Toddy Kennedy: A portrait of the artist

Eric Farrell is a writer, blogger and Manchester United fan from Arklow. He sat down with Toddy Kennedy to discuss his poetry and inspiration.

Toddy Kennedy is a poet, a dreamer, and a man of simple pleasures. An Arklow native, he is the son of an ex-Irish serviceman – his father having served in the Irish army during the Emergency. A character for the ages, Toddy is held in high regard by many in Arklow, but perhaps doesn’t always receive the credit, further afield, that his poetry deserves.

Toddy describes his poems as “personal, sometimes floral… The romantic ones to most degrees have a bitter end.”

He was inspired to take up the pen, first and foremost, by Patrick Kavanagh. Brendan Behan was another writer whom he widely read, adding that his favourite quote, indeed the best quote he has ever heard, was that of Behan describing himself as “a drinker with a writing problem.”

More locally, he was influenced by his secondary school teacher, Noel O’ Cleary, who he says was commonly referred to as Hitler amongst his pupils in the Vocational College in Arklow.

Even “the whole shooting gallery” in primary school in Templerainey contributed in shaping his character. It was there that he first met many of the loyal friends that he still has to this day.

Toddy recalls writing his first poem some 42 years ago – a poem concerning the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen of which his father was a member. He now writes roughly ten poems a week but says he doesn’t own a laptop and maintains that his poems are handwritten. He doesn’t feel the need to be technologically dependent although his friends have kindly volunteered to type up his poems for him. Toddy prefers to keep things as simple as possible. Pen and paper. The old-fashioned way of doing things.

Toddy tends to write a lot on betting slips, scraps of paper, even snippets of cardboard in some cases. For a man so steeped in verse, these actions are an absolute necessity. His words flow so spontaneously that he must write them down, instantly, on anything that he can get his hands on. It is like “a waterfall of words”, such is the speed at which thoughts and ideas form in his head. “Like cutting the top of your finger and just writing, but just make sure to use ink instead of blood.”

bet slips

When asked whether the content of his poetry was localised or had a wider meaning he answered with a poem about international freedom fighters and the New World Order. His poems are sometimes universal but, for the most part, usually contain memories of friends and loved ones that he has met in all walks of life.

He enjoys nothing more than to sit upon Spion Kop on the North Beach in Arklow. “It is my spiritual haven,” he says. “The place where my ashes will be scattered. But it’s nearly gone. As I am myself.” He treasures the view from his mother’s front door looking out across the caravan park towards the sea, a panorama that feeds his creativity.

Toddy Kennedy has published one book of poetry entitled ‘Introduction’. The collection was published by Luke Eastwood from Gorey, Co Wexford and was sponsored by an arts grant obtained from the Arklow Town Council as well as two other people who wished to remain anonymous, although Toddy has his suspicions as to their identity and remains ever thankful. The book bore no price tag but rather donations were made to the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. 500 copies of ‘Introduction’ were published in total. Three launch events of the book were held simultaneously and Toddy attended each of the events for one hour, reciting poems onstage.

Toddy is currently working on a second, as yet untitled, collection of poetry. He has considered the idea of writing it in aid of the Wicklow Hospice Foundation. He says that he would love to invite Daniel Day-Lewis to the launch night as an honorary guest. “I have met Daniel Day- Lewis twice, once outside the Gin Mill in Arklow. The three-time Oscar winner is a patron of the Foundation and last year helped in raising €3 million for the construction of a new hospice in Wicklow. Toddy says that he once got an autograph from Day-Lewis for his friend and actor, Jeremy Earls, whom he is currently writing a play with.

He describes the play that he is working on as being about “two buzzing buddies at a bar, reflecting not only on the life past, but on the world in general.” However, he maintains that the process of playwriting is “very difficult because it’s not spontaneous”. He finds co-writing tedious at times as well as time-consuming and says that at times the pair find themselves “mulling over two pages trying to turn it into one.” When asked how he finds the process of playwriting to composing poems he replies that “you are dealing with an audience whereas poetry is personal.”

Does Toddy consider Ireland as creatively productive as it once was? “To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw: The only thing we have to learn from history is that we have nothing to learn from history.” Toddy Kennedy is a man of the present – nostalgic to a certain extent – but a man with a keen observance of the here and now, a figure capable of harnessing inspiration from even the smallest pores of life. He finds positivity in every aspect. He concludes that he draws inspiration from sportspeople, in particular. Brian O’ Driscoll he called “an amazing man” and he likewise admires Muhammad Ali, Steve Redgrave, and Bray’s very own, Katie Taylor.

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