked. Or maybe it’s all the shit they’re spraying in the air.”
The Cribber Kelly says that St Patricks Day parades make her feel violated. “We don’t have green hair and we don’t all survive on a diet of corn beef soaked in Guinness. It’s pure racism, so it is.”
I try to tell the Cribber that we should revel in our national eccentricities. We are the island of mad one-eyed poets, mythical haunted rabbits, brass-necked charlatans and trance induced artists. We should be wallowing in this image to try and get the sweet, sweet American tourist money in.
She doesn’t share my sentiments. “I heard of a Kerry man who once sold the skeleton of a hare to an American gentleman, only after convincing him that it was the body of a leprechaun.”
“I know... disgusting.”
“Genius. That Kerry man should be Minister for tourism.”
“I’m often ashamed to be Irish,” the Cribber spits at me.
How could anyone be ashamed to be Irish? How could anyone feel anything else but pride for an island that is only fifteen times smaller than Ontario and has a population less than Tajikistan but yet has produced some of the greatest authors, poets and books to ever grace the world?
And what of their antics?
James Joyce’s perverse obsession with farting. Samuel Beckett suing a Dutch theatre group for casting women in one of his plays. Somerville’s refusal to drop the Ross from Somerville and Ross after her death.
But perhaps the most Irish of literary adventures belongs to the denizens of the Catacombs and literary Dublin post World War 2 and, in particular, to two duelling behemoths of Irish writing, Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh.
How can you explain the complex relationship between Behan and Kavanagh?
In 1961, Patrick Kavanagh sat in the lounge of a pub on Baggot Street. Behan entered the bar, jovial and in deep conversation with a colleague. A shout came from the lounge; “I smell a pig! Silence!” A hush descended on the bar. Patrons waited in anticipation, certain there was going to be a row. Nothing happened. Then after several minutes a Behan responded from the bar said loudly: “You should, there’s one sitting at a table down in the lounge!”
On another famous occasion, Kavanagh had received a cooked chicken from his friends at Parsons bookshop and decided to stop at the pub on the way home for a quick pint. Immediately he was accosted by a drunken Behan, who shouted the regular insults like country eejit and Kavanagh the wanker at him. In a moment of cutting off your nose to spite your face, Kavanagh launched his cooked chicken at Behan, devastating his dinner and Behan’s tirade.
Behan’s hatred for Kavanagh superficially seemed to be link to a bitterness against rural Ireland. “Since I was a child, I’ve had a pathological horror of country people.”
But dig deeper and there seemed to be a genuine jealously of each others abilities at the heart of Behan and Kavanaghs animosity.
Behan frequently insulted Kavanagh, telling him he was a failure while in the depths of the DTs, deriding him for knowing how to milk a cow and famously publicly stating; “The only decent thing you ever wrote was a cheque that didn’t bounce.”
Kavanagh described Behan as ‘evil incarnate’ and constantly told strangers in the pubs they frequented that Behan was a fake and was actually a posh boy from South Dublin acting out a role. Kavanagh even refused to stand for the National Anthem, on the grounds that it was “a come-all-ye written by Behan’s oul granny.” (It was, in fact, written by Behan’s uncle, Peadar Kearney).
Behan and Kavanagh would never mend their rift, staying firm enemies until the end. Anything else would have been at odds with their cynical worldviews. Behan was fond of saying, “It’s not that the Irish are cynical. It’s rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody.”
Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh never reached the immortal poetic heights of the likes of Yeats and Wilde despite spending their lifetimes chasing it. It could be argued, as one commentator noted, that many of their greatest works played out between frothed half finished pint glasses and empty bottles in Dublin pubs, materialising and, all as suddenly, dissipating up the walls in clouds of tobacco smoke and failed promise.
Maybe it is the wanton waste of immense talent, petty drink fuelled bickering and all too human failings that endear both of them to all who claim to be Irish. They are of Ireland.
Kavanagh wrote Epic in 1960, a poem that canonises the seemingly irrelevant and frivolous affairs of an isolated rural village. He ends it with this; “Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind. He said: I made the Iliad from such a local row. Gods make their own importance.”
I realise that the Cribber Kelly hasn’t listened to a damn thing I’ve said. She’s been busy chaining herself to one of the St Patricks Day floats and is now in a state of panic as the big truck with a thirty foot plastic effigy of St Patrick takes off at low pace.
“Stop this float! Stop at once. I’m making a stand.”
The truck doesn’t stop and the Cribber Kelly is dragged slowly down the hill towards the parade. The Flash watches her go, shaking his head sadly. “Its the shit they’re spraying in the air. It’s turning them all mad.”
“Joyce takes the unimportant lives of people and shows that in the end these private lives are the only lives that matter’; ‘the only thing that matters is people - thinking, dreaming, hoping, loving’.” – Patrick Kavanagh