An Irishman's Diary

 

SIXTY years ago, in 1952, Ireland witnessed the publication of a unique and extraordinary magazine called Kavanagh’s Weekly, a Journal of Literature and Politics. It was written and published by Patrick Kavanagh and his brother Peter from their flat at 62, Pembroke Road, Dublin. They intended that the weekly would be a forum for the discussion of contemporary political, economic, literary and social issues. Even though it survived a mere 13 weeks its publication had long lasting consequences for both brothers.

Peter Kavanagh recalled returning to Dublin from America in March, 1952 and finding Patrick with no means of support, “visible or invisible”, as he put it. Patrick, he said, was bursting with ideas for which he had no outlet. Peter had $2,000 saved and they agreed without much consideration to start a weekly journal and to continue publishing until the money ran out. Peter designed the layout and asked John Ryan to draw the masthead. Each issue would contain approximately 10,000 words but they felt that this would not be an issue as there was no shortage of subjects, political and literary, which needed an airing in a journal like this. Patrick and Peter wrote almost the entire content including a weekly diary and even the letters to the editor.

When the first print run was finished Peter brought the 3,000 copies home from the Fleet Printing Co in Eccles Place, to their flat on the bus, and as no established publisher would distribute the magazines, in case of libel, Peter set about this task himself which entailed travelling round Dublin with a bundle on the carrier of his bike, notebook in hand, calling to newspaper and magazine shops, dropping off two here and six there.

The first issue of Kavanagh’s Weekly, published on April 12th, 1952, caused a sensation. In this issue literature took a back seat as Patrick concentrated on political and economic issues under the title “Victory of Mediocrity”. In his first editorial, Patrick was very critical of Ireland’s progress in the 30 years since Independence. “There is a lack of vitality” he wrote. “All the mouthpieces of public opinion are controlled by men whose only qualification is their inability to think”.

In further editions Radio Éireann, the GAA, the Abbey Theatre and the Arts Council were all targeted, as was the Cultural Relations Committee established by Sean McBride in 1949. Kavanagh examined Ireland’s Civil Service and suggested that the country might benefit from reducing it to “one tenth its size”. He suggested that Ireland should abandon the “so-called” revival of Irish, making the presidency an honorary post at a nominal salary and reducing the number of Irish embassies abroad.

Indeed, looking back, some of Kavanagh’s opinions do not seem that out of date today, as many present-day commentators might observe.

By issue five, Kavanagh was becoming increasingly irritated. Under the title “Finnegan’s Wake” he described Ireland as being in a state of being waked. “A wake is what is in progress in this country,” he wrote. “At wakes nothing serious is ever discussed. Nobody is angry or destructive. People speak in hypocritical whispers. The Undertaker in his long black cloak moves around on padded feet” (a reference to taoiseach Éamon de Valera). “He is the businessman of the country and his job is to be nice to everybody. Ideas are bad for trade”.

When issue 12 appeared there was a notice inserted stating that the next issue would be the last. It would be a limited edition, autographed by the editor and would be sold only as part of a complete set. The price would be £1. If, however, in the meantime a sum of £1,000 was received, the following week’s issue would be distributed in the usual way.

Needless to say, the £1,000 did not materialise, and so the next issue, number 13 was indeed the last issue of Kavanagh’s Weekly, published on Saturday, July 5th, 1952. It contained only a four-page editorial under the title “The Story of an Editor who was Corrupted by Love”. In it Patrick is at a loss to explain why his paper would no longer be published. He saw himself as one of the few true voices of the people. “Now and again a real voice of the people is heard”, he wrote. Sean O’Casey and James Joyce were examples of these voices. “O’Casey escaped to England. Here he would have been trampled in the Dublin gutter. Joyce was wiser when he went to Paris.” Kavanagh’s Weekly, he said, divided his readers in two, “they had friends of a vague kind and enemies of a fairly precise kind”.

Those enemies would have their revenge and in October, 1952, three months after it folded, a profile of Patrick duly appeared in the Leader Magazine. When Patrick read it he saw strong grounds to sue for libel, thinking that the case would never reach court. It did, resulting in the now infamous libel trial of 1954 with Patrick being cross-examined in the witness box over several days by John A Costello, SC, the former and future taoiseach.

After Kavanagh’s Weekly folded, the brothers burned all the unsold copies in the fireplace of their flat. They had only 13 “takers” for the complete set. Peter wrote afterwards that they had said “all that they wanted to say” by the time it closed. Patrick remarked that the pages of Kavanagh’s Weekly contained his “best autobiography”.

Peter returned to America while Patrick went to London until the storm died down.

This year, 2012, marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of this remarkable though short lived magazine. It deserves to be read. There are insights there for us today.

petermcdonn@eircom.net