Obituary: Frankie Kennedy

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Frankie Kennedy, musician: born Andersonstown, Belfast 30 September 1955; married 1981 Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh; died Belfast 19 September 1994.

FRANKIE KENNEDY was one of Ireland's leading traditional flute players. He was meant to play at my sister's wedding party in our Dun Laoghaire home two years ago this June. But the onset of illness meant that neither he nor his talented wife, the singer and fiddle player Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, could come. Members of Altan, Ireland's top traditional band, and musician friends played at the party none the less. They managed to lift the pall which hung over the festivities at the realisation of the seriousness of their close friend's illness. Frankie Kennedy believed in dispelling gloom through the magic of musical performance.

Kennedy was one of Ireland's most exuberant musical personalities and performed until the end, giving many of his devoted followers the impression that he had beaten off with music his long struggle with cancer. The tributes since his death have dwelt as much on his strength of character and his infectious good nature and wit as they have on his extraordinary playing, his creative vision and the force behind Altan. 'We take our music seriously,' he said in an interview this year for the magazine Folk Roots, 'but we take ourselves very light-heartedly.'

Kevin Myers of the Irish Times and a friend said that, like many people from Belfast, Kennedy was a living refutation of the caricature of that city. 'He was an extraordinarily gentle man,' he wrote. 'I remember listening with him to a certain Northern balladeer warbling anthems of a quite ferocious blood-thirstiness. He said, in wonder, 'You can actually hear the hatred in that man's voice. It's incredible.' '

Kennedy was born in Andersonstown, Belfast, in 1955. His exposure to Irish music began with Planxty and Horslips and during school trips to the Donegal Gaeltacht while in his teens. He took up the blackwood timber flute and tin whistle immersing himself in the world of Irish traditional music. It was in Donegal while still in his teens that he met Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, herself one of a distinguished musical family. They married in 1981 and Frankie gave up his job as a teacher. They then took the traditional music scene by storm-

playing their repertoire of distinctly Northern Irish music in the pubs and clubs of Dublin. Their first album, ceol aduaidh ('Music of the North', 1983), is considered to be one of the most influential Irish traditional music albums of the period.

Altan was named after the lake at the foot of the Errigal mountain, near Mairead's family home in Co Donegal, and the band went on to release six albums to critical acclaim. Their 1993 recording Island Angel appeared on Billboard magazine's World Music charts for eight months, introducing their sound to the large New Age audience in the United States. The band also played at the White House on St Patrick's Day and a recording with the country music star Dolly Parton will be released later this year.

Frankie Kennedy's funeral took place in a tiny remote graveyard overlooking the Atlantic on the rugged Donegal coast and was attended by hundreds of musicians from Ireland, Britain, other parts of Europe and North America. Matt Molloy, the flute player of the Chieftains, played a slow air during the Mass beforehand and Altan, the band he guided and helped to create, played his own reel 'Harvest Storm' in tribute.

The service took place in bright sunshine with a reading in Irish of a translation of Shakepeare's 'Fidele' and a rendition by the Voice Squad of 'The Parting Glass'.