Brendan Kennelly presented with inaugural Kerry Association in Dublin Arts Award

At a reception in the Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green at 5pm on Wednesday evening 29th March 2017, the inaugural Kerry Association in Dublin Arts Award was presented to Professor Brendan Kennelly by President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins.

President Higgins presented a bespoke piece of Dingle Crystal to Brendan and in his address; President Higgins paid tribute to his close personal friend and fellow poet. The President spoke of Brendan’s ‘immense’ influence on Irish arts and society.

The Kerry Association in Dublin was established in 1951 and aims to develop the great sporting, literary and cultural heritage of Kerry. 2017 is the inaugural year of the Association’s Arts Award which was sponsored by Kerry Group plc and it is intended to be an annual reward, to recognise a Kerry individual’s excellence in the Arts. Professor Kennelly was chosen by the selection committee to be the first recipient of the award for his outstanding achievements in Literature. Jimmy Deenihan, former TD and Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, chaired the selection committee.

Brendan’s life-long love affair with words and the English language has made him a renowned poet and writer. Being raised in Ballylongford and educated in North Kerry gave him a natural affiliation with its people, the landscape, its love of football and the living culture, especially the spoken and written word. The living culture of Kerry contains a strong oral tradition. The tradition of storytelling, the fascination with language, and the belief in the importance of education were formative influences in the development of the future poet and teacher.

Brendan was as passionate about teaching English as he is about creating poetry. As a teacher he inspired thousands of his students at Trinity College. He loved teaching, meeting people and challenging them to explore and enjoy the English language. It’s this interest in helping others to participate in the art and joy of creative writing that sets him apart from many of his peers. Brendan has always emphasised that the Arts are for everyone and not the preserve of the few.

Brendan really enjoyed teaching in Mountjoy Prison and is fondly remembered by those he taught. Never in anyway elitist, he wants everyone to have the opportunity to participate in the process and enjoyment of creative expression. Not surprisingly, he is appropriately referred to as the people’s Poet. As he himself said, ‘it is the same to me if I am lecturing in Harvard or Oxford or any place in the world or giving a talk to youngsters. I do the same with all of them, I do my best’.

As well as being a willing mentor Brendan has had a remarkable work ethic and a rigorous dedication to his writing. During his many years as an English lecturer he wrote early mornings and late evenings, producing a formidable body of work. It is a great honour for Brendan that 12 of his poems will feature on the Leaving Cert. curriculum for 2019 and 2022. This will introduce his work to a new generation of readers.

Family, friends and football are also key elements in his world and many family members as well as friends and former colleagues from Trinity College were in attendance at the reception in the Shelbourne Hotel.

Brendan is now back in North Kerry. As he said of his birthplace ‘I praise this place and am happy to be part of it forever’. He believes in always being ready to begin again, to embrace what is new and whatever may be ahead for him. Surrounded by family and friends, he is experiencing a new lease of life evident at a number of public appearances recently including a special tribute to him at the Abbey Theatre, a Civic Reception by Kerry Co. Council and an interview with Miriam O Callaghan for RTE.

Brendan has often been heard reciting Raifteiri an File’s poem, ‘Anois Teacht An Earraigh’. The following verse from this celebrated poem could well apply to Brendan’s rejuvenation since he returned to North Kerry:

‘Is dámbeinnseimosheasamhigceartlármodhaoine, d’imeódh an aoisdíom, is bheinnarísóg,’

Brendan’s translation is as follows:
‘And were I to be standing in the centre of my people, age would depart from me and I would be young again’.