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Apocalypse of Clay


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‘the men’s the boys’
A Study of Patrick Kavanagh’s Masterpiece "The Great Hunger" and Ieland’s coming of Age
Desmond Swan
ISBN 9781782188261



Patrick Kavanagh’s epic poem "The Great Hunger", published in 1942, is regarded as his greatest achievement. A dark literary jewel, it has moved from at first being virtually ignored by the Irish public, or seen as referring only to small farmers in County Monaghan, to the unique place it now holds in Irish and world literature of the twentieth century.

Apocalypse of Clay illuminates Kavanagh’s prophetic insights in this bleak poem, his diagnosis of an emotional malaise at the heart of Irish society itself, which in innocence was disregarded but which would give rise to abuses in Church, society and family that would only come to light two generations later.

Over its seventy-one years, the poem, has gained near unanimous critical acclaim, with Seamus Heaney, for instance calling it ‘a masterpiece’. Translated into Greek and in part into Polish, it has been reviewed in Spain, Canada, Germany, Britain and elsewhere, while Tom McIntyre’s adaptation of the poem for the stage was highly successful in Ireland and abroad.

There are three narratives in Apocalypse of Clay, those of he poet, of the poem and of Ireland itself. The book explores this great poem’s pivotal significance in Kavanagh’s own development as person and poet, its immense literary quality, and its remarkable psychological insight. The combination of these elements marks "The Great Hunger" out as a milestone in Ireland’s slow coming of age.

A full version of "The Great Hunger" will be published as part of the book with the full permission of the Kavanagh Trustees.


Desmond Swan was Professor of Education in University College Dublin and Head of Department for twenty-five years, where he established five new postgraduate programmes and travelled extensively as a visiting lecturer. He holds an MA in English and a PhD in Psychology. He was President of the Psychological Society of Ireland,  and has published widely in Psychology, education and English Studies.

Customer Reviews

Review by Terence Brown
"I have read the critique of The Great Hunger since the poem was published and have found this work among the most incisive. It has led me to follow a whole new line of thought on it." (Professor Terence Brown, Ameritus Professor of English, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin University) (Posted on 8/14/17)
Review by Margaret Kelleher
"A fine publication which interweaves the personal and social, the literary and psychological dimensions of Kavanagh's work in a most compelling way. Readers and students will profit greatly from this richly insightful study." (Professor Margaret Kelleher, Chair of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama, University College Dublin) (Posted on 8/14/17)

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