‘Raglan Road’ was first written as a poem by Patrick Kavanagh in 1946. He dedicated it to Hilda Moriarty, a university student Kavanagh met, and pursued a brief affair with, on Raglan Road in Dublin. After she criticised his poetic skills for their dreary subject matter, Kavanagh promised he would immortalise her in his poems.
Luke Kelly of the Irish folk group The Dubliners put Kavanagh’s poem to music and in 1986. It has since become a well-known addition to the Irish folk tradition. I love the mournful tune and how Kelly delivers. Frances Black sang it at the funeral of IRA leader cum North Irish first minister Martin McGuinness in 2017. It also features on Martin McDonagh’s ‘In Bruges’ (2008) – one of my favourite films.
The lyrics tell the tale of a man who falls in love with a woman on Raglan Road. He knows the relationship will hurt him, but goes in anyway. Man, I can relate.
I gave her gifts of the mind
I gave her the secret sign
That’s known to the artists who have known
The true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint without stint
I gave her poems to say
With her own name there and her own dark hair
Like clouds over fields of May.