Trinity academic and biographer of Patrick Kavanagh

Antoinette Quinn: June 20th, 1940 - May 3rd, 2015

Antoinette Quinn, who has died aged 74, was an acknowledged expert on Patrick Kavanagh and the author of an acclaimed biography of the poet.

It was fitting that she chose Kavanagh as her subject, given that she grew up in his home place of Inniskeen, Co Monaghan, where her parents were founder members of the Patrick Kavanagh Society.

Her academic colleague Nicholas Grene, professor of English Literature at Trinity College Dublin, described her as "a completely committed professional when it came to teaching and all the other work a university teacher has to do" and "a very gifted literary critic, especially sensitive in her reading of poetry".

Antoinette Quinn lived in Barronstown, Co Louth until she was six, when the family moved to her father’s family home in Inniskeen. She was the eldest of seven children of Tom Quinn, a national school teacher, and Magdalene Cusack.


She attended Kilkerley National School, Co Louth and St Louis Secondary School, Dundalk before university education at Queen’s in Belfast, where she graduated with a double first in English and French. Her doctorate, also at Queen’s, was on Thomas Hardy and Edward Thomas.

After two years’ university teaching in Malta she was appointed lecturer in English in TCD in 1974. She became a senior lecture in 1990 and was elected a fellow in 1992. Her field was chiefly 19th and 20th century poetry, but she also pioneered the teaching of women’s writing and was one of the founders of the Centre for Women’s Studies in TCD.

Magnum opus

Her publication

John Montague: The Figure in the Cave and Other Essays

(1989) preceded her prolific output on Kavanagh. Her

Patrick Kavanagh: Born-Again Romantic

(1991) is probably the definitive critical analysis of the poems. She reinforced her position as the leading Kavanagh authority with editions of the

Selected Poems

(1998) and

Collected Poems

(2004). But in between came her magnum opus, the biography of the poet.

She had actually first met Kavanagh as an autograph-hunting nine-year-old. She loved his writing but was “always somewhat diffident about her own gifts”. Prof Grene recalls reading the biography in draft form and having to convince her of how fine a work it was.

Patrick Kavanagh: A Life (2001) was published to huge acclaim. John Montague called in "a strong, brave book"; to poet John F Deane it was "a magnificent work of love and scholarship", while Anthony Cronin, who knew Kavanagh well, said, "This is the book we've been waiting for." It did not shirk presenting the less attractive aspects of Kavanagh's personality and behaviour but "what shines through the biography is the epic achievement of Kavanagh in becoming a great poet against so many odds, of learning the confidence to write his extraordinary poems out of the material of his own parish," says Prof Grene.

Dr Quinn loved company, talk and gossip and had a keen eye for absurdity and a great sense of fun. She was a great satirist, according to colleagues, but her sense of humour was as often at her own expense as that of others.

She met her husband, Brian Crowley, in the mid-1980s and they married in 1990. He predeceased her and she is survived by her sisters, Fiona Ahern, Clodagh Fitzgerald and Maeve McCluskey, and her brother Daig.