Kavanagh, Muiris (‘Kruger’) (1894–1971), publican and raconteur, was born 28 March 1894 at Baile na Ratha, Dún Chaoin, Co. Kerry, one of four sons and a daughter of John Kavanagh and his wife Mary (née Hoare), who had a farm and a small shop. While attending the local primary school Kavanagh became known for his vocal support of President Kruger of the Transvaal and the Boers during the second Boer war (1899–1902), earning him the nickname which stuck for life. The main challenge for any biographer of Kavanagh is to distinguish between fact and the multitude of myths, most of them self-perpetuated, which became associated with him as one of the country's most colourful characters. In April 1913 he emigrated to America and after initially working on the Boston and Maine railway line, as a reporter with the New Haven Times, and as a commissioned officer in the US army, he immersed himself in a variety of high-profile jobs including acting as a press agent for Victor Herbert (qv) and publicity manager for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film company. He was also involved with impresarios Samuel Goldwyn and Adolph Zuker and film stars Al Jolson and Mae West, and toured America as advance representative for the tenor Walter Scanlan and selected dancers for the Ziegfeld Follies, as well as acting as one of the bodyguards of Éamon de Valera (qv) during his fund-raising trips to America. Kavanagh was said to have made a considerable fortune in the US by investing in real estate, but the Wall Street crash of 1929 deprived him of most of it. His last job in America was as a taxi-driver in Boston before he returned to Dún Chaoin (1929) and married Cáit Ní Neill, from Baile Mór in the same district. In 1936 they opened what was to become one of Ireland's best known guesthouses, Kruger's in Dún Chaoin, located at the most westerly tip of the Dingle district, with a scenic backdrop unrivalled anywhere in the country.
Kruger's greatest strength was his ability as a natural host, and the house became a haven for Irish and international scholars, artists, actors, and language enthusiasts. A remarkable storyteller, Kruger entertained with a torrent of views and knowledge, which he poured forth in both Irish and English on a variety of subjects. Despite his association with the rich and famous, it was by no means a residence for the luxury seeker, Kruger having little interest in ‘a dull person, looking for an elegant living and pampered ease’ (Ó Dúshláine, 160). Many of the practical details of living were of little concern to him, though he became known as a vocal promoter of the welfare of the west Kerry Gaeltacht and champion of the Blasket islanders – using the media to promote the area, acting as an arbiter in local disputes, organising currachs to be put to sea, and frequently alerting the lifeboat service at Fenit and Valentia. He also canvassed for Fianna Fáil, hosted book launches for the area's many talented writers, and was a well known attender of first nights at theatres in Dublin and London. Boastful about his American connections, he filled the walls of his establishment with signed portraits of himself and Hollywood stars, but was also capable of humility and self-mockery and was exceptionally generous to those who came to stay in order to learn the Irish language, and placed great importance on transporting his visitors from Dingle, which was also the preferred location for his own drinking.
Kruger's attempts to get a drink licence for the guesthouse created national headlines in June 1956 when the parish priest of Ballyferriter in the adjoining district, Fr Thomas Moriarty, objected to the granting of the licence on the grounds of the unfitness and misconduct of the applicant. The objection was lodged in the aftermath of articles which were ghost-written for an English newspaper, recounting the life of Kruger and containing his usual yarns about his virility, cunning, and physical abilities in combat. The priest also maintained that Kruger was already serving drink illegally, quoting an article written in 1945 by the poet Patrick Kavanagh (qv) who maintained that drink in the house had been ‘handed out in all manner of vessels from a jam pot to a cream jug by a publican whose licence can never be endorsed’ (Kerryman, 30 June 1956). Notwithstanding, the local Gardaí defended him, Kruger played dumb, and the judge, deciding the evidence against him did not stand up, granted the licence. Though the modernisation of Kruger's in the late 1950s may have been regretted by some locals, the pub became a huge success and one of the focal points of the west Kerry district, with the lion's share of the work done by his wife, while Kruger continued to indulge his skills as a ‘front man’. He died in Dingle hospital 15 April 1971 and was buried in Dún Chaoin, survived by his wife (they had no children) and brother Seámus, a writer and professor of Irish at University College Cork (UCC).
Another brother, Seán Óg Mac Murchadha Caomhánach (1885–1947), teacher, eccentric, and lexicographer, was born 7 February 1885 in Dingle. From his early days he was known locally as ‘Seán a’ Chóta’ because he wore a kilt. He began working as a travelling teacher in 1903, and in 1911 moved to Dublin. He left Ireland (1914) for the US, where he enlisted in the National Guard, also spending time working in shipyards, mills, and on a ranch in Dakota. Returning to Ireland in 1921, he was interned in the Curragh for republican activities. While there, he taught Irish to other inmates and completed a novel based on his experiences in America, entitled Fánaí (1927). However, objections were raised to a particular passage in the novel, which was then removed and the book reissued the following year. According to Pádraig Ó hÉalaí, Bedell's Sailm Dháibhid, a work Caomhánach had edited in 1912, influenced the Irish he employed in the novel rather than Dún Chaoin Irish. Between 1928 and 1937 Caomhánach taught Irish at the Masonic Boys’ School and at St Andrew's College in Dublin, where he influenced the future Celticist David Greene (qv). He assisted the French scholar Marie Louise Sjoestedt-Jonval (qv) in learning Irish and also taught Julius Pokorny (qv).
In 1935 he was approached by the Department of Education to compile a list of words and phrases from the Kerry Gaeltacht. He returned (1937) to Dún Chaoin, where he continued the project, on which he spent a total of eight years, collecting in excess of two million words and phrases. A disagreement arose between himself and the department over payment for the work, but the dispute was resolved and the manuscript and copyright were acquired for £4,608. The work was never published and the manuscript is now held in the National Library of Ireland (NLI). He was later appointed assistant editor on the department's Irish–English dictionary, edited by Tomás de Bhaldraithe (qv). He returned to Dublin and died there 16 January 1947, and is interred in Dún Chaoin.
More information on Muiris Kavanagh is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie). Also see Ainm.ie for an entry on Seán Óg Mac Murchadha Caomhánach.