Kavanagh, Rose (1859–91), poet, was born 24 June 1859 in Killadroy, Co. Tyrone. Nothing is recorded of her parents except that her mother was a cousin of Archbishop John Hughes (qv) of New York. When Rose was 11 years old the family moved to Augher, near Blackwater in Tyrone, and she was educated at the Loreto convent in Omagh. Deciding to pursue a career as an artist, she went at the age of 20 to study at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. There she began writing verses and eventually forsook art for poetry. Patriotic and romantic, she quickly found herself in the nationalist circle of W. B. Yeats (qv), John (qv) and Ellen O'Leary (qv), and Kathleen Tynan (qv). Her lodgings were at 2 St John's Terrace, where the elderly, infirm Fenian and writer Charles Kickham (qv) also resided. She tended him and learned the manual alphabet, as Kickham was partially deaf and blind; her intentions were purely humanitarian and she was shocked when he proposed marriage. However, she looked after him until his death (1882). Kavanagh contributed verses to numerous Irish papers, including the Irish Monthly, Dublin University Review, Nation, Boston Pilot, Shamrock, and Young Ireland, and wrote generally under the pseudonym ‘Ruby’. For the Irish Fireside, she wrote a weekly column for children under the name of ‘Uncle Remus’, which she took from the stories of the American Joel Chandler Harris. After the demise of the Fireside (1889) she continued the column in the Weekly Freeman. She also held editorial positions on both the Fireside and the Freeman and Yeats submitted a number of poems to her. After one refusal from an English paper, she made no attempt to get her work published outside Ireland. In the late 1880s she fell victim to tuberculosis and spent some time in Paris with Maud Gonne (qv) in 1889. She did not recover and retired the following year to her home in Tyrone, where she died on 26 February 1891.
Her death was the occasion for numerous commemorative verses from Tynan, J. B. Killen (qv), and others; and an obituary from Yeats in the Boston Pilot. All found it impossible to separate her person from her work, so caught up were they in the romantic tragedy of her dying young and in the beauty and simplicity of her character. Tynan wrote that ‘her ballads have an open-air sweetness and freedom like her, their maker’ (Russell, 10) and Yeats that ‘everything she did was so like her self – it had the same quiet and gentle sincerity’ (Yeats, Letters, 245). Kavanagh's oeuvre is slight and no subsequent critic has attempted to evaluate it. She can be classed with the romantics; most of her poems are simple lyrical outbursts of joy in response to the Irish countryside; her patriotism is bound up in love for the physical country and not in any abstract ideal. Her touch is always light and delicate; Yeats described one of her most accomplished poems, ‘St Michan's churchyard’, as ‘meditative and sympathetic, rather than stirring and energetic: the trumpet has given way to the viol and the flute’ (Boston Pilot, 11 Apr. 1891). Rev. Matthew Russell (qv) published a compilation of her verse (1909).