Brendan Kennelly: a true poet and a gentleman

THERE was an extraordinary generosity about the late writer, poet and proud Ballylongford man Brendan Kennelly.

Being in his company was always energising, never tiring. He was a giver. You came away enriched, much better off and convinced that you had encountered a life force that had decency, good humour and optimism as its defining characteristics.

Brendan Kennelly reminded us of what a fully-paid-up member of the human race really looks and sounds like.

He was an intellectual of our times, a prophet with the ability to hold up a mirror to all of society.

He presented us with the possibilities for honour and greatness to which we are all called and he offered us himself as an example of frailty and determination, self-compassion and forgiveness to mitigate our baser instincts.

Though physically tidy in stature, Brendan Kennelly was a veritable colossus with an extraordinary charm, sparkling eyes that invited mischief, a roguish sense of intrigue and a dignified vulnerability. His was a life that was lived, with its inherent imperfections as well as its successes and redemptions.

Society needs people like Brendan Kennelly for the way they nudge us to a place where we can embrace our better angels. And his death at the age of 85 does not mean his influence has now come to an inevitable conclusion. Rather the contrary.

Now is our opportunity for even more learnings from his life and his work.

Kerry is rightly famous for the rich legacy gifted to us all by writers like Brendan Kennelly – people such as Bryan MacMahon, Maurice Walsh, John B Keane and Máire Mhac an tSaoi, to name but a few.

The latter, who also died at the weekend, was technically born in Dublin, but was Kerry through and through because of the deep love she had for West Kerry and the Irish language.

We now need to celebrate the joy that was Brendan Kennelly. We must bring his words – his message and learnings – to everybody willing to listen.

And what better way to start than in our schools, by way of a concentrated course of appreciation for the works of the Ballylongford writer and thinker. Further, other ways must be found to engage, introduce and/or reintroduce Brendan Kennelly’s work to adults and older people.

There is a natural sadness that greets the death of any great man or woman. But Brendan Kennelly’s leave-taking is fully compliant with the way things have to be.

We salute his extraordinary talent, his glorious humanity and his tremendous communication skills. And we must go on, encouraged by words from his own beautiful poem ‘Begin’:

Though we live in a world that
dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge
conclusion
insists that we forever begin.