The classic Irish song Raglan Road is one of the greatest love poems of the last century – yet it was a throwaway jibe about cabbages and turnips that led to it being written.
The song began life as a poem by the great Irish writer Patrick Kavanagh. He was the self-styled peasant poet because he often wrote about country and farming matters, even to the point of referring to vegetables.
In the early 1940s, Kavanagh fell in love with a beautiful young medical student called Hilda Moriarty. He first saw her on Raglan Road in Dublin, the street that was eventually to give the song its name.
From the outset, Kavanagh sensed that the relationship would fail and cause him hearthache. Nevertheless, he couldn’t stop himself from rushing headlong in as lovers will.
Kavanagh summed up the dilemma with the words: I saw the danger and still I passed along the enchanted way.”
He managed to begin a relationship with Moriarty and they shared some time together in the early 1940s. It couldn’t last however and ended after only a few months.
More than 40 years later, Moriarty was interviewed by Irish television about her relationship with Kavanagh. She said the main reason they broke up was because of the age gap between them. She was only 22 at the time and Kavanagh was more than 40.
She felt it was too wide a gap to breach.
Kavanagh didn’t walk away entirely empty-handed, however. Shortly before they separated, they had a discussion about poetry.
Moriarty had read some of his poems and wasn’t particularly impressed. She didn’t like the agricultural themes and teased him for writing about turnips, cabbages and potatoes. She urged him to write about something else that would be of wider interest.
Kavanagh said that he would. The relationship ended before he could keep his promise, but he delivered soon afterwards. He wrote a poem about the break-up called Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away.
Miriam was just a pseudonym to protect Hilda Moriarty’s identity.
Later Kavanagh set the poem to an old Irish melody called Dawning of the Day and it became a favourite song among folk artists, first in Ireland and then across the world.
The original title was forgotten and it became known as Raglan Road, taken from the opening line of the song and describing where the couple first met.