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Trinity Announces Brendan Kennelly Literary Archive to mark Poet’s 85th Birthday

The Brendan Kennelly Literary Archive was launched today in Trinity College Dublin at a celebratory online event marking the poet’s eighty-fifth birthday later this week [April 17th, 2021].

Hosted by the Provost of Trinity College Dublin, the event featured a read message from the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins along with selected poems recited by celebrated singer, Bono, poet, Paula Meehan and Trinity student Lily O’Byrne.

Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Patrick Prendergast said on the occasion of the launch:

“The Brendan Kennelly Literary Archive reflects all of the facets of Brendan Kennelly’s life, and his national and international role – as a poet and a professor, as a public figure and cultural commentator, and a mentor to many. It spans from his earliest poetry to his years in Trinity College. I am delighted to announce this unique collection will now be made available to students and scholars with the appointment of an archivist, made possible through philanthropic support.”  

Librarian and College Archivist, Helen Shenton said:

“The Brendan Kennelly Literary Archive will become a broad launching-off point for much scholarly research and a broader appreciation of the poet’s work, for generations to come. The first step to enabling much wider access is the production of a detailed archival descriptive list – a combination of inventory and a road map of possibilities – from which all other ambitions may develop. This will now be achieved with the appointment of an archivist in the Library of Trinity College Dublin to oversee the cataloguing of the poet’s papers.”

Brendan Kennelly Private Collection
Brendan Kennelly Private Collection

Brendan Kennelly’s work, with roots in early twentieth-century rural traditions, developed to give a voice to the marginalised urban dweller, as well as difficult historical characters such as Judas and Oliver Cromwell. The poet’s own private life has often involved struggle and triumph, both of which he has shared freely and publicly, giving encouragement to many in their own personal struggles. Professor Kennelly’s teaching influenced generations of scholars, teachers, parents, and citizens and he has always been unfailingly encouraging to younger poets, from Paula Meehan to Leanne O’Sullivan.

It is a unique collection that will be of interest not only to scholars of Brendan Kennelly’s work, but to those interested in the work of his many literary, artistic, and political contacts and correspondents. The collection contains literary drafts, lectures, research materials, reviews, workshop material, works by others, theatrical ephemera, personal material, photographs, memorabilia, and a great quantity of correspondence.

The research opportunities presented by such a collection are extraordinarily varied. There are literary studies, biographical studies, cultural studies, sociological studies and studies on the role and impact of university teaching on a nation.

The Library of Trinity College acquired the Kennelly archive some years ago. In 2019, it hosted the exhibition ‘Forever Begin’  celebrating the poet’s remarkable contributions to Irish literary and cultural life over many decades.  Following today’s announcement, and the appointment of an archivist, this rich literary archive will be made available to researchers and students.  

Professor Philip Coleman of the School of English concluded:

“The Brendan Kennelly Literary Archives honours the work of a major Irish poet and public figure and his many contributions to a College where he studied, worked and lived for several decades. Scholars and researchers will be able to study the multi-faceted achievements of Brendan Kennelly in these archives but they will also throw new light on all of those with whom he had contact throughout his career – fellow poets, academics, musicians, politicians and many others. For a poet who prized the idea of the voice in literature above all else, the Brendan Kennelly Literary Archives will allow his work to speak in unexpected ways to lovers of Irish poetry and literature for generations to come.” 

The Brendan Kennelly Literary Archive is in association with the Library of Trinity College Dublin, the Brendan Kennelly Literary Trust and the Kennelly Family.

The archive forms part of the overall Virtual Trinity Library programme, an ambitious digitisation initiative of the Library of Trinity College Dublin’s most valued collections.

For examples of the Brendan Kennelly Literary Archive see the Library’s online exhibition ‘Forever Begin’.