Brendan Kennelly bigraphy, stories - Translators

Brendan Kennelly : biography

1936 -

Brendan Kennelly (born 1936) is an Irish poet and novelist. Until 2005 he was Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin. Now retired, he occasionally tours the USA as university lecturer. He is proud father to his only child, daughter Doodle Kennelly.

Awards and honours

  • 2010 Irish PEN Award

List of works

  • Cast a Cold Eye (1959) with Rudi Holzapfel
  • The Rain, the Moon (1961) with Rudi Holzapfel
  • The Dark About Our Loves (1962) Rudi Holzapfel
  • Green Townlands (1963). Rudi Holzapfel
  • Let Fall No Burning Leaf (1963)
  • The Crooked Cross (1963) novel
  • My Dark Fathers (1964)
  • Up and At It (1965)
  • Collection One: Getting Up Early (1966)
  • Good Souls to Survive (1967)
  • The Florentines (1967) novel
  • Dream of a Black Fox (1968)
  • Selected Poems (1969)
  • A Drinking Cup, Poems from the Irish (1970)
  • The Penguin Book of Irish Verse (19700 editor
  • Bread (1971)
  • Love Cry (1972)
  • Salvation, The Stranger (1972)
  • The Voices (1973)
  • Shelley in Dublin (1974)
  • A Kind of Trust (1975)
  • New and Selected Poems (1976)
  • Cromwell (1983)
  • Mary, from the Irish of Muireadach Albanach Ó Dálaigh (1987)
  • A Time for Voices: Selected Poems 1960-1990 (1990)
  • Euripides' Medea (1991)
  • The Book of Judas (1991)
  • Poetry Me Arse (1995)
  • The Man Made of Rain (1998)
  • The Singing Tree (1998)
  • Glimpses (2001)
  • The Little Book of Judas (2002)
  • Reservoir Voices (2009)
  • The Essential Brendan Kennelly: Selected Poems, Wake Forest University Press (2011)


Kennelly's poetry can be scabrous, down-to-earth and colloquial. He avoids 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”. Another long (400-page) epic poem, “The Book of Judas”, published in 1991, topped the Irish bestseller list.

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

Kennelly has 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), and “Dublines,” with Katie Donovan (1995).

He has also written two novels, “The Crooked Cross” (1963) and “The Florentines” (1967), and three plays in a Greek Trilogy, Antigone, Medea and The Trojan Women.

Kennelly is an Irish language (Gaelic) speaker, and has translated Irish poems in “A Drinking Cup” (1970) and “Mary” (Dublin 1987). A selection of his collected translations was published as “Love of Ireland: Poems from the Irish” (1989).

No stranger to literary contention, his detractors have seized in particular on works such as “Cromwell”, about the English Roundhead and Puritan whose army sacked the town of Drogheda and slaughtered its Royalist garrison and townspeople in 1649.

Kennelly is a much-loved poet in Ireland, though his overall place in the Irish poetry canon is considered somewhat controversial. Some consider “Cromwell” to be a major work, one of the most important Irish poems of the twentieth century. Others prefer to think of him, despite his academic standing, as anti-intellectual or lacking in complexity in a period when modernist poetry - from T. S. Eliot to the later works of W. B. Yeats - tended to be esoteric and difficult.

Early life

Kennelly was born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, on 17 April 1936 and was educated at the inter-denominational St. Ita's College, Tarbert, County Kerry, and at Trinity College, where he edited Icarus. Kennelly graduated from Trinity and wrote his PhD thesis there. He also studied at Leeds University.


Language is 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. Kennelly's 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.

Regarding the oral tradition, Kennelly is 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.

Kennelly has commented on his own use of language: “Poetry is an attempt to cut through the effects of deadening familiarity and repeated, mechanical usage in order to unleash that profound vitality, to reveal that inner sparkle. In the beginning was the Word. In the end will be the Word…language is a human miracle always in danger of drowning in a sea of familiarity.”

Living octopus

Living octopus

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