Brendan Kennelly at 80: forever beginning, the balladeer of our age

The poet has extended the ballad to an epic scale by coupling it with the lyric, the sonnet, writes Gabriel Fitzmaurice..
Brendan Kennelly at 80Brendan Kennelly was born in Ballylongford, Co Kerry, on April 17th, 1936, the son of Tim Kennelly, publican and garage proprietor, and his wife Bridie Ahern, a nurse. Ballylongford is a small village like the other villages in the hinterland of Listowel in North Kerry.
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To understand Kennelly and his poetry, you have to come to terms with the traditional culture of the area which Kennelly has translated into poetry, both intimate and epic. It’s flat land touching the River Shannon and the Atlantic. For the most part pasture land, it was, in Kennelly’s youth, mainly a farming community. The farmers, small farmers mostly, were generally not well off. But they loved to sing. At night they’d go to the local pub on bicycles or on foot (this was before the general availability of the car), drink “small ones” (whiskies) and pints of Guinness, and swap stories, news, songs and “recitations”.
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Memory, in particular the poet’s memory, gathers these moments together. Kennelly’s was, and remains, a public house – Brendan heard these songs, stories and recitations regularly in the pub – not just imported songs (from the gramophone and radio – there was as yet no television) but local ballads too.

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