Julian Vignoles ‘A Woodbrook Enigma: The Story of Phoebe Kirkwood’

‘Woodbrook is simply one of the most enchanting books I’ve read in a long time … it begins in delight before it ends in wisdom.’ Seamus Heaney

Julian Vignoles explores Phoebe Kirkwood’s portrayal in the celebrated 1974 memoir by David Thomson and her short life beyond it.

Woodbrook is celebrated for its lyricism, historical sweep, romantic celebration of Co. Roscommon, but most of all – and perhaps controversially – for the love story of Thomson and Phoebe, his elder pupil, several years his junior.

‘It’s Phoebe’s own grace of movement that I cannot find words for – her individual way – and this is true of her face, because without her quick humour, her eagerness and the transparency of her emotions, it was merely an attractive, simple face. Like clear water, it showed many changing lights that cannot hold.’

The real-life Phoebe Kirkwood was born in 1921 and died from tuberculosis in 1945, aged 23. Vignoles explores both the literary portrayal of this young Anglo-Irish woman, the nature of her and Thomson’s relationship, and her and her family’s life after the Thomson years. Only in November 2023 was a headstone erected on her grave in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

Julian Vignoles, a former RTÉ radio and television producer, is author of A Delicate Wildness – the Life and Loves of David Thomson, published by Lilliput Press in 2014. His 1986 radio documentary, The Story of Woodbrook, is available on rte.ie.


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