August 5th, 2008

ireland

August Books 5-8) The Lives of Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh

5) The Right Honorable Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh: A Biography, by Sarah L. Steele
6) The Incredible Mr Kavanagh: A Triumph of the Human Spirit, by Donald McCormick
7) Born without Limbs: A biography of achievement, by Kenneth Kavanagh
8) Kavanagh MP: An Inspirational Story, by David Cohen

The story of Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh is a fascinating one. Born with only stumps for arms and legs, he travelled much of the world and served for fourteen years as a Member of Parliament, one of the leading Irish Unionist MPs. His rather extraordinary physical exploits included shooting lots of wild animals and cutting down trees with an axe, as if he was taking it out on the animal and vegetable world. He ended up on the wrong side of Irish and British history, though, and is remembered really as a curiosity of local history in County Carlow more than anything else, and as the basis behind the equally unjustly forgotten Richard Calmady.

I am fascinated, but also feel a certain amount of ambivalence towards him. True, he triumphed over physical disability; but this was possible because of his vast inherited wealth. He used his position in parliament not to improve the fortunes of people with similar disabilities to his own, but to resist the erosion of the privileges of the Irish landlords. His travels do not seem to have much broadened his mind; he presents his journeys more as tests of his own manliness than as encounters with the Other, and the eventual failure of his political career has everything to do with his inability to be like the people of County Carlow.

These four biographiesCollapse )

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