July 30th, 1940


FROM THE ARCHIVES:Publication in The Irish Times of Patrick Kavanagh’s poem Spraying the Potatoes prompted this letter from Brian O’Nolan under one of his pseudonyms, Lir O’Connor of “La Casita, Sallynoggin”: – JOE JOYCE

SIR, – I fear that you and I have been made victims of a particularly stupid practical joke. As to which of us is the greater dupe, I will allow you to decide for yourself from the facts as I present them.

This morning in the library I was browsing over a first edition of Sorensen’s “The Osmosis-Diffusion Dielectric”, when I was informed there was a deputation awaiting me with a request for an audience. As these deputations usually comprise the crofters and tenants from the estate, who come armed with rakes, pitchforks and scythes when they wish to discuss some obscure clause in the tithe laws with me, I took down my father’s old elephant gun from over the fireplace, loaded it with some nick-knacks from my desk and bade them enter.

Image, therefore, my astonishment when I found myself confronted by what I can only describe as a gaggle of earnest young men, whose bizarre attire, together with the heavy beards which they affected, immediately betrayed them as pals or butties of some literary bun-fighting faction or other.

Their request was a strange one. Would I take up the cudgels, or, to be more accurate, the old vacuumatic, in defence of one of their number? They knew full well, they said, that never had the prosiest little poet or most prosaic minor novelist appealed for my help in vain when struggling beneath the heel of the critic. The word “heel” they used with advertence to its newer shade of meaning. Would I, in short, address a few lines to your journal in aid of a Mr. Patrick Kavanagh, in the calves of whose legs a pack of Wolf Cubs and Brownies were delightedly burying their imperfectly matured fangs.

Since that Butterley, my librarian, and I have searched every shelf and combed every catalogue in quest of some of this Mr. Kavanagh’s work. I have skimmed through “The Utility of the Horse”, by Paul Kavanaugh; “What to do with your Pulsocaura”, by Pietro Kavana; “Yoga and Rheumatism”, by Pay Ka Vanna; “I Was Stalin’s Chamber Maid”, by Pamela Kay Vanagh, and a score of others by authors whose names approximate to that of the man whom I set out to vindicate. At the end of six hours’ research I was forced to give up.

Butterley has just drawn my attention to some lines, entitled “Spraying the Potatoes”, which appeared in Saturday’s issue of The Irish Times, purporting to come from his nib (or should I say “his nibs?”). This hardly could be said to help the case of Mr. Kavanagh himself.

No, Mr. Kavanagh, I am afraid you have no claim upon my patronage. Until such a time, therefore, as you or some of your admirers can furnish me with convincing literary proof of your existence, I cannot in all conscience take up your case.