Celebration of work of Irish Heritage founder Ethna Kennedy

Ethna in her youth
Ethna in her youth

By staff reporter

THE woman that founded London-based Irish arts organisation Irish Heritage has died in the same week that an anniversary concert was held in the capital to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

A lifelong music enthusiast, Ethan Kennedy passed away peacefully at her Manchester home on Saturday May 3 at the age of 91.

The Irish Heritage Enchanted Evenings concert at St George’s Church in Hanover Square last Thursday became not only a celebration of everything the organisation has achieved, but a moment to remember the work of a woman whose passion for Irish culture inspired many young classical talents in London.

Chairman Niall Gallagher said the evening would go on as planned, as it was what Ethna would have wanted, and was an “appropriate tribute to Ethna’s work and achievements over the past 40 years.”

Born in Dublin, Ethne was the only child of a newly qualified doctor, who tragically died two weeks after her birth. With her mother forced to go back to work, Ethna was brought up by her extended family in Mayo.

It was there that she developed her passion for Irish music and literature. A University College Galway graduate, she later moved back to Dublin where she trained as a librarian, being appointed not long after as county librarian for Westmeath.

In 1948, she married Charles Kennedy, a young civil servant with a superb tenor voice, in demand in concert halls across Britain and Ireland, and a regular broadcaster on both BBC and RTÉ.

The couple moved to London in the early 50s where Charles took up a position the Irish Embassy. Ethna returned to the libraries, eventually becoming music librarian for Holborn.

Now living in Britain, their love of Irish culture grew even stronger and led to the setting up of Irish Heritage, a society to promote the best of Irish music and literature, in April 1974 following a concert in London’s Inner Temple.

After Charles’ untimely death in 1979, Ethna continued to run the society, arranging vocal recitals, concerts, theatre evenings, lectures, poetry readings and dinners in West End theatres and major concert halls in the capital.

The last few years of her life were spent near family in Manchester, where she continued to run Irish Heritage – organising concerts, auditioning artists and travelling to London for performances. She had even compiled a script for last week’s concert, just weeks before her death.

Ethna Kennedy’s Funeral Mass will take place on Tuesday, May 13 at noon in Knock Basilica, Co. Mayo followed by burial in Castlebar. She is survived by her daughter Mary, son-in-law Brennan and grandchildren Edward, Jenny and Sam.

The next Irish Heritage event will be a Summer Recital in Leighton House by Cello & Piano Duo The McDonagh Sisters on Tuesday, June 3.



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