Kerry poet Brendan Kennelly recalled

Kerry poet Brendan Kennelly recalled Brendan Kennelly at home in Ballylongford
Gabriel Fitzmaurice

“Who can beat the kingdom sweet at horse or hound or man?”

How Brendan Kennelly loved to quote those lines from Bryan MacMahon’s 1946 Kerry All-Ireland victory song.

Football and song. Both would come together in the person of Ireland’s most popular poet, Brendan Kennelly. Indeed he played on the Kerry minor football team in the 1954 All-Ireland final which they lost narrowly, and Brendan to his dying day complained unfairly, to Dublin.

Brendan grew up in a culture full of songs and stories. It was one thing to win an All-Ireland. True immortality lay in being commemorated (deified!) in a ballad.

Indeed Brendan’s poetry grew from the singing tradition which he would have heard first hand in the family pub in Ballylongford. In his marvellous lyric, Living Ghosts, he describes local singers “touching enchantment” as they become song.

And Brendan became song memorably and mellifluously in lyric and epic mode for he was a singer at heart whose mind “became a festival” when he sang with his pen.