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Brendan Kennelly at the book launch/birthday party in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin

Brendan Kennelly at the book launch/birthday party in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin

 Senator Paul Coghlan, Helen Moran, Margaret Flannery and Senator David Norris at the book launch/birthday party for Brendan Kennelly in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

Senator Paul Coghlan, Helen Moran, Margaret Flannery and Senator David Norris at the book launch/birthday party for Brendan Kennelly in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

16/4/13 Minister Jimmy Deenihan with Brendan Kennelly and Sandrine Brisset, author at the book launch/birthday party for Brendan Kennelly in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

16/4/13 Minister Jimmy Deenihan with Brendan Kennelly and Sandrine Brisset, author at the book launch/birthday party for Brendan Kennelly in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

16/4/13 Senator David Norris and Geraldine Mangan, former secretary of English Department at Trinity at the book launch/birthday party for Brendan Kennelly in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

16/4/13 Senator David Norris and Geraldine Mangan, former secretary of English Department at Trinity at the book launch/birthday party for Brendan Kennelly in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

16/4/13 Noel O'Grady, Mary Black and Grankie Gavin, at the book launch/birthday party for Brendan Kennelly in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

16/4/13 Noel O'Grady, Mary Black and Grankie Gavin, at the book launch/birthday party for Brendan Kennelly in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

16/4/13 Bob Joyce and Bruce Arnold at the book launch/birthday party for Brendan Kennelly in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

16/4/13 Bob Joyce and Bruce Arnold at the book launch/birthday party for Brendan Kennelly in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

16/4/13 Minister Jimmy Deenihan with Frankie Gavin, De Dannan, at the book launch/birthday party for Brendan Kennelly in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

16/4/13 Minister Jimmy Deenihan with Frankie Gavin, De Dannan, at the book launch/birthday party for Brendan Kennelly in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin. Picture:Arthur Carron/Collins

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Brendan Kennelly at the book launch/birthday party in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin

A SECRET birthday party for the poet Brendan Kennelly attracted a huge turnout of literary, musical and political friends.

The 77th bithrday party was the first celebration for Kennelly since his 60th in 1996. Kennelly, who was once a regular on 'The Late Late Show' and at literary events, has withdrawn completely from public life in recent years.

But he was in good spirits at last night's event for 150 guests in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.

Confidence

It was organised by French academic Dr Sandrine Brisset, a colleague from Trinity College, and by Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan.

Dr Brisset also launched her new book on Kennelly at last night's event. The book 'Brendan Kennelly: Behind the Smile' explores both the poet himself and his work.

It also explains what Dr Brisset calls the "loss of confidence" that forced Kennelly to withdraw from public life.

Dr Brisset has been working on the book for the past 10 years during which time she and Kennelly became close friends.

Up to the 1990s, Kennelly was one of the best known and most loved literary figures in Ireland.

Through his appearances with Gay Byrne on 'The Late Late Show' and on radio, his love of words and his philosophical musings made the TCD professor of English with a Kerry accent a household name.

And then suddenly he vanished. He had publicly renounced alcohol some time before that, but he was no longer writing and he no longer felt able to appear in public. He refused all invitations and became reclusive.

Dr Brisset refers to the earlier roguish and charming face he had presented on TV as "a mask". It was a mask that captivated everyone, but behind it there was "a dark side".

Kennelly has given the book his full support. Dr Brisset's personal insight into his life and work prompted him to say: "I feel she knows more about me than I do about myself."

'Brendan Kennelly: Behind the Smile' is published today by Raglan Books

Irish Independent