Michael Hartnett

AuthorMessage DateMessage
Catherine Currivan12/10/2009Programme about Michael Hartnett on tonight (Monday) on Radio Éireann at 10 o'clock.
Just heard it mentioned a few minutes ago.
Michael O'Flanagan13/10/2009We'd like to thank all those who attended the Anniversay Mass for Michael Hartnett in St. Michael's Church on Saturday 10th of October and the reading of The Inchicore Haiku in the Richmond House. Inchicore still remembers Michael with joy and affection.
Paul Cullen14/10/2009For those of you who haven't heard of Michael Hartnett and would like to know more, here's the Irishman's Diary which appeared in The Irish Times on the 10th anniversary of his death....

MICHAEL HARTNETT from west Limerick, one of the finest Irish poets of his generation, died 10 years ago today. Like so many poets before him, he succumbed to the fatal charms of that literary currency, the pint, and he died on October 13th, 1999, aged 58, from alcoholic liver syndrome.

Hartnett began his life with a mistake; his parents’ name was Harnett, but when his birth certificate was being written, he was called “Hartnett”. He stuck with this name, as it was closer to the Irish version of his surname, Ó hAirtnéide.

He was born in the local hospital in Croom, not far from Adare, but was brought up in Newcastle West, where the family eventually secured a new local authority house. Michael Hartnett’s father was a house painter, and there was much discord caused by his drinking and there was not always a lot to eat.

Michael Hartnett had his first- and second-level schooling in Newcastle West, but he spent much time with his maternal grandmother, Bridget Halpin, who lived in the townland of Camas, in the countryside, but close to Newcastle West.

Although she had been born in north Kerry, she lived much of her life in west Limerick and was one of the last native speakers of Irish in that part of the country. She had a great array of Irish words in her vocabulary, many related to the animals of the countryside and life on the farm, although she and the family didn’ t use Irish in everyday conversation. But her knowledge of Irish had an immense influence on the young lad, who became as fluent in Irish as he was in English. She was the first person to recognise Michael Hartnett’s poetic vocation.

The day after Hartnett finished secondary school, he emigrated to London, where he worked as a tea boy on a building site. He also worked there as a dish washer in a restaurant, developing a relationship with a cashier. Being beautiful and a Gaelic poet from Connemara, she was the perfect combination for the young aspiring poet. Hartnett also spent some time in Madrid. When he returned to Ireland, it was to start a new life in Dublin.

There he saw himself in the same mode as Patrick Kavanagh, a country poet among Dublin’s sophisticated literati. Hartnett’ s first job in the city was on the night shift at the international telephone exchange in Exchequer Street, Dublin. At one stage, he was curator of what is now the Joyce museum in Sandycove.

But he fell in with the literary set with remarkable ease and his ability was soon recognised by John Jordan, another poet, who taught English literature at UCD. Jordan encouraged Hartnett to study at UCD, but the young poet gave it up after a year: he and academia did not mix.

For a while, he co- edited the literary magazine, Arena, with James Liddy; later in his career, Hartnett was for a while poetry editor of this newspaper. For a couple of years, he presented a poetry programme for RTÉ.

His first book, Anatomy of a Cliché , was published in 1968, to critical acclaim. Harnett’ s poetic career was well under way, resulting in the publication of many works in both English and Irish.

He became that literary cliché, the difficult but charismatic artist. In 1975, he declared that in future, he was going to write only in Irish, a move greeted mainly by indifference. At the time, he said that English was a language well suited to selling pigs. During this period, he was also teaching at Thomond College, Limerick, a rare settled job in a nomadic existence.

His sense of humour and mischievousness never abandoned him. In the ballad he wrote about Maiden Street, in Newcastle West, he declared that the one thing that wouldn’t be found there were maidens.

In London, he had met Rosemary Grantley, whom he married in 1966. They had two children, Lara and Niall. The marriage broke up less than 20 years later, after the Hartnetts had moved back close to his native place, when they settled in Templeglantine in West Limerick. Many people believed that Rosemary Grantley was Jewish, but Michael Hartnett had made up this to bemuse people. For the last 15 years of his life, Hartnett’ s partner was Angela Liston, who supported him as his alcoholism grew worse.

Apart from his fondness for drink, Hartnett also had a great liking for women, as seen in his book, Poems to Younger Women (1989). Michael Hartnett had a predilection for romantic yarns. If they weren’t true, he was amused by the way they were taken up, including by the media.

After the break-up of his marriage in the mid-1980s, partly caused by his drinking, Hartnett moved back to Dublin, living in Inchicore. The last place he lived there, in Emmet Road, two doors from the Richmond House pub, has a plaque in his honour, put up five years ago by the Kilmainham and Inchicore Heritage group, which assiduously preserves the memory of Hartnett’s time in the district.

Ironically, two other great artistic talents who had close connections with Inchicore also died young, Francis Ledwidge, the poet killed in the first World War, and Dermot Troy, the legendary lyric tenor. One of Hartnett’ s most noted works was the Inchicore Haiku , published in 1985, which marked his return to writing in English.

Michael O’Flanagan, a local poet, closely involved with the heritage group as its secretary, recalls that Hartnett liked Inchicore, its working class ethos and the people there. He has posted a rare video clip of Hartnett; it’s on YouTube and shows the poet reciting in English and Irish at the Patriot Inn in Kilmainham.

Niall Hartnett says that his father liked nature imagery, especially birds, while non-Christian spiritualism, paganism and legend, factored his imagination. His books and collections of his work number about 25, according to Niall, who reckons that his father’s work is also in about 100 anthologies. Here in Ireland, he and his work are reasonably well known, helped by events such as the annual Éigse in his honour in Newcastle West, the town where he is buried.

Niall brought out a book about his father earlier this year, and while Michael Hartnett would have a long way to go to become known like Seamus Heaney, Niall hopes that some day his father will reach the same level of recognition as Patrick Kavanagh.