The poet and former Trinity College professor, Brendan Kennelly, was last Saturday 21st January honoured by Kerry County Council, which hosted a Civic Reception in his native north Kerry village of Ballylongford to mark his contribution to literature. Mr Kennelly (80), who recently moved back from Dublin to Kerry, was joined by his extended family, neighbours and friends at the reception in Ballylongford Parish Hall just a short distance from where he was born in 1936.

Paying tribute to Mr Kennelly’s exceptional literary output and achievements, the Leas-Cathaoirleach of Kerry County Council, Cllr Liam Purtill said the poet was “a literary hero of north Kerry and was cherished in his native place in the same way as literary figures like John B Keane and Bryan MacMahon. Brendan’s dulcet tones and cheery disposition have won him so many fans and his poetry is as popular today as it ever was, if not more so. His work has retained a loyal and appreciative audience to this day. It is fitting that we, as a local authority, honour him today in his native place,” said Cllr Purtill.

Addressing the reception, Brendan Kennelly said he been away from his beloved ‘Bally’ and Kerry for over sixty years but the village and county always stayed with me.
“Dublin was my home and a place that I loved dearly but my original home was always with me, all the time, wherever I went. Bally and its people would come to me at night as I slept; I would dream of the streets, of the river going up through the village, of the football field, of the laneways, and the teams of young people and the rhyme that we had:
Puddings and pies for the Ballyline Boys
Sods and ciarogs for the Well Road Rogues
Meal and bran for the Saleen Clan
Eggs and rashers for the Tae Lane Dashers

“Like all places, Bally has its own uniqueness,” said Brendan. “When I was growing up Ballylongford was a busy, self-sufficient place that was full of life and energy. It had a cinema, two dance halls, draperies, shoe shops, chemists, several pubs, tailors and dressmakers, bakeries and grocery shops.

“It had everything that its people needed. The big show-bands of the day came to Bally during the carnival. The farmers came in every day with their milk to the creamery – they were a daily visiting presence. They would come in with their horses and carts and you would hear the noise of the wheels on the street while lying in bed in the early morning. Soldiers stationed at Fort Shannon were regular visitors to the village,” Brendan continued.

“Bally is full of stories – we have the great history of the O’Connors of Carrigafoyle and the story of Lislaughtin. There is the story of the girl who worked for the O’Connors who fell in love with a British soldier and who lit a candle in one of the windows of the castle to indicate this was the weakest part of the building and the Cromwellian soliders attacked it at that point.

“There is an amazing history attached to the place. It was the story of Cromwell’s army coming to Bally that ignited my interest in the man and I wrote an epic poem about him. I went to his home in Ely in England and I read all his letters for my research. I remember phrases that he used, one in particular about ‘work I have to do in Ireland’. He was a mass murderer but he saw what he was doing as work that had to be done.

“I am back living near Bally again. I carry the Bally that I wrote about in The Crooked Cross within me and see it as I pass through the village and, although a lot has changed, I still know this to be my heart’s home place,” said Brendan.

Mr Kennelly was presented by Kerry County Council with a framed scroll marking the Civic Reception it hosted in his honour as well as with a picture of nearby Carrigafoyle Castle. The reception was also attended by the Chief Executive of Kerry County Council, Moira Murrell as well as local councillors, TDs and senators.

Photo by Helen Lane – Ballylongford Snaps