Liam Horan has been on to tell me that his alter ego Championship Man will be making his inaugural appearance on the literary circuit when he takes to the boards at the Kenny-Naughton Autumn School this coming weekend in the picturesque village of Aghamore. I haven’t got a full programme for the event itself but Liam’s gig is part of the programme for Friday night, which takes place in Rogers’ Old Pub in the village with a 9.30 pm throw-in. Mini-league commitments and matters arising from the mid-term break from school and so forth will, unfortunately, detain me in the capital this weekend but it sounds like it could be a good evening’s entertainment.
The Kenny-Naughton School has been on the go now since 1993, having been founded shortly after the death of the well-know playwright and author Bill Naughton, who was born in Ballyhaunis but was reared and lived most of his life in England and the Isle of Man. His biggest claim to fame was the 1960s play Alfie, which was subsequently made into a film starring Michael Caine (and then made again more recently with Jude Law taking the eponymous role) but he also wrote a number of other plays, two of which – Spring and Port Wine and The Family Way – also made it to the big screen. His autobiographical book On the Pig’s Back recounts how he made the transformation from lorry driver to writer and it also relates the story of his family’s emigration from Ballyhaunis to Lancashire.
PD Kenny was a very different and, to my mind, a more interesting character. Born back in 1862 in the townland of Lismagansion a few miles from Aghamore, he also emigrated to England where he managed to educate himself and then went on to become a journalist and newspaper editor, settling eventually in Brighton while working as a literary critic. What makes him interesting, though, is the fact that he gave up this comfortable existence, swapping it for a return to the family farm around the turn of the last century, following the death of his parents. He lived out the rest of his days on the farm where he experimented with what would then be regarded as avante garde farming methods and from where he continued to churn out his writings on politics, economics and the like. He died in Aghamore in 1944.
I spent some time a few years back hunting down copies of Economics for Irishmen (1904), The Sorrows of Ireland (1907), My Little Farm (1915) and Five Years of Irish Freedom (1927), all of which are now, sadly, long out of print. They make interesting reading, especially the first two, where Kenny launched a ferocious assault on the emerging dominance of nationalist politics combined with Catholic orthodoxy and, in doing so, he predicted with rather eerie accuracy the damage that this axis would cause the country in the decades that then lay ahead. It’s little wonder, then, that he once described himself as “the most unpopular man in Ireland” and he certainly was a very controversial character in an era when it wasn’t all that advisable to speak your mind in the way that he did. It’s good to see his name being kept alive within the county in these very different but still turbulent times in which we live.