Patrick Galvin: Poet and dramatist who chronicled the lives of his fellow natives of Cork

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The Independent Online

Paddy Galvin was one of the leading Irish poets and dramatists of his generation and a man whose work clearly reflected the life of his native city of Cork. He was the son of Patrick Galvin, a docker and a leading local boxer, a colourful character who had fought Jack Dempsey. Paddy was one of 12 children who grew up in a tough, militant environment, and he left school at 12 to become a delivery boy.

After he ran away to join the Foreign Legion, the war took him out of Cork City when he joined the RAF in 1942 and fought in Libya and Palestine. He had already started writing, but he did not really start to get going in any public sense until the early 1950s, with the publication in 1952 of Irish Songs of Resistance, which drew heavily upon the traditional patterns of rebel and republican songs, infused with material from his wanderings.

He was a Marxist of the James Connolly tradition, a position that led him into long conflicts with most of the republican groups, north and south. He worked for the Irish Times as a war correspondent in Korea, and began to be part of the group around Brendan Behan who were to do so much to revitalise Irish, then English drama. His first play, And Him Stretched, a bitter attack on the Irish establishment, was staged in London in 1961. Others followed, in the same populist style, often similar to the work of his great friend Behan, mostly more successful outside Ireland than in it, like so much Irish drama. He held an uncomfortable mirror up to his countrymen, and disliked the new suburban middle class of Dublin, though he got on well with some individual politicians, notably Charles Haughey.

He was astronomically tall, towering over any company he was in. He dressed well, with a touch of the Spanish grandee, read his poems beautifully in his deep brogue, and had a fine singing voice. He loved the public role of the disorderly poet, but played it creatively, without falling into the self-destructive booziness of Behan and Dylan Thomas. He renewed himself by periodic disappearances into rural Munster, the most productive of which was a sojourn with tinkers wandering around Waterford and Kerry.

He was several times married, first in the war, then for a short time in the 1950s to Stella Jackson, daughter of the Communist historian TA Jackson, then to Diana Galvin, general manager of the Old Vic Theatre, by whom he had two sons. He also had a number of fairly public affairs, in particular with the wife of the writer Ewart Milne when he and his family were living in the same house – which was well documented in Milne's book Time Stopped and which spilled over into the columns of The Times after Milne's death.

He was a warm and generous friend to other writers, of any type or nationality providing that they were on the left. A visit to his tiny cottage in Ballycotton was a rewarding experience, although difficult to organise owing to his uncertain movements and hatred of telephones. In his last years he spent much time in Belfast, as resident dramatist at the Lyric Theatre. He thrived on the conflicts of the north, and caught the tone of the streets in his play Nightfall to Belfast. But he will be most remembered for his images of his native city and the poor and oppressed of Cork – "I am the Madwoman of Cork / Go away from me / And if I die now / Don't touch me / I want to sail in a long boat / From here to Roche's Point / And there I will anoint / The sea with the oil of alabaster / I am the Madwoman of Cork / And today / Is the feast day of Saint Anne / Feed me."



Patrick Galvin, poet and playwright: born Cork City 1927; married firstly (marriage dissolved), secondly Stella Jackson (marriage dissolved), thirdly Diana Galvin (two sons); died 9 May 2011.

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