An Appreciation: Frank McEvoy
WITH the death of Frank McEvoy on January 25th, at the age of 86, an important era in Kilkenny’s literary history comes to an end. Following so soon on the deaths of Melosina Lenox-Conyngham and Paddy Friel, it reduces still further the small community of figures who made a national contribution to the city’s reputation in the areas of heritage and the arts in the 20th. century.
Frank was a native of Kilkenny, where he was born on November 14th, 1925, the son of William McEvoy and Frances Lenehan. He spent his early life with maternal family connections in Kilskeer, Co Meath, attending St Finian’s College, Mullingar. Returning to Kilkenny, he continued his education at St Kieran’s College, and worked as a solicitor’s clerk.
In the mid-1950s, Frank was a patient in a tuberculosis sanatorium, during which time he had an article published in The Irish Timesand wrote a novel which was positively received by a leading London publisher and subsequently lost. On restoration to health, he entered local government service with Kilkenny County Committee of Agriculture, from which he retired as administrative officer in 1987. For seven years he then ran a small select bookshop, Hebron Books, on Kilkenny’s High Street.
He lived all his life in the residence attached to the family farm on Hebron Road. In 1965 he married Marie Finn. She died in November of the following year.
Frank’s first involvement with Kilkenny’s cultural life was as honorary secretary of Kilkenny Arts Society, whose early efforts included a series of annual debates, organised by Hubert Butler and broadcast by Radio Éireann, on the burning issues of the day (the Common Market, the Irish language, etc).
As an off-shoot of the Arts Society, Kilkenny Literary Society came into existence in 1960, founded by James Delehanty with Frank’s enthusiastic support. The society’s inaugural lecture was given by Kate O’Brien. In the succeeding seasons, eminent Irish writers – among them Séamus Heaney – addressed the society. The concurrently-launched Kilkenny Magazine,with James Delehanty as editor and Frank as associate editor and extensive contributor, became a prominent provincial vehicle for the channelling of both novice and established Irish literary talent in its decade-long life-cycle.
Hubert Butler also led the revival of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, and Frank was a member of this organisation too from its early years, acting at various times as its secretary, chairman, journal editor and prolific contributor of lectures and articles.
His only major published work, an edition of the Life and Adventures of James Freney,the memoirs of the notorious highwayman, appeared in 1988. His other appearances in print were light and lively, from an early account of a trip to the Netherlands, published in the agricultural section of the Carlow Nationalistto a three-part series on his travels in Russia in the Kilkenny Peopleunder the title “Perestroika, We Like Ya” and a diary-sourced account of the visit of Patrick Kavanagh to Kilkenny included in the Diaries of Irelandanthology produced by his friend Melosina Lenox-Conyngham in 1998.
As editor of the St Kieran’s College Record, he gave the publication a decided literary flavour in the six issues he produced, promoting and publishing the work of fellow alumni including James Delehanty, the dramatist Tom Kilroy, Leo Holohan, Noel Moran, Edward Lawler and Frank Muldowney.
His fascination with the Mountgarrett branch of the Butlers resulted in the preparation and performance of a drama at a Butler rally in 1976.
In 2005 a group of friends produced Short Schrift, a compilation of essays and short pieces to mark his 80th. birthday. It included contributions from John McGahern, Turtle Bunbury (a grand-nephew of Hubert Butler), Michael Coady and Tom Kilroy.
He is survived by his son Feargal, a planning officer with Liverpool City Council, daughter-in-law Lorraine and grandchildren Ruby, Cian and Niall; three sisters and two brothers.
– DENIS BERGIN