A Documentary Drama of the Poet in Society. By Peter Kavanagh. New York: The Peter Kavanagh Hand Press. 1981. First edition. Medium octavo. pp. vi, , 38. Crimson cloth, title in gilt on upper cover and spine. Limited to 500 copies.
Signed by Peter Kavanagh. A fine copy.
On April 12th 1952 Patrick Kavanagh and I began publication of Kavanagh’s Weekly: A Journal of
Literature & Politics. Our purpose was moral not financial. We hoped to destroy the false standards
then accepted in Irish society, at the same time re-assert ing the eternal moral poetic code. We did not
expect nor did we receive financial support from anyone. When after thirteen weeks our money ran out
we closed down.
There was much rejoicing at our closure from members of what has since been called the
Establishment and on 11th October 1952 this rejoicing was expressed in an anonymous article in a
Weekly newspaper called The Leader. This article was superficially friendly but underneath ran a vein
of malice, fury and resentment. Patrick decided to sue for libel and although I too was libelled it was
thought best not to risk both of us in the same battle.
As the date for the trial drew near Patrick expressed his willingness to settle for nominal damages and
an apology but the defence would have none of it. They were out for revenge. During the interval
between the publication of the libel in October 1952 and the opening of the law case of 3rd February
1954 with the help of John Costello, ex-Prime Minister as their counsel, they perfected a cunning and
malicious strategy. Their plan was not to defend themselves but to keep Patrick on the witness stand
indefinitely going over everything he wrote and challenging him even on mis prints. Fortunately for
their plans the judge in the case turned out to be Justice Teevan, a young judge trying his first major
case. Prime-Minister Costello had an easy time introducing by sleight-of hand documents that under an
experienced judge would be inadmissible.
Their strategy was successful and after a week or more under severe cross-examination Patrick was so
worn down that he was on the edge of admitting to anything that would relieve the incessant
harassment. But in the interval he put up an immense show of imagination, morality and power.
No witnesses were called by the defence and not even the author of the offending article was disclosed.
Yet their plan worked and the jury after half an hour’s consultation dismissed the case. The result was
such a fiasco, so contrary to common sense, that a collection was made and an appeal brought to the
Supreme Court. The review in the Supreme Court began on 16th November 1954 and lasted until 26th
November 1954. Judgment was given 4th March 1955 in which the jury’s decision was set aside and a
new trial ordered. On the day the decision was given Patrick was in the Rialto Hospital, Dublin,
suffering from cancer of the lung. There was no new trial and a settlement was announced in The Irish
Times for 24th May 1955. As it turned out both The Leader and its printers had virtually no assets.
Patrick had a lung removed and survived another twelve years. He died 30th November 1967. The
greater part of the dialogue in the play which follows is taken verbatim from the law case Transcript. In
the production of this play a surrealistic setting to the courtroom scenes would be appropriate.
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