Tracing the Journey of Mike Kenny’s Painting – On his 10th Anniversary

Manager, Marie Keane in the Kingdom Revamp Furniture shop in the former and iconic J.K. O’Connor / Market House in Castleisland where the painting by Mike Kenny (inset with the signature enlarged) now hangs after it surfaced in a house clearance in Killarney. ©Photograph: John Reidy


A delegation of Mike Kenny supporters from Sheila Prendiville’s Bar & Grocery 22 Main Street, Castleisland at the unveiling of Mike Kenny’s sculpture of Seán Ó Riada in Cuil Aodha in August 2008. Included are: Eamon Fleming, Mags Liston, Jimmy Boyle, Willie Leane, Jerh O’Rourke, Tom O’Connell, Paul Reese, David ‘Dauber’ Prendiville, Pat Jameson and Marion Foley. ©Photograph: John Reidy 3-8-2008.
The Day we went to Clare for Seán Ó Riada. The Late Mike Kenny (right) with fellow sculptors, Jim Connolly and his son Séamus and grandson Mark and the family dog, Cara in their workshop and foundry in Kilbaha.   ©Photograph: John Reidy 26-7-2008

During a brief and rare respite in the Covid 19 lock-down restrictions last year, a painting from a house clearance in Killarney surfaced in Castleisland – quite by chance. In fact that painting had made its way home – in a manner of writing.

It was thought by a couple of people in the know that it was the work of the late Killarney Road, Castleisland painter / sculptor, Mike Kenny.

Inspections of the very rare signature on the painting verified that the piece had, indeed, come home.

Ancient and Historic Walls

It now hangs, fixed actually, to the ancient and historic walls of the Market House – known today as Kingdom Revamp.

On a hunch, revamp manager, Marie Keane put the painting aside when she saw the signature and, on verification, decide that it was not for sale lest it leave its home town again.

The late Mike Kenny died on this date, 10 years ago and the mystery of how one of his paintings ended up in Killarney remains just so.

Talented to His Fingertips

Though talented to his fingertips, he wasn’t a very prolific painter and always professed that sculpture was his true love.

In that regard he had three extreme pinnacles in the plateau of so many barren years.

The sculpted monument to Patrick O’Keeffe was done for Scartaglin in 1983 while he was a student in the College of Art and Design in Dublin.

He was in Sheila Prendiville’s Bar and Grocery in Castleisland in the summer of 2006 when news came through from Breandán Ó Beaglaoich that he had got the job on the Johnny O’Leary sculpture for Killarney.

In With a Shout of Seán

And, at the Johnny unveiling the following spring, it was hinted to him by Eoiní Maidhcí Ó Súilleabháin that he was in with a good shout of getting the job of the sculpture of Seán Ó Riada.

He did and this was unveiled with great profile on the grounds of the church in Cúl Aodha on a Sunday in August 2008.

Work on these ‘monumental’ tasks took a toll on him but he had great neigbbours and friends in Eamon Fleming, the Brennans, the Cartys, the Sheehys and the driving skills of Con ‘Rocky’ Roche.

David ‘Dauber’ Prendiville ‘sat’ for him when vital creases in coats, shirts and trousers and the lie of shoe-laces were at a final and vital stage.

McElligott’s Transport

Michael McElligott put one of his trucks at his disposal to transport ‘the clays’ from Killarney Road to the various foundries.

The completion of these three jobs alone and, the last two in particular, brought well merited acclaim.

I had a small van in 2008 and it was an ideal fit for the bronze of Seán Ó Riada. We set off for Connelly’s foundry and workshop in Kilbaha in Co. Clare. We had pints in Mrs. Crotty’s in Kilrush – going and coming.

Walking Seán to No. 38

When we got to Killarney Road that evening we had to coax Seán out of the van and ‘walk’ him up to No. 38.

As we were doing that, a tourist bus halted in the gridlock of Castleisland at the time, and almost everyone on board pressed cameras against the windows and went clickety click.

We turned Seán and ourselves to face them and wondered in what state of the USA we’d be most famous.

The feeling of achievement that came with these high profile jobs brought a huge sense of calmness and relief to him.

In the times between he kept body and soul together by sign-writing and mainly in his home town.

Signwriters – A Gift to any Town

I was talking to the late Kerry’s Eye editor, the late Pádraig Kennelly in Castleisland one Sunday while waiting to photograph an event and Mr. Kenny was up a ladder on the opposite side of the street plying his trade.

His task was almost done and Pádraig Kennelly said: “A good sign-writer like him is a pure gift to any town.”

O’Keeffe Festival Founder Member

Mike Kenny was the founding chairman of the Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Festival and he put his heart and soul into this for over two decades from its inception in October 1993.

He also founded the Castleisland and District Culture and Heritage Society with Maggie Prendiville in May 2006 and he had plans to create a 3D map of hills and valleys in the area – among so many others.

Discovery by Marie Keane

We started out on this journey with the discovery of the painting by Marie Keane. If there’s anyone who can throw any light on how it emerged from a house in Killarney I’d love to know.

It’s because selling paintings wasn’t his thing and more often that not he painted on commission only – and all too rarely and the signature was just as scarce.

Mike Kenny 11-2-1956 – 12-8- 2011. May God rest him on this day – his 10th anniversary.

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