From the Briary Wood to the Raggedy Bush Judy prepares to launch poetry book

Poet and artist Judy Rhatigan at her studio on Riverside Drive

Since the 1980s (and prior to that for all I know) Judy Rhatigan, along with her good friend Theresa O’ Reilly (RIP) were responsible for costuming many of the theatre shows staged at the Friary Hall.

When the Pantomime Society was reintroduced to Kilkenny audiences in the early eighties, the Friary hall was packed for the ten performances. Great fun was had by all as the then town clerk Donal O’Brien led the very talented cast and chorus in two hours of fun.

Meanwhile, in the background under a mound of material and props, Judy and Theresa were usually found putting finishing touches to costumes. Pincushions, sewing shears, needles, thread, tape measures were the call of the day.

And it is probably fair to say that the two ladies, along with other backstage crew, went about their business without fuss. Backstage people rarely got credit for their input and went about their work mostly unnoticed. And if truth be told they were happy to have it that way.

In 2019 that changed when Judy Rhatigan launched her book ‘Beyond the Briary wood’.

It is a memoir about growing up in the fifties and sixties, about a life that few of today’s generation would understand.

The book is a beautiful read that evokes some wonderful memories of days long gone. It paints a picture of a time in Ireland, that for the most part is long forgotten and for that very reason, it is an important book. To quote the author, “I told stories that were lodged inside me, and now I have told people who they are and where they come from”.

Judy will be the first to tell you that writing a book was never really on the horizon for her and surprised herself by producing her first book.

The 200 plus page publication is a story that charters memories and stories about growing up in Ireland of the forties and fifties.

It details her memories living at The Gate Lodge in Chapelizod, Dunamaggin, her days, both good and bad, while attending school there and fond memories of her parents Mary and Larry Keohe.

Launching the book, Fatima place man and fellow author, Gerry Moran praised the work that Judy put into having her work published.

Gerry recalled one of the authors first attempts at writing poetry when she presented “The Grey Hat” to a poetry class, which was written on the back of a cigarette box. The same poem was later selected to be include in a collection of poetry chosen by the Kilkenny Arts Offce and appears in her new book.

The first three lines of The Grey Hat reads



“They stand at the Church gate

The men with the Grey hats,

One man who is my father.”

In 2020, Judy began working on a book of poetry and two years later, the eighty plus page publication came to fruition.

Speaking to ‘The Kilkenny Observer Newspaper’Judy explained that in some ways the poetry book was an extension of Beyond The Briary Wood.

“ It contains poems of life in Ireland of the forties and fifties”, explained the author.

She continued “It recounts stories of a life without the luxuries we all take for granted today such as electricity, running water, transportation, while at the same time enjoying the beauty of country life”.

The collection reflects poems from her childhood, and various ramblings from her life’s journey.

It is a book that reads very well and one which creates some wonderful imagery, of nature, old customs and countryside.

There are touches of Kavanagh and Heaney that come through as you make your way through the eighty plus page publication.

Taking the title from her previous book, The Briary Wood is a wonderful example of Judy’s work.



An old bent bed fills the gap

Of a mean old field beyond.

No plains of rich green grass .

Just swamps of reeds underfoot.

No Racehorse, mare or foal,

Furze bushes with garden blossoms,

Briars with berries, black and green.

No lake with swans and lilies

Just deep dykes with dark water.

Deep in its heart, the worlds blossoms

Glow and grow so free

In this wooded field, we snared and hunted rabbits,

Wild winds blow the seeds about.

Tread softly in this wood.

It is Gods creation.


The Rhatigan household is nothing if not artistic. Apart from her two publications, Judy, is also an established artist who regularly exhibits her work at the Kilkenny Arts Festival.

Meanwhile, husband Jimmy has performed in Pantomime and theatre productions over the last fifty years. Jimmy currently tours with his production of ‘Where Old Ghosts meet’ which tells the story of Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh under the direction of Geoff Rose.

Readers at the Launch will include: Jimmy Rhatigan, Geoff Rose, Ann Marie Rhatigan, Brendan Corcoran, Mary Cradock, Joe Muray, Ger Mulally and Ger Cody.

The poetry book ‘The Raggedy Bush Poems’ by Judy Rhatigan will be launched at The Book and Coffee shop on William Street, Kilkenny on August 17 at 6pm.

All proceeds from the book will go to SOS Kilkenny


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