Trinity College Dublin: Trinity pays tribute to Brendan Kennelly

It is with deep sadness that the College community has learned of the death of renowned poet and colleague Professor Brendan Kennelly.

As a writer, Brendan Kennelly was creative, prolific, and accessible. Best known as a poet, he also wrote novels, plays, worked as an editor, anthologist, critic, and contributed enormously to Irish public life in his contributions to newspapers and television. As an academic he was a dynamic presence in the Department of English in Trinity for over 40 years, serving as Professor of Modern Literature before his retirement. He was an extraordinary writer and teacher who inspired generations of students of English with his unconventional and exciting lectures, tutorials and seminars.

Commenting on his passing, Provost Linda Doyle said: “Brendan was known to generations of Trinity students as a great teacher and as a warm and encouraging presence on campus. His talent for and love of poetry came through in every conversation as did his good humour. We have all missed him on campus in recent years as illness often kept him in his beloved Kerry. He is a loss to his much loved family, Trinity and the country.”

Professor Kennelly joined Trinity as a Professor in English in 1963. He was elected a Fellow in 1967 and appointed Professor of Modern Literature in 1973.

Professor Jarlath Killeen, Head of the School of English, added: “For many Irish people, Brendan Kennelly was Trinity, and through his public engagement, his argument-inspiring poetry and just the sheer force of his personality, he placed the College in the centre of national debates about memory, history and the importance of the arts and literature in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.”

“His lectures were electrifying; even in the 1990s, when I came to Trinity, it was an extraordinary experience as a first year to have to try to squeeze yourself into even a large lecture hall, to find it packed full of not just students of English Literature, but academics from other disciplines, members of the public, and even tourists, who had all made it their business to witness a lecture from someone who possessed not just a personal charisma, but could communicate an infectious love for literature that was enviable.”

Earlier this year, at an event marking the poet’s 85th birthday, Trinity launched the Brendan Kennelly Literary Archive. This rich literary archive contains literary drafts, lectures, research materials, reviews, workshop material, works by others, theatrical ephemera, personal material, photographs, memorabilia, and correspondence.

In 2019, The Library hosted the exhibition ‘Forever Begin’ celebrating the poet’s remarkable contributions to Irish literary and cultural life over many decades. An online version of this exhibition can be viewed here.

Brendan Kennelly is best known for his 30 collections of poetry, and especially for his provocative Cromwell (1983), The Book of Judas (1991) and Poetry My Arse (1995), which were bestsellers as well as being critically acclaimed. Unique to his work, according to Professor Eoin McNamee, Director of the Oscar Wilde Centre, was his “ability to engage with the world in darkness and light, to bring introspection to the point of mysticism yet to be accessible to a broad public audience, to bring the reader to the point of despair yet to counter that despair with gaiety”.

In a tribute published today the School of English noted his dedication to public outreach and his involvement in the establishment of the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing. The centre provided the base for the M.Phil in Creative Writing, the first such course in Ireland, with Professor Kennelly as its Co-Director. Appropriately, the Library in the Centre is now named after him.

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