Each year on Saint Patrick’s day the Irish literati assemble on the banks of the Grand Canal in Dublin to commemorate one of Ireland’s greatest poets, Patrick Kavanagh. This year there was one poet missing, Paddy Finnegan.
In today’s guest post, Mattie Lennon, writer and folklorist, remembers his friend, sharing some beautiful memories of this Irish poet and artist.
Finnegan’s poem, Post from Parnassus, was inspired by the annual Saint Patrick’s Day commemoration of Patrick Kavanagh.
Post From Parnassus (after Patrick Kavanagh)
by Paddy Finnegan
Here by my seat the old ghosts meet.
Here, the place where the old menagerie
Relentlessly soldiers on
Remembering the old green dragon, me,
On the feast of the Apostle of Ireland.
Ye greeny, greying catechumens
Will cease to stage this ceremony
Only on the command of Sergeant Death.
Then break not the heart of poet past
Nor that of preening poet present:
But know, ye prodigies of prosody
That multitudes in times to be
Will listen to my lays
And look askance
While cods forever fake
Their own importance.
Dublin Lord Mayor, Christy Burke, put the Oak Room of the Mansion House at the disposal of the Paddy Finnegan Memorial Committee on Wednesday 12th September.
The event “Finnegan’s Wake,” attracted a full house (about 50 people were turned away.)
Poet Paddy Finnegan passed away, unexpectedly, on 16th July 2014.
Paddy was born “between two years” either in the dying moments of 1941 or just after midnight on New-year’s day 1942. Like everywhere else in rural Ireland at that time, clocks weren’t all that accurate in Kilkerrin, County Galway.
Paddy received a Scholarship to St Jarleths College in 1956 and continued his formal education in UCD. Paddy had a fantastic knowledge of the English language, was fluent in all dialects of Gaeilge and had a good grasp of Greek and Latin.
His versatility was increased in the year he spent in Wolverhampton as one of “the men who built Britain”. He became an expert on how to fry steak on the head of a shovel.
He joined the Irish Civil Service in 1962 but office work wasn’t for Paddy. Apart from being on a higher mental plane than most of his colleagues he was an open- air man.
During his stint there I’m sure Sigersun Clifford’s line often went around in his head….
“They chained my bones to an office stool
and my soul to a clock’s cold hands.”
He later worked as a bus conductor with CIE (the Irish transportation company) for many years.
When I got a job as a bus-conductor in 1974 I was sent to Donnybrook garage. I didn’t ask who was the most intelligent person in the garage, but if I had, the reply would have been concise, “Paddy Finnegan.”
As a conductor he could reply to any criticism from an irate passenger; in several languages if necessary. During this period Paddy and a few of his fellow intellectuals would assemble in a city center flat which was known a Dáil Oíche. It was a later edition of “The Catacombs” as described by Anthony Cronin in Dead as Doornails. With such a collection of intelligentsia you can imagine (or can you?) the topics under discussion.
He lived for many years in Lower Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh. If ever a house deserved a Blue Plaque its Paddy’s former residence.
He brought out a collection of his poetry, sadly now out of print, titled Dactyl Distillations. I know dear erudite reader that you know the meaning of dactyl but I had to look it up. It is, “a foot of poetic meter in quantitave verse.”
More recently he recorded a, limited edition, CD, Fion Ceol agus Filíoct. I hope that somebody will now bring out an “unlimited” edition. In his later years he was a familiar sight selling the Big Issue outside Trinity College and more recently at Bewleys on Grafton Street.
I asked his brother James if there were poets in their ancestry. He said no, that their father was a farmer but, in the words of Seamus Heaney, “By God, the old man could handle a spade.”
The soil of Kilkerrin will lie lightly on Paddy; didn’t his friends drop it gently on his coffin. Such a scene was described by his friend Dermot Healy who pre-deceased him by a couple of weeks,
” . . . shovels work like oars, rowing the dead man from this world.”
A big thank you to Mattie for sharing this little piece about his good friend, whose life and words enriched the lives of many. May he rest in peace.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
Images and text graciously provided by, and published courtesy of, Mattie Lennon.