About Brendan Kennelly

Brendan Kennelly (b. 1936) is the prolific author of over twenty books of poetry as well as plays, novels and criticism. Born in Ballylongford in Co. Kerry, Kennelly was Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin for thirty years. In his native country Kennelly is public property, both popular and controversial, not least for his collections Cromwell and The Book of Judas both of which generated many column inches on publication. Counting the rock band U2 amongst his friends and appearing in car adverts on Irish TV, Kennelly straddles both the public and private spheres in his unofficial role of "Ireland's poetry confessor" (The Independent).

Kennelly has said of himself "If I'm anything it's open," and this is borne out in his writing, particularly in the recurring idea of giving and receiving. Like the 'Happy Grass' that accepts "every human cry" there is space in a Kennelly poem for the good, the bad, the ugly (and the beautiful). His vision defies any attempt to impose strict categories on the world. He has much in common with the children who feature in some of his best-known poems, remaining wide-eyed in the face of the contradictory nature of life, describing both its malignity and its grace: in 'Blackbird' the bird's yellow beak is both an instrument of violence and of song 'Spontaneous as light, pure as flame."

Music is a central motif, part of Kennelly's obsession with voices. His poems are densely peopled with a cast of named characters whose stories are told in a variety of forms from strict ballad metre to free verse. Inanimate objects too have their say, be they a shell, the sea or a loaf of bread. But it's in the movement into song and dance that a person becomes most truly him or herself as in his moving elegy 'I See You Dancing, Father': "You made your own music/Always in tune with yourself." Kennelly's reading (he was recently voted "the most attractive voice in Ireland" in a radio poll) brings out the inherent lilt of his poetry and conveys his sense of excitement about a universe that, despite its disasters, "insists that we forever begin" ('Begin').

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 13 June 2001 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Brendan Kennelly's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"I dabbled in words and I found they were my life. " - Patrick Kavanagh

"He does not write at all whose poems no-one reads." - Martial

" The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth." - Jean Cocteau

"Poetry is the ultimate democracy." - Brendan Kennelly

"I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat." - A. E. Housman

Selected bibliography

Brendan Kennelly: A Host of Ghosts (John McDonagh), The...

Reservoir Voices, Bloodaxe Books 2009

Now, Bloodaxe Books 2006


Familiar Strangers: new and selected poems 1960-2004,...

Martial Art, Bloodaxe, 2003


The Little Book of Judas, Bloodaxe, 2002


Glimpses, Bloodaxe, 2001


Begin, Bloodaxe, 1999


The Man Made of Rain, Bloodaxe, 1998



1967 AE Memorial Prize for Poetry

1988 Critics Special Harvey's Award

1996 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

Prize website

1999 American Ireland Fund Literary Award

Prize website

2003 Ireland Fund of France Wild Geese Award


Buy album £0.00

1The Adventure of Learning

2Getting Up Early

3The Singing Girl Is Easy in Her Skill

4Sing and Be Damned To It


6Living Ghosts

7The Happy Grass


9Saint Brigid's Prayer

10Saint Augustine on God

11Children's Hospital

12Citizens of the Night

13The Horse's Head

14The Stones


16Poem from a Three Year Old

17The Visitor


19The Swimmer


21Dream of a Black Fox

22The Scarf





27The Sandwoman


29We Are Living

30The Moment of Letlive

31The Habit of Redemption

32A Restoration

33She Sees Her Own Distance

34More Dust

35The Fire is Crying

36A Half-Finished Garden

37Her Face

38A Giving

39Let It Go


41The Speech of Trees



44The Third Force

45I See You Dancing, Father

46A Glimpse of Starlings

47Clearing a Space


Books by Brendan Kennelly