Patrick Kavanagh vowed to ‘break every bloody bookshop’ in Dublin over literary snub

Poet told Fred Hanna he would ‘wreck the joint’ if his book wasn’t put in the window

Patrick Kavanagh went on the rampage in 1938 when his childhood memoir The Green Fool was not stocked in the window of some of Dublin's best known book shops.

Kavanagh was obsessed with Oliver St John Gogarty, who he referred to by the name given to him by James Joyce, Buck Mulligan.

Gogarty took a well-publicised libel action against Kavanagh when The Green Fool was published and Kavanagh believed he was "dictating to the [books] trade".

Gogarty objected to the sentences: “I mistook Gogarty’s white-robed maid for his wife - or his mistress. I expected every poet to have a spare wife” and was awarded £100 in damages.


Kavanagh went into several different bookshops in the space of two days in October 1938, according to State papers just released from the Department of Justice.

In each, he demanded that the proprietor put the book in the window or there would be repercussions.

Kavanagh went into Fred Hanna’s bookshop in Nassau Street declaring that his name was “Kavanagh and I’m an Irish poet”. He threatened to “wreck the joint” if his book wasn’t put in the window. Hanna obliged fearing a scene.

He then went into Hodges Figgis and started to throw books around the shop in a rage that the book was not in the window. When approached by a member of staff in the shop, Kavanagh responded: “Be careful. I will break every bloody bookshop in the city up.”

Another bookshop manager, Marcus Noone of Browne & Nolans, refused to be intimidated when Kavanagh entered his shop and declined to stock the book at all, surmising that it was anti-Catholic and also libellous towards Gogarty.

Kavanagh left the shop complaining that he was living in a “fascist state”.

Noone concluded: “In it is my opinion that Mr Kavanagh is suffering from delusions regarding the sale of his book.”

Kavanagh proceeded to the Grafton Book shop and demanded that the manager Anthony Dempsey stock The Green Fool.

Dempsey was not intimidated. “You will not make me stock it by law”. Kavanagh replied that the only law that mattered was the “law of the poet” and he advised Dempsey to go down to Hodges and Figgis and Hanna’s and see the damage he could do if he didn’t stock his book.

Dempsey declined to stock the book because it was “anti-Catholic and would therefore be offensive to priests and nuns who comprise the majority of his customers”.

Despite his escapades, none of the booksellers sought a prosecution against Kavanagh.

According to a comprehensive garda report on Kavanagh’s activity in the department files, the booksellers believed the poet was “either obsessed with the idea that there was an organised attempt on the part of the booksellers generally to boycott the sale of the book giving it little or no prominence, or alternatively that he was seeking notoriety or publicity in endeavouring to create a scene”.

The report author, Sergeant Noel Reynolds, said he had consulted with a priest who read The Green Fool and the priest had reached the same conclusion that any prosecution would only give Kavanagh "the publicity which he is obviously seeking".

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times