Can Kavanagh's 50th turn 'stony grey soil' into Monaghan tourism magic?
Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan
50 years since his death, Monaghan-born poet Patrick Kavanagh is to be remembered today at a graveside tribute at Inniskeen.
The tribute, to be streamed live from noon, sees some of Ireland's greatest living writers gather at Kavanagh's graveside to read his work aloud.
Authors Pat McCabe, Theo Dorgan and Mary O'Donnell, along with Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Jane Hyslop, are just some of those joining locals and members of the Kavanagh family at the event.
Kavanagh was born in Inniskeen in 1904, and the landscape of his younger years features richly in works from The Great Hunger to Tarry Flynn.
The town's Kavanagh Trail passes the family homestead (scene of A Christmas Childhood), Billy Brennan’s Barn (“the wink-and-elbow language of delight”) and Inniskeen Road, where the bicycles went by “in twos and threes” on the eponymous July evening.
Despite the poet's fame, however, there is a sense that his work has fallen from favour of late, and that his beloved "stony grey soil" of Monaghan has struggled to gain the recognition or tourism glow enjoyed by Yeats Country, Joyce's Dublin, or investments like the new Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy, Co. Derry.
"His reputation may have dipped somewhat in recent years, or more accurately, he may not be as present in Irish cultural life as he should be," says Liam Brown of Doran Browne, arts consultants advising Monaghan County Council on how both poet and Centre could be positioned from a cultural and tourism point of view.
"But the challenge now is to somehow reignite an appreciation of the quality of his work, not just for an Irish readership but internationally... Kavanagh is a poet of international quality and positive relevance for today’s world."
Indeed, Independent.ie Travel can report that funding of around €400k has been raised between the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Monaghan County Council to bolster the Patrick Kavanagh Centre and add a performance space.
The Council is now applying for funding for a second phase of work that would focus on improving exhibitions and the visitor experience.
"Technology has come on in leaps and bounds since the centre first opened in 1994, and our challenge is to make it more interactive and more appealing from a visitor point of view," says Eamonn O'Sullivan, the Council's chief executive.
With literary tourism now a global trend, could Kavanagh Country be nurtured into a key destination in Ireland's Ancient East?
The poet died in Dublin on November 30, 1967, but is buried at the former St. Mary's Church, now home to the Patrick Kavanagh Centre.
"Although Dublin was his home in later life, it is clear that Monaghan was never far from his thoughts," Minister Humphreys says.
For more, see patrickkavanaghcountry.com and monaghantourism.com.