Patrick Kavanagh was born in Inniskeen County Monaghan, now part of Northern Ireland, one ten children. His father was a farmer and shoemaker and his grandfather a schoolmaster. He was educated at Kednaminsha National School in Inniskeen, leaving at the age of 13 to assist his father on the farm and become an apprentice shoemaker. With ambitions to leave this narrow existence to become a poet, he submitted poems to the editor of the Irish Statesman, George William Russell who encouraged him and published some of them in the late 1920’s.
In 1931 he walked eighty miles from his home to Dublin where his brother worked as a schoolteacher to meet Russell who introduced him to the works of leading poets and became his literary adviser. He published his first collection Ploughman and Other Poems in 1936. He visited London in 1938 and wrote The Green Fool, a loosely autobiographical novel which, although receiving favourable reviews, resulted in a court case for libel against him which he lost.
In 1939 he settled in Dublin where he worked as a freelance journalist and film critic for the Irish Press, whilst continuing to write poetry. He wrote The Great Hunger, an epic about a farm boy in 1942 and a few years later another of his best known poems, On Raglan Road. In 1946 he moved to Belfast, working as a journalist and barman where he began to drink heavily, having published whilst there a collection entitled A Soul for Sale and his most celebrated prose work, Tarry Flynn, a semi-autobiographical novel which he had been working on for some years. This was banned for a time for being indecent and was later turned into a play performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1966.
In the 1950’s his health and appearance deteriorated as his drinking increased and after having unsuccessfully sued a magazine for depicting him as an alcoholic sponger, he developed lung cancer and had one of his lungs removed. Thereafter he experienced something of a poetical rebirth, publishing Recent Poems in 1958 and Come Dance with Kitty Stobling and Other Poems in 1960. He spent time in London and the United States in the early 1960’s, giving talks and representing Ireland at literary symposiums. In 1967 he married his long-term companion Katherine Barry Maloney, the niece of Kevin Barry, executed for his part in the Easter Uprising. Kavanagh died six months later. He is commemorated by a statue in Fleet street, Dublin and another beside Dublin’s Grand Canal, inspired by his poem Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin. Kavanagh wrote anti-pastoral poetry about the life of Ireland’s impoverished peasantry and his poems possess a dreamy, lyrical quality. He is considered by the Irish to be one of their greatest poets.