(Image: Patrick Galvin at his birthday party last summer).
Galvin’s early life was spent in and around the Barrack Street area of Cork – an place that he described as ‘desperately poor’ but ‘highly atmospheric’. Following charges of ‘being disruptive’ he was sentenced in the 1930s to a term of three years at St. Conleth's Industrial School in Co. Offaly - an experience that was to mark him hugely and make him into the lifelong socialist and an advocate for the oppressed. On his return to Cork, following this harrowing experience, he worked as a newspaper boy, a messenger and as a projectionist at Cork’s Washington Street Cinema. In 1943, using a forged birth certificate, he went to Belfast and joined the RAF at the age of sixteen. Following service during WW2, he was demobilised and worked in London at various odd jobs. He later travelled around Europe.
He began writing poetry, by his own admission, in the late 1940s. However under the influence of Seamus Ennis, the traditional uileann piper, he first made his mark as a folk singer going on to record over 7 LPs of songs and ballads. Among many fine compositions, there is of course his renowned version of ‘James Connolly’, a song later popularised by Christy Moore.
Patrick Galvin’s first book of poems – Heart Of Grace – was published in London in 1959. He later went on to produce Christ In London (1960), The Wood Burners (1973), Man On The Porch (1979) and Folk Tales For The General (1989). New And Selected Poems (1996) established his position as a major poet of his generation. In the introduction to this work he was described as “a poet who combines a very strong sense of the community that shaped and formed him, and gave him his voice, with a broad set of human concerns that range from social idealism through pity for the victims of power, to anger at wrongs done”.
Galvin was also a very fine dramatist. He wrote and produced many works for, among others, the Lyric Theatre and the BBC. He also worked on many adaptations for the BBC and also as a writer in residence in England, Ireland and in Spain. In the 90s he returned to Cork and played a pivotal role with Mary Johnson, his partner with whom he had two children, in establishing the Munster Literature Centre in Cork. In 2003 with his reputation on the rise he was struck down by a debilitating stroke. He survived and recovered with the loving support of his family but his ability to continue writing was severely curtailed – a factor which was to become a huge burden for him.
Patrick Galvin was angered by the publication of the Ryan Report in 2009 into the abuses at the Irish Industrial Schools. Not only did the Report remind him of his own period of incarceration, it also reminded him of reality that he was one of the first to speak out about what was going on in these institutions – and was pilloried for doing so. He had always been incensed at the vile and cruel abuses that went on in these institutions, and had long contended that they had occurred under the ever watchful and approving eye of the Irish State and the Catholic Church.
In an ironic testament to his lifelong commitment to socialism Patrick Galvin spent nearly twenty hours waiting on a hospital trolley at CUH (in Cork) on what was to be the last weekend of his life – this weekend just gone. Despite receiving excellent care he died peacefully at CUH late last night. He will be remembered not only for beautiful and evocative writing, but also for his opposition to capitalism and his lifelong commitment to struggle for a just workers society. His funeral will take place this Thursday in Cork (May 12th), fittingly, on the anniversary of the execution of James Connolly.