‘ Bren­dan Ken­nelly’s words raised my spir­its’

The Irish Times Magazine - - IN CONVERSATION -

The Time of My Life is a weekly col­umn about a mo­ment that changed some­one’s life – for the bet­ter or the worse.

Ire­mem­ber watch­ing the poet Bren­dan Ken­nelly on the Late Late Show when I was grow­ing up in Cork. I was struck by him be­cause he was a poet, looked a bit like my fa­ther ( who died when I was young), had a smile you couldn’t deny and a habit with drink which he’d man­aged to over­come.

I’d re­peat­edly bor­row his books from Cork City Li­brary and, if a new one came out, I’d buy it if I had the money. His dev­as­tat­ing use of lan­guage, the de­light­ful idio­syn­cra­sies and po­etic por­traits of our ca­pac­ity for be­trayal, self- ag­gran­dis­e­ment and self- loathing.

Later, I found my­self in York, north­ern Eng­land, hav­ing re­cently com­pleted my mas­ters in mu­sic. Ken­nelly had just pub­lished The Man Made of Rain and, for my birth­day, my mother posted me a copy. At the time I was strug­gling in the heart and head. I had no con­cen­tra­tion and fo­cus on any­thing. I man­aged to read this not just once but sev­eral times.

His words res­onated so strongly that I de­cided I wanted to use them in my mu­sic if he would give me his per­mis­sion. I wrote to him, care of Trin­ity Col­lege, where he taught at the time, to re­quest per­mis­sion and as­sumed I wouldn’t hear back.

In the mean­time, I had moved to Manch­ester and started an­other nine- to- five job. I came back from lunch one af­ter­noon: “Some­one called Bren­dan phoned while you were out.”

He’d called and I’d missed him. I couldn’t be­lieve it.

“He said he’ll phone back.”

But my head told me I’d missed my chance. “Bren­dan Ken­nelly has much bet­ter things to be do­ing then phon­ing me,” I re­peat­edly told my­self. Fur­ther­more, I was ashamed that I hadn’t an­swered the phone my­self and that he’d def­i­nitely not call me back when he re­alised I was only work­ing in an of­fice do­ing some­thing to­tally re­moved from mu­sic.

But I was wrong. He phoned again. At first, I could barely form the words but I man­aged, and we dis­cussed how I pro­posed us­ing his work. He thanked me and told me to make sure to look him up I was next in Dublin and I promised I would.

A few months later I met him in Dublin, “be­tween the two lads out the front” ( how he de­scribed the stat­ues of Ed­mund Burke and Oliver Gold­smith stand­ing at the front of Trin­ity Col­lege). It is an en­counter I will never for­get. He was gen­er­ous with his time and his thoughts and al­though many things weren’t go­ing my way at the time, he took me se­ri­ously and trusted me with his work which was, for me, an un­be­liev­able hon­our.

I com­posed The Man Made of Rain in­cor­po­rat­ing his poetry. It was pre­miered at the Na­tional Con­cert Hall and Bren­dan came to hear it. A few years later, my brother died, while I was re­cov­er­ing from a break­down. Bren­dan phoned me and in his lovely sweet voice, shared some wis­dom I could tell was hard won. Not once, but twice, his words raised my spir­its, in­creased my con­fi­dence and helped me back on my feet.

Ailis Ní Ri­ain is a com­poser and writer. Her new work, I Used to Feel, takes place at the Marker Ho­tel in Dublin Septem­ber 21st- 23rd, as part of the Dublin Fringe Fes­ti­val.

Do you want to share your Time of My Life story? Email mag­a­zine@ irish­times. com with “Time of My Life” in the sub­ject line.

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