Remembering Mike Kenny, February 1956 – August 2011

The late Mike Kenny and his pal Al Capone with the 'clay' of the monument of Johnny O'Leary in its early stages. ©Photograph:  John Reidy 16/02/2007
The late Mike Kenny and his pal Al Capone with the ‘clay’ of the monument of Johnny O’Leary in its early stages. ©Photograph: John Reidy 16/02/2007

This evening, five years ago in the Aghadoe ward in the general hospital in Tralee, Mike Kenny, artist, sculptor, musician – and away more, passed away all too early at 55 years of age.

Himself and a handy gang of us shared many a good night in Brennan’s and Sheila Prendiville’s.

It was in Sheila’s on a quiet summer’s evening in 2007 that Mike’s phone rang. There was only Dauber, Paul Reese, Al Capone and myself with him and we could see that the call had quietened him. Not for long – as you’ll see from the piece I did on the events which unfolded from that call by West Kerry’s Brendan Begley / Breanndán Ó Beagaloich.

Deeper Water

While Mike had completed the drawing, planning and unveiling of the Patrick O’Keeffe monument in Scart in 1983 to great acclaim – nothing much by way of work flowed from it. He knew the ‘Johnny O’Leary job’ would set him afloat in deeper water – and it did. The unveiling in Killarney at the end of April 2007 was one of the proudest days of his life. And, as Minister Seámus Brennan said in another context, he knew he was playing senior hurling then.

Hard and Late

He worked hard and late on the job and it took a toll on him. He was often edgy as the work progressed on the huge undertaking. The odd few pints and games of cards and wonderful, Killarney Road neighbours and friends on the wider circle here kept him on a narrow path to the unveiling. This was his first senior medal. Seán O Riada would follow with another. Life is strange.

Johnny O’Leary Unveiling – A Celebration of Community Spirit  

John Reidy / The Kerryman 26-4-2007 

A ripple appeared on the ennui of our little backwater existence here one night during the height of last summer.

Four or five of us sat at the counter of Sheila Prendiville’s Bar and Grocery. We spent a few minutes in pursuit of eloquence to properly praise the porter we were tasting at the time and to discuss the topics of the day.

Then, a contented silence descended on us like that when someone is about to sing.

The silence was broken by the ringing of Mike Kenny’s mobile phone. He answered it. It was Brendan Begley from the west and he wondering out loud if Mr. Kenny would be interested in doing a life sized sculpture of the late, great Johnny O’Leary. Was he interested ?

After another couple of minutes of silence more porter was ordered and the army council of the bar and grocery got to work on a plan of action.

Johnny O'Leary Unveiling 28/04/2007
Sculptor, Mike Kenny with Arts, Sport and Tourism Minister, John O’Donoghue, TD pictured with the monument to Johnny O’Leary after it was unveiled by the minister at Kenmare Place, Killarney on Saturday. ©Photograph: John Reidy 28/04/2007

Into the Monastry

Mr. Kenny ruled straight away that he was going into the monastery (off the drink) the following morning.

We ruled that out as we knew it wouldn’t suit him, the task before him, or us. We persuaded him that he’d need the diversion of the regular game of Knock 31, the odd argument and game of pool at Brennan’s while he was on the lonely road that only the artist knows.

The accumulated wisdom prevailed and you’ll see the results unveiled in Killarney by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, John O’Donoghue, TD on this Saturday, April 28 at 2pm.

I’ve written, times hard to number, about the sense of community spirit which abounds here in this locality – much of it behind the scenes and often missed by me and my equals.

This monumental undertaking and achievement by a local artist represents the essence of the picture I’m trying to paint here.

Immediate Neighbours

Mr. Kenny’s immediate neighbourhood in Killarney Road took a close and constant interest in the work. He held regular briefing sessions in Brennan’s and Sheila’s on his struggle of mind and hand over the past couple of months.

Moving Johnny O'Leary 22-2-2007
Moving Johnny: The clay of the monument to Johnny O’Leary had just been packed and strapped into McElligott’s van when the Killarney Road gang posed for a celebratory photograph.
Included are, front: Denis ‘Miley’ Prendergast, Con ‘Rocky’ Roche, Peter Carty and Marie Sheehy. Back from left: Seán Brennan, RIP; with young Joseph Sheehy, Michelle Brennan, Joe Sheehy, Mary Brennan, Mike Kenny, RIP and John Carty. ©Photograph: John Reidy 22/02/2007

Peter Carty and David ‘Dauber’ Prendiville modelled at various times when creases and folds in clothes were at a critical stage.

When the ‘clay’ was complete and ready for the foundry the neighbours were, again, into the breach. Gifted carpenter, Joe Sheehy made a crate for its safe transportation to Dublin. Joe’s wife Marie, Mary Brennan and Beth Carty wrapped the piece in duvets and blessed it with holy water.

Sean Brennan himself supervised the whole operation and was back behind the bar in an instant to fill one for the road. When stuck for transport and driver up stepped Michael McElligott and Con ‘Rocky’ Roche, respectively, and the show was on the road in earnest.

Student in Dublin

An admirer of the Rumanian born sculptor, Constantin Brancusi (1876 – 1956) and, closer to home, of the Annascaul born, Jerome Connor (1874 – 1943) Mike Kenny is a graduate of the National College of Art and Design and is known locally as a gifted artist and sign-writer. He last put his head above the sculptorial parapet in 1983 when he did the Patrick O’Keeffe monument for the Scartaglin village square while still a student in Dublin.

There will be one hell of a Castleisland driven party in Killarney at the weekend with many glasses in the air to the memory of the great Johnny O’Leary and to the achievement of our own artist in residence, Michael Kenny and his community. If we’re all alive I’ll tell you about it here next week. © John Reidy  2007

Two Day Festival

A two-day ‘Mike Kenny Arts and Music Festival’ has been arranged for this evening and tomorrow at Browne’s Bar and you can find all the information and contacts you’ll need with a click on the link here.

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