Peter Kavanagh

1915-2002; b. 19 March, Iniskeen, Co. Monaghan; br. of Patrick Kavanagh (1904-67), and youngest of nine children of James Kavanagh, cobbler and subsistence farmer, and Bridget [née Quinn]; ed. locally at Kednaminisha ND and Patrician Brothers High School, Carrickmacross; proceeded to St. Patrick’’s Teaching Training College, Drumcondra, Sept. 1935-36; taught in Dundalk and Dublin; completed BA, 1940; MA, 1941; completed PhD. at TCD, later published as Irish Theatre (Tralee 1946); appt. Prof of English, Loyola University, Chicago, 1947;
established Peter Kavanagh Handpress in 1958, publishing his brother’s poetry; briefly worked for engineering firm in London; taught at Gannon College, Erie, Pennsylvania and Univ. of Wisconsin, Menomonie; issued The Story of the Abbey Theatre (1950); ed. Kavanagh’s Weekly with Patrick Kavanagh, 1952; issued Irish Mythology: A Dictionary (1958-59); ed. Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Pruse (1967); also issued Beyond Affection (NY 1977), an autobiography; removed a cross erected on Patrick’s grave in Iniskeen, 1986; denied destroying the cross on restituted on the grave restituted in 1998, though staying in Iniskeen at the time;
sold his papers, incl. correspondence with Patrick, to UCD Library for $100,000 in 1989; published MS material from John Quinn’s papers incl. letters from Synge, Lady Gregory and James Joyce, though these remained under embargo till 1988; edition destroyed following litigation; refused permission to Oxford Book of Modern Verse to reprint “Lough Derg” and “The Great Hunger” as uncharacteristic of the poet and arising from his own inspiration;
fought extended battle with NY landlord over occupancy of flat; involved in lengthy legal wrangle over the copyright to Patrick’s work; he took exception to the burial of his brother’s widow, Katherine, in her husband’s grave - apparently oblivious of the long relationship between them prior to his brother’s marrige; latterly lived at Park Avenue, NY, with his wife Anne [née Keely], who works in television, and with whom Keelin and Caomh.DIW

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Studies & Reference
  • The Irish Theatre Being a History of the Drama in Ireland from the Earliest Period up to the Present Day (Tralee: The Kerryman [1946]) [see infra].
  • Story of the Abbey Theatre (NY 1950).
  • Irish Mythology; A Dictionary (NY 1958-59).
  • ed. Patrick Kavanagh, Collected Pruse (1967.
  • Beyond Affection (1977).

‘Bernard Canon Maguire: Parish Priest of Inniskeen 1869-1948, A Reminiscence by Peter Kavanagh’, in Dundalk Democrat (19 May 19 1973), p.23 [Fr. Maguire taught Patrick Kavanagh in childhood].

Bibliographical details:
The Irish Theatre [....; &c.] (Tralee: Kerryman 1949), 488pp., [11] lvs. of ps.; ill., map, ports., plan, facsim.; 25 cm., Bibliography & Index. See a copy of the Bibliography in RICORSO Bibliography > Scholar - via index or direct [attachment].

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Stephen McKinley, ‘His Brother’s Keeper […]’, in Irish Echo Newspaper (18-24 Sept. 2002) [infra]; Obituary, in The Irish Times (4 Feb. 2006).

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Marvin Magalaner & Richard M. Kain, James Joyce: The Man, The Works, The Reputation [1956] (London; John Calder 1957) - “The Problem of Biography” [chap.]: ‘Tempest-in-teapot controversies generated by such an obviously cultist environment lend no honor to Joyce’s name and no light to biographical scholarship. An article in The New York Times attacks Peter Kavanagh for attacking Joyce “so viciously and unjustifiably, that I attacked him [Kavanagh] and we haven’t spoken since ... . We just slaughtered Kavanagh. He could not answer. He was beaten to a pulp.” In a letter to the newspaper, Kavanagh replied that he “never attacked James Joyce or his works ... . What I did attack-and what turned my hearers ... puce with anger - was the cult of Joyce, the devotees who worship the dead Master with the insane fury of the possessed. Joyce was sane enough: it is his commentators who are mad.” The rebuttal, heavy with the weight of six outstanding American Joyceans, is reminiscent of a religious affirmation or a political credo: “We attended the meeting of the James Joyce Society ... at which Dr. Peter Kavanagh spoke and confirm that Dr. Kavanagh violently attacked Joyce and his works as reported ...” [Ftn30] Without going into the rights and wrongs of the situation, one can see the danger and the damage, certainly unmerited by the dead author, to Joyce’s reputation among neutral readers of the Times . The same kind of danger, now dissipated, once threatened Joyce from his closest “friends,” the extreme avant-gardists of the transition group under Eugene Jolas, who, after the excitement of the publication of Ulysses , declared “The Revolution of the Word” and implicated the innocent Joyce in outlandish literary excesses. But that story is better saved for the discussion of the Wake.’ (p.24.) Bibl.: Peter Kavanagh’s letter in The New York Times Magazine (28 Feb. 1954), p.6, and accompanying material. See also ibid., 14 Feb. 1954, p.53, and 7 March 1954, p.6 [Magalaner, Notes, p.318].

Robert Greacen, Even Without Irene (1969; rep. 1995): ‘‘He had the education, Paddy had the genius’. (p.164) [see further under Greacen - infra];

Books Ireland (May 1987), remarks: ‘Peter Kavanagh, so-called “sacred-keeper” of his Patrick’s memory who performed something of a coup for that memory last year you may have noticed, by seeing that a purchase of the poet’s memorabilia and manuscripts for UCD’s library would be seen as a kind of national crusade (what you might call a re-Patrickation), thus concentrating everyone’s mind on where the money would come from as distinct from how much that money should be / Brother Peter has discovered one of the great truths of Irish public relations: that a keeper’s (or minder’s) sacredness is assured if his public pronouncements are made as adjacent as possible to a great man’s grave. [... &c.]’ (p.93.)

Stephen McKinley, ‘His Brother’s Keeper […]’, in Irish Echo Newspaper (18-24 Sept. 2002), tells how Kavanagh has fought to control his brother’s estate, denying the editor of the Oxford Book of Irish Poetry the right to publish Lough Derg and The Great Famine on the grounds that those poems represent him not Patrick since he [Peter] proposed the idea of writing them in the first place; quotes a series of pronouncements on poetry and his brother’s legacy, viz.: “There are no poets in Ireland […] Yeats almost makes it [as a poet] by the force of his rhetoric. But he was always forcing the issue - shouting. And he had this goddamned Kathleen ni Houlihan carry-on. Did you ever hear the like?” Speaks of real poetry as “a cry of holy faith, poetry at its most sublime manifestation.” Few Irish poets ever attained this, Kavanagh said. Even his brother Patrick, he said, did not reach those heights on every occasion [adds McKinley]. Kavanagh refuses to countenance the authority of the Trustees of the estate of Patrick Kavanagh’s widow (Not a Kavanagh amongst them) and styles himself ‘the sacred keeper of his sacred conscience’ Also Recounts a 21 year battle against a landlord in New York that included an attempt fire his apartment. Aetat. 87 at date of publication.

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Christopher Murray praises Peter Kavanagh’s attempt to revive interest in pre-revival theatre in Ireland in the introduction to his edition of William Philips, St Stephen’s Green, or the Generous Lovers, [Dolmen Texts 6] (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1980).

Address book: publicity material connectioned with Patrick Kavanagh: A Life Chronicle (2001) cites the author/publisher's address as 35 Park Ave., NY, 10016, USA; e-mail:

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