Thomas Kinsella was born in Dublin on May 4, 1928. His family background is typical of the vast majority of native Dubliners—Catholic in religious affiliation, left-tending Nationalist in politics and lower-middle class in social standing, the kind of background detailed with such loving despair by one of Kinsella’s favorite authors, James Joyce, in the stories of Dubliners (1914). Kinsella’s father worked at the Guinness brewery and was active in labor union matters.
Educated at local day schools, Kinsella received a scholarship to attend University College, Dublin, to read for a science degree. Before graduation, however, he left to become a member of the Irish civil service, in which he had a successful career as a bureaucrat, rising to the rank of assistant principal officer in the Department of Finance.
Kinsella left the civil service in 1965 to become artist-in-residence at Southern Illinois University. In 1970, he was appointed to a professorship of English at Temple University, a position he retained until 1990. In the end, he taught for one semester a year at Temple, spending the rest of the year in Dublin running the Peppercanister Press.
Founded in 1972, Peppercanister is the poet’s private press. It was established, in the poet’s own words, “with the purpose of issuing occasional special items.” As well as being a notable addition to the illustrious private and small tradition of Irish publishing, Peppercanister has allowed Kinsella to produce long poems on single themes and to carry out fascinating exercises in the area of the poetic sequence. It has also allowed him to use it as a work in progress and to avoid using literary magazines to bring out new poems. He also has used it for critical and cultural statements in prose.
In 1976, Kinsella founded Temple University’s School of Irish Tradition in Dublin, enabling him to continue dividing his time between the United States and Ireland. Since his retirement from teaching in 1990, he has continued his direction of Peppercanister Press, as well as the Dolmen and Cuala Presses, both in Dublin. He established a pattern of living part of the year in County Wicklow and the rest in Philadelphia.