Detailed Pedia

Brendan Kennelly

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"
Notable awardsIrish PEN Award
Margaret O'Brien
(m. 1969, divorced)
ChildrenDaughter, Doodle Kennelly
RelativesThree granddaughters: Meg, Hannah and Grace

Brendan Kennelly (17 April 1936 – 17 October 2021) was an Irish poet and novelist. 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

Kennelly was born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, on 17 April 1936. 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. 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.


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". Another long (400-page) epic poem, "The Book of Judas", published in 1991, topped the Irish best-seller list.

A prolific and fluent writer, there are more than fifty volumes 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 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 also authored two novels, "The Crooked Cross" (1963) and "The Florentines" (1967), and three plays in a Greek Trilogy, Antigone, Medea, and The Trojan Women.

Kennelly was an Irish language (Gaelic) speaker, and 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).


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. 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.

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. 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."

Personal life

Kennelly married Margaret (Peggy) O'Brien in 1969. They were colleagues at the time, and she taught at English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst at the time of his death. 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. Doodle died in April 2021, six months before her father.

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.

Awards and honours

List of works

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