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'I'll wreck the joint': The day poet Patrick Kavanagh threatened Dublin's booksellers

“I will break every bloody bookshop in the city up,” Kavanagh barked at Hodges Figgis staff.

Patrick Kavanagh Statue, Dublin
Patrick Kavanagh Statue, Dublin
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

PATRICK KAVANAGH had a volatile nature.

Known for his romantic expression in poems like On Raglan Road, the Monaghan-born bard also had a temper – often fueled by alcohol. 

Over two days in October 1938, he turned his ire on Dublin’s bookshops.

Statements from five booksellers – taken by Garda Sergeant Noel C. Reynolds on 27 and 28 October and released today under the 30-year State paper rule - allege that Kavanagh “threatened them with the object of compelling them to stock” his new novel. 

Kavanagh’s The Green Fool had just been published. To promote it, the 34-year-old writer first visited Hanna’s bookstore on Nassau Street on 25 October.

He inquired whether the owner, Arthur Hanna, stocked his new novel. Hanna did, according to the police report, and held one copy out to show Kavanagh.

Dissatisfied, the poet “demanded to know why it was not displayed in the window”.

“Buck Mulligan should not dictate to the trade,” Kavanagh told Hanna before leaving his bookshop.

Buck Mulligan – a character in James Joyce’s Ulysses – was inspired by the poet and statesman Oliver St John Gogarty. Kavanagh had libelled Gogarty in his novel so it seems that Kavanagh thought Gogarty was conspiring against him. 

‘An ultimatum’ 

At 11am the next morning, Patrick Kavanagh returned to Hanna’s, telling the owner that he had “15 minutes to put my book in the window”.

“This is an ultimatum,” said Kavanagh, who then left. 

Shortly before his second visit to Hanna’s, however, Kavanagh popped in to see Mr William P Figgis of Dawson Street whose bookshop – Hodges Figgis - displayed one copy of The Green Fool on a table. 

“Kavanagh demanded to know why it was not in the window and said they were hiding the book,” according to Reynolds’ report. 

Kavanagh left Hodges Figgis shortly after. 

The poet who – according to one bookseller – “appeared to have some drink taken” returned to Hanna’s of Nassau Street at 12.20pm and “commenced throwing books off the shelves onto the floor” before an assistant, Joseph McNeaney, grabbed him by the arm, asking him to stop. 

“Are you looking for a fight?” Kavanagh barked. “My name is Kavanagh and I am an Irish poet. They are not giving my book a fair do. They are not displaying it in the window.”

Kavanagh then asked McNeaney where Arthur Hanna was. “By God, I’ll break his skull,” the poet barked. “I’ll wreck the joint.”

Once Hanna found out Kavanagh had returned, Reynolds notes, he put The Green Fool in the bookshop window. 

‘Every bloody bookshop’

Kavanagh made his way back to Hodges Figgis at lunchtime on 26 October, according to Reynolds report. 

“Why isn’t my book in the window?” he shouted at staff upon entering. 

He took several books from the shelves, threw them on the floor, all the time commenting about people “reading such trash”.

Bookstore assistant James Jackson approached Kavanagh and warned him that he’d have to pay for any damage caused.

“Be careful. I will break every bloody bookshop in the city up,” the poet replied.

And so, Kavanagh paid a visit to Browne & Nolans bookshop on Nassau Street. 

Store owner Marcus J Noone did not stock The Green Fool, he told Kavanagh. 

The poet, “speaking very loudly” proclaimed: “This is a fascist state!”,  that if Noone didn’t stock his book by the week’s end then there’d be consequences. 

At some point along his travels, Kavanagh was joined by a young man who backed up the poet’s threats.

Kavanagh – who visited three more bookshops – was born in Inniskeen, Co Monaghan in 1904.

Settling in Dublin in the 1930s, Kavanagh is best-known for his poems The Great Hunger, On Raglan Road as well as his play Tarry Flynn. In 1954, he co-organised the first Bloomsday alongside author Flann O’Brien.

Kavanagh did not receive critical acclaim until later in life, dying aged 63 in 1967.

‘Back next week’ 

Following Kavanagh’s visit to his bookstore, Marcus J. Noone of Nassau Street stated to Sergeant Reynolds; “It is my opinion that Mr Kavanagh is suffering from a delusion regarding the sale of his book.”

Kavanagh told Noone that The Green Fool had received widespread acclaim and circulation in the UK and America. 

Noone stated that Kavanagh was “obsessed with the idea that the booksellers in Grafton Street and Nassau Street have been intimidated into not stocking his book by Dr Oliver St. John Gogarty”. 

Noone, however, did not stock The Green Fool for this very reason.

In addition to “libellous references to Dr Gogarty”, the bookseller also noted the novel’s ”anti-Catholic outlook”.

Gogarty later brought a libel suit against Kavanagh for his portrayal in The Green Fool. 

In his report, Sergeant Reynolds states that  while “it’s obvious from the annexed statements that Kavanagh’s conduct was such as would likely lead to a breach of the peace…the Managers do not desire that the Garda initiate any proceedings…”

Later that day, Kavanagh returned one last time to Hanna’s of Nassau Street.

At 5.15pm, he thanked Arthur Hanna for displaying his novel prominently and said; “Now see that you have 24 copies. I will be back next week.”

Having taken witness statements the following day, Sergeant Reynolds tried to trace Kavanagh’s whereabouts.

“But, so far, I have been unable to ascertain it.”

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