How Raglan Road came to be written

The story behind the writing of a song can often be as interesting as the song itself.

Raglan Road is a good example. It was written, of course, by Patrick Kavanagh, and given the lofty themes and the subtlety of the emotions it conveys, it would be natural to assume that it was born out of some lofty literary ideal.

The truth, however, is more mundane and is based upon cabbages and turnips, as revealed by the object of Kavanagh’s love when he wrote Raglan Road.

Kavanagh became infatuated with Hilda Moriarty

In the early 1940s Kavanagh became infatuated with a young medical student in Dublin called Hilda Moriarty. As the opening verse of the song suggests, he knew it would all end in tears and heartache for him.

The song doesn’t tell us why the relationship didn’t succeed but thankfully we have since found out because Hilda Moriarty has been able to put her side of the story.

In the 1980s, she appeared in an Irish television programme called Gentle Tiger. She revealed that she did have a brief relationship with Kavanagh but it failed because she felt he was too old for her. She was only 22 while Kavanagh was 40.

The 18 year gap would be significant by any standards but as Moriarty pointed out, as she was so young at the time, anyone over 40 seemed very old to her.

She teased Kavanagh about his ‘peasant’ poetry

It’s a shame for poor Kavanagh that the relationship failed, but at least he got a great song out of the experience, and he may have Moriarty to thank. She describes how they had a conversation one day about poetry and writing.

She was young and playful and teased him about his peasant poet image and the fact that he wrote about cabbages and turnips. She said he ought to start writing about something else. He agreed.

Kavanagh went away and wrote Raglan Road

Kavanagh then went away and wrote a poem called Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away, which later become known by its present title, Raglan Road.

Miriam was the name of his brother’s girlfriend at that time. Kavanagh used her name to avoid any embarrassment both for himself and Moriarty.

Sadly, Moriarty didn’t clarify whether Kavanagh wrote the poem before or after their brief relationship ended. Perhaps it would have made no difference either way as Kavanagh had known from the start that it was a relationship he would “one day rue”.

Kavanagh is one of Ireland’s favourite writers

Moriarty went on to qualify as a doctor and later married Donogh O’Malley who was later to become a prominent member of the Government in Ireland.

Kavanagh went on to become one of the most celebrated Irish writers of the 20th century, and Raglan Road is now one his most famous poems.

In summary, I suppose you could say that Kavanagh lost the girl but gained a brilliant poem/song – albeit at the cost of a lot of heartache. I wonder if he considered it a fair trade-off?

Categorized as Blog, Songs

By Patrick Kehoe

Pat Kehoe is a writer for Irish Music Daily. His favourite Irish music bands are the Dubliners and Planxty.