A poet gazes on familiar places: Des Kavanagh to launch ‘Binnion Road’

Des Kavanagh.

The collection will be launched by Margaret Farren in Clonmany Community Center on Easter Sunday at 5.30 pm followed by a reading by Des Kavanagh.

There is an eloquent Introduction to ‘Binnion Road’ by Seamus Deane, a friend of Des’s since their schooldays in St. Columb’s College in Derry.

Deane sent Des the introduction just months before Deane’s death in May 2021.

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In it he says: “Des Kavanagh’s poems are full of the names of people and places he knows or has known well. Names are great familiarisers and Kavanagh’s Ireland is a close and familiar place. But it also bears within it the ache of absence, not just for specific people, but for the world they inhabited, a world that made them and that they also made. Kavanagh’s ancestral Inishowen in Donegal, his family of him, in it’s old and new generations, often provide the pivot that turns him to the past, although it also allows for glimpses of the future, through children and grandchildren. ”

Des has retired from his work as an orthodontist and as he says himself ”Since putting down the drill,I have taken up

Classmates in St. Columbs’, he retained a close friendship over a lifetime with Seamus Heaney as well as Seamus Deane and their influences were probably a subconscious encouragement to write him in his later years.

In his Introduction Seamus Deane remarks about the writing: ‘we can sense in these poems the charismatic presence of Heaney whose influence is palpable throughout-contemplative, charged, observant.’

In the poem Milk Trail, the boy walked to McCarron’s farm to collect milk, ‘Up past the graveyard/with it’s rusting gates/along the winding lane….’. ‘Old Matt Wilson and Hugh McCarron/bent towards the fire/told stories of banshee wails/a one-eyed lady at the well/or men from the parish recently deceased/seen selling fish at night/ at others’ graves/With two quart cans/I’d head down the dark lane,/flee past the well,/creaking gates/and gravestones that glistened/trailing milk all the way home.’

In Far and Near he describes a drive along the Fanad Peninsula looking across at his native Inishowen: ‘I drive up Fanad Way/along the Swilly shore/past rocky downslopes/and strands that reflect/the coast of Inishowen./Past Rathmullan, Portsalon /how close/this headland takes me./Bending at Fanad Head,/across the bay,I see/lights in houses/that I know, familiar/townlands skewed./Sheep are white dots/on the gap of Mamore,/Leenan has its back to the shore./This is how people here/have always seen us./I am both far and near/alienated in a place/I thought familiar./My mother waiting/on the other side.’

Des’s father was a schoolteacher who had befriended the seannachaí Charles McGlinchey and in a fortuitous collaboration captured his music and stories in The Last of the Name (edited and introduced by Brian Friel). Three of McGlinchey’s stories are woven into this collection eg Poll an Phíobaire :The Piper’s

Cave/opens at Súil Rock/on the face of Binnion Hill./No one knows how far in it goes./Long ago a piper entered/the empty chamber and played/to find out. His friends from him above ground / listened to hear the direction he was taking./…He journeyed the dark alone / shrill echoes of his piping from him /trapped…../

The poet Tony Curtis says: ‘reading Kavanagh’s poems I am reminded of the best whistle players, who play the essence of the tune, not crowding or smothering the air but letting everything appear as natural and easy as a bird in flight.’

Des’s work has been shortlisted in the Cúirt New Writing Competition, The Fish Poetry Competition, Hennessy New Irish Writing/Irish Times, and has been broadcasted on RTÉ’s Radio 1 Sunday Miscellany.

Launch of Binnion Road will take place on Easter Sunday, 17th April, 2022, in Clonmany Community Center at 5.30 pm.

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