Rambling ...

I'm an Irish Girl, A Dubliner, with the 'Gift of the Gab' ... I like to talk & to tell you things. In Celtic times news, views and comment were carried from place to place by wandering Seanachaí ~ Storytellers ~ who relied on their host's hospitality and appreciation. I will need that from you too, as I venture to share Politics, Poetry, Laughter, Love, Life & everything in-between ... from Bog to Blog!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Raglan Road ...

Raglan Road, Dublin 4.

   Patrick Kavanagh, Poet, was born in Inniskeen parish, County Monaghan, Ireland in 1904.  For twenty years he lived life as an ordinary young Irish farmer of the period, toiling for pocket money in fields he expected some day to inherit.  But he was not that farm boy.  In 1939 he settled in Dublin, Ireland's Capital. 

Kavanagh lived in Pembroke Road, Dublin 4, adjacent to Raglan Road, where this poem is set,  from 1946 (the date of the poem) until 1958,  and thence on Raglan Road itself from 1958 to 1959.   And, this is where Kavanagh & I have a connection .... for I grew up & spent all my childhood years on Pembroke Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4!!

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay ~
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that's known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay ~
When the angel woos the clay he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day. 

Kavanagh first sang On Raglan Road (in public) sometime between August 1945 and April 1947,  when he was employed on the 'Standard' newspaper.  Writer Benedict Kiely (1919-2007),  then also working for the Standard, recalled Kavanagh walking into the office one day and saying, "there, sing that to that  ...   'On Raglan Road' to 'The Dawning of the Day’".    On Raglan Road’s melody is an almost perfect match for the traditional 18th century air  'Fáinne Geal an Lae'  ~   or “the dawning of the day”,  translated by Edward Walsh (1805-50).

Taken from 'The Irish Times', 1971.
(It still looks exactly like that!!!)
Luke Kelly   of Irish traditional band, the Dubliners,  met Patrick Kavanagh only once in the Bailey,  a pub in Grafton Street,  Dublin,  in 1966.  Both men, (to employ a Dublin euphemism),  "liked a drink"!!    In Dubspeak, this means to get pissed as a newt & intone Bawdy Ballads until you pass out, no matter to whose chagrin.  Anyways, during this encounter Kavanagh told him he had a song for him.  The song was 'On Raglan Road'.   For many people Luke Kelly's interpretation of 'On Raglan Road' is the definitive one.  Luke Kelly performs 'On Raglan Road' accompanied by Al O'Donnell below for you to enjoy!

On a mossy bank I sat me down, this maiden by my side,
With gentle words I courted her; I asked her “be my bride”,
She said "young man don't bring me shame" and swiftly turned away,
And the sun’s first light, pursued her flight at the dawning of the day.

Kavanagh certainly knew The Dawning of the Day, which had been popularised by John McCormack’s 1934 recording, and he himself matched lyric to melody.  The structure of both songs is very similar, as is the theme of lost love.  Kavanagh also retained the key refrain, “the dawning of the day” which is name checked in the last line.  There are also similarities of phrasing: for example; “with gentle words I courted her” is surely echoed in Kavanagh’s “I gave her poems to say”?? 

Paddy Kavanagh in 'the Snug'

His later years were to be plagued by ill health ~ he had lung cancer ~ and financial concerns & Kavanagh finally succumbed and died of pneumonia on 30th November 1967.   One of his best friends and staunchest supporters, writer, and owner of  the Bailey pub,  John Ryan (1925-92), summed up his brilliant but chaotic life well.

“Did he not, like the patriarch, show us the Promised Land? And, like the prophet, fail to attain it himself”?

This is a remarkably good epitaph for Patrick Kavanagh,  my very favourite & very poignant Irish poet.   This poem should be immortalised with a Plaque of it actually installed somewhere along Raglan Road,  where it is so pleasant to stroll on an autumn day,  kicking the piles of dried & wizened leaves as you go,  with the winds whipping them up all around you .... I used to do this at least weekly as I trod to the children's library on nearby Anglesea Road.     

Next to the 'Ulysses'  Industry deciphering  James Joyce,   there is an almost equivalent industry deciphering 'On Raglan Road'.   So,  although this poem has oft been compared & likened to the Mythological story of Pygmalion and Galatea,  & I do see a modicum of connection between the two stories,  I thought about it & sharing what it means to me personally ... & I'm not going to!

The song, often known simply as "Raglan Road"  has since been sung by not only Luke Kelly, but also by the Dubliners, Van Morrison, Sinéad O'Connor, Dire Straits, Billy Bragg,  Mark Knopfler, Roger Daltrey and Loreena McKennitt among others.  My favourite interpretation is Sinead O'Connor's & you can find it   right here.    I also think that Shane McGowan should record a  version of this poem.  It would be most awesome!

In 2000,  the Irish Times surveyed 'the nation's favourite poems' and ten of Kavanagh's poems were in the first fifty.   There is a seat situated on the South Bank of the Grand Canal at the Lock Gates close to Baggot Street Bridge commemorating Kavanagh & his contribution to Irish literature ....  As is well known from his poem and heavy hints to his friends, he wished to be commemorated with a simple canal side seat near the lock gates of Baggot Street Bridge!!   This was erected by his friends,  led by John Ryan and Denis Dwyer, in 1968, so he has his wish .... And, today Kavanagh sits by the leafy waters of the Canal bank,  but that is another poem ....


  1. And Someday with pictures I will lead you on a walk through the leafy avenues of Dublin 4, where I grew to first make sense of things. It is an area filled with Culture, an artistic village within a 'stone's throw' of the centre of the City of Dublin. A perfect place for an Autumn Afternoon's Amble ....

  2. I can definitely see you strolling through on Raglan road with all the lads turning their heads towards you ;-)