Kerry Writers

Brendan Kennelly


Brendan Kennelly

Brendan Kennelly



BORN 1936, Ballylongford

Brendan Kennelly, one of Ireland’s most popular poets, novelists, dramatists, and academics, was born in Ballylongford on April 17th, 1936. His native place inspired his writing with the village crossroads giving the title to his first novel, The Crooked Cross, in 1963. The book deals with the consequences of emigration on a Kerry village while his poem ‘Lislaughtin Abbey’ describes the ruin in Kennelly’s unique poetic muse – a place he also mentions in ‘I see you dancing, Father’ as the site of his father’s grave.

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The Book of Judas, 1991

In Kennelly’s own words, much of his work was a “violation of inherited prejudices” and his works, Cromwell (1983) and The Book of Judas (1991) proved controversial by challenging the conventional views in history and religion of two characters judged archetypically evil. The latter, a 400-page epic poem which was a bestseller in Ireland, put forward the idea that the classical betrayer had in essence help create the man he traitorously condemned with a kiss.


1963, Trinity College

Educated at the inter-denominational St. Ita’s College in nearby Tarbert, Kennelly was awarded a scholarship to study English and French at Trinity College Dublin. It was the start of a life-long association with the university as his career saw him appointed in 1963 to the Department of English in Trinity College, a Fellow of the College in 1967, and two years later Associate Professor of English.

In 1973, Kennelly was named the first occupant of the newly created Chair of Modern Literature. He was Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity up to his retirement in 2005 and then a Professor Emeritus at the highly prestigious academic institution. His approach to English earned him the adoration of his students which included long-term prisoners in Irish jails. It was noted: ‘A Kennelly lecture was an occasion, an idiosyncratic performance of deeply felt humanity, humour and compassion.’

Irish people must become English imaginatively, Protestants become Catholics and men become women.

Society & Religion

20th century Ireland

History, both recent and ancient, cast a long shadow in the strict conservative society of 20th century Ireland in which Kennelly grew up and throughout his career he challenged the thought and perspectives which helped shape the cultural, political, and social identities of the time, holding that: “Irish people must become English imaginatively, Protestants become Catholics and men become women”.

His poems ‘A holy war’ and ‘Gusto’ held a mirror to the culture of violence fed by religious fervour and sectarianism which were a common thread in the Irish story over centuries – the legacy of which were to be seen in his home place at the ruins of Carrigafoyle and Lislaughtin, and the memorials born from the conflicts of independence and civil war in the wider North Kerry area.

Brendan Kennelly

Later Years

2021 , Listowel

Transcending time itself, these examples of Kennelly’s take on ‘violence being answered by still more violence’ showcases the power of his literature in highlighting conventional mindsets and in shaping a more egalitarian response to so many issues relevant to their day and beyond. He died in Listowel on October 17th, 2021, aged 85, and is buried in Lislaughtin Abbey graveyard.


Discover the stories and immerse yourself in the rich literary history of Kerry and book a tour today.



What people are saying about us
  • Popped in here to escape the rain and get a cup of tea and cake. Very reasonable prices and great service. Then noticed the little hare jumping around on the wall when I used the toilets! Looked very intriguing and prompted us all to buy tickets to the museum. Wow! So worth it as the exhibits and the way it was presented was lovely, really unusual. So informative and so different to other museums. Really good value for money and a real highlight to the town.

    Great Service (Trip Advisor Review)

    – March, 2023

  • Most impressive is how ingrained in both The Creative & local communities The Seanchaí is, from the workshops, coffee mornings & plain old drop ins, To Book launches, poetry recitals, projects & engagements with the local schools. The Seanchaí is a much loved and universally treasured cultural icon. By the inhabitants of Listowel, most of Co. Kerry and West Limerick.

    Mark Ollerhead (Google Review)

    – March, 2023

  • We had requested the 30-minute tour, but happily lingered for an hour longer than we had planned. As we exited, we looked at each other and laughed out loud at our good fortune. We could have so easily missed this experience that left us feeling moved, intrigued and a bit more educated about the Kerry writers. In our delight, we failed to tip our guide but I will be going to your donations page to make a modest pledge in gratitude for our host whose name we did not record to memory.

    Jane Braswell (Google Review)

    – March, 2023

  • Our visit to the Kerry Writers Museum was a very memorable experience from beginning to end. Cara, who was working at the centre that day, was very welcoming and most helpful. The exhibition of the Kerry writers was imaginative and most engaging. The seanchai relating the background stories each writer was magic! A wonderful experience all round.

    Cara (Google Review)

    – May, 2021

  • This museum has been developed with great care and meticulous attention to detail. The audio elements are matched perfectly to the installations which are beautifully presented. The option to activate the audio guides in each room without resorting to the use of handheld devices worked very well. This is a must see/hear for anyone with an interest in Irish writing. There is also a little coffee shop and gifts on sale.

    Beautifully Curated (Trip Advisor Review)

    – July, 2019


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