Mike Kenny – A Celebration of his Work on his Eighth Anniversary

The late Mike Kenny with a piece of his sculpture in the garden of Dick Shanahan’s house on Riverside Drive, Castleisland in July 1992. ©Photograph: John Reidy

Today, August 12th. 2019 marks the eighth anniversary of the death of Castleisland native, artist, sculptor and event organiser, Mike Kenny of Killarney Road.

While on a different mission altogether a couple of days ago I happened across a batch of negatives dated Mid July 1992 and labelled ‘MK Work Done’ and it was timely.

In mid July 1992, after talking about it for months, we did a tour of the town over a couple of days during which I photographed all the sign-writing work he had done here at that time.

We also took in whatever pieces of sculpture he had done in the area.

For the purpose of this article I put together a handful of those photographs as a celebration of his many talents in his memory on this day.

Understatement of Monumental Proportions

It is an understatement of monumental proportions to simply say that Mike Kenny was involved in the Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Festival – and people did.

From the night Mary Jones asked him if he would become involved in the plans for the first festival back in 1993 he dived right in there and immersed himself in all aspects of the plans.

That went on for a couple of years short of the two decades left to him.

In a Nutshell

Matt Cranitch put it in a nutshell when talking about his first meeting with Mike in Cork in the lead up to the first O’Keeffe festival.

“He was beyond enthusiastic about this festival he was involved in organising in Castleisland and he was recruiting for the first one in October 1993.

His unwavering honesty in his dealings with musicians endeared him to all but the most awkward of the species and the turn-out at his funeral made that clear.

Genuine Disbelief

There was an air of genuine disbelief and sadness when the news of Mike’s untimely passing reached Castleisland on that Friday night of August 12th 2011 at 9:30pm in the Aghadoe Ward of Kerry General Hospital after a brave but brief struggle with a serious illness.

News spread throughout the community and, with amazing speed, through the close-knit, nationwide traditional music circles.

Visiting Record

If records were kept of such things, visitor numbers would have created a record over the five days he spent there.

He attracted visitors and well-wishers from many corners of the country and all had one connection or another with traditional music or the arts in general.

Gregarious and utterly generous by nature, making friends was no effort to the late, great Mr. K.

He’d be no sooner settled on the stool in a pub when he’d be off on his travels around the counter and you’d hear him laughing in Tullig as he added new friends to his list.

A Plans Man

Mike was a plans man. There was always a plan or two fighting for attention in his busy head.

Many of them came to fruition and the foremost of these stand as a benefit to the community he lived in and loved for the most of his all too short life.

He was a founder member and first chairman of the Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Festival – an event which is thriving since its first outing on the October bank holiday weekend of 1993.

A Huge Contribution

In May of 2006, he co-founded the Castleisland Culture and Heritage Society with local archaeologist, Maggie Prendiville.

Here too, he was poised to make a huge contribution to his community and was well down to road to doing so.

He was just discovering the benefits of the world wide web when he had to go.

A Gifted Artist
Known locally as a gifted artist and sign-writer, it was in the area of sculpture that Mike Kenny made his name beyond these woods.

This he did by the creation of pieces to three icons of Irish traditional music.

Chronologically and closer to home they came in the order of: Patrick O’Keeffe in Scartaglin in 1983; Johnny O’Leary in Killarney in 2007 and Sean O Riada in Cuil Aodha in 2008.

Local Examples of Work

There are also fine example of his work on the right-hand pillar at the entrance to Colaiste Phadraig Boys’ Secondary School on College Road here in Castleisland – and one on the wall of Gaelscoil Aogáin – also on College Road .

In a wait that would tax the patience of a saint, the years between 1983 and 2007 dragged with no major commission or hope on the horizon.

Memorable Night in Sheila’s

Then, a mobile phone rang in the still of one memorable night in Sheila Prendiville’s Bar and Grocery during the summer of 2006.

It was Mr. K’s and it was Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich ringing from West Kerry and wondering out loud if he’d like to undertake a life-size bronze sculpture of the late Sliabh Luachra box player, Johnny O’Leary to be sited in Killarney.

An Act of Teaspach

The counter got a pound from a clinched fist, he ordered pints, jumped in the air and hit the fly-paper in one combined act of teaspach.

I’ll leave the menu for the rest of the night to your imagination.

The sculpture to Johnny O’Leary was unveiled to high acclaim in Killarney in April of 2007.

Hot on its heels came a commission for the life-size of Sean Ó Riada which now graces the grounds of the parish church in Cuil Aodha.

An Eventful Life

That job came to fruition in August 2008. The unveilings were two huge days in his eventful life.

Musicians travelled from all over the country to be here in Castleisland for the removal of his remains on the Sunday evening and for his final trip up town on Monday morning.

After mass, at which Sean Ó Sé and Peadar Ó Riada performed, the huge crowd gathered along the detoured route which had to take in his beloved Killarney Road.

Appreciative and Proud

There was an ad hoc guard of honour outside Sheila Prendiville’s on Monday and the hearse stopped for a few minutes outside the door.

Mike Kenny would have appreciated and been proud of the fact that Seán Ó Sé and Peadar Ó Riada travelled down to pay their musical tributes to him.

At his graveside on Monday a troupe of musicians was led by Matt Cranitch and Jackie Daly and including the current O’Keeffe festival chairman, Cormac O’Mahony, Gerry Harrington, Paudie O’Connor, Donal O’Connor, Paul De Grae, Eileen de Paor and Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich and there was an orchestra on the subs bench if they were needed.

Message from Australia

Messages poured in to the systems of family and friends all that weekend. I got one from banjo player, Jackie and Annie’s Joe O’Connor – from Australia. Joe’s message sums up many people’s feelings and memories of Mike:

“I hate to be contacting you in rough circumstances but the day before yesterday I got some sad news off of Annie, she told me that Mike had died.

Smiling at the Thought

“It sounds like a bad thing to say but I’ve been smiling every time I think of Mike.

“I’m thinking of the tunes and songs that were bashed out in Brennan’s and the smoking bans that were abused. Myself and Brian Herlihy have just been talking bout how ‘The Lakes Of Ponchartrain’ will always remind us of Mike.

“We’ll be home at Christmas hopefully and will a have a proper wake for him then with the rest of the crew at Sheila’s.”

Enormous Contribution

A local lady rang me on Sunday night and asked if she could make a contribution to his burial on Monday. Like countless others who knew him she loved him dearly.

She wondered if she could put an accordion into the grave with him. I told her I thought that he’d rather see it in the hands of someone who could play it and that she should give it to someone like that.

“I can’t” she said “because ‘tis ate with woodworm.” He’d have loved that.

Mike Kenny’s contribution to his circle of friends and community was enormous. His loss? Incalculable.

Mike Kenny, 11-2-1956 – 12-8-2011. May God be good to him.

© John Reidy www.mainevalleypost.com