WE bury one and then another. Sad news is just being absorbed when more sad news breaks. There is a constant wave of grief enveloping Westport. Over the past couple of months death has trailed us, tracked us down and spread its mantle of grief over us. Some of us have been under its cover for too long. One grave has just been filled in when another has to be opened.
The parish newsletter records a litany of deaths affecting people in the parish over the past number of weeks, leaving broken hearts and memories behind. Kathleen Kelly, Eileen Maloney, Breda O’Malley, Bridie Fahy, Martin Curry, Michael Walsh, Bridie Davis, Doris Staunton, Stephen Gavin, Eileen Kelly, Fr Frank Farrell, Nora McNally, May Byrne, Hughie McLoughlin, Assumpta Reilly, Joe O’Brien, Tony Kinsella, Paddy Boyle, Austin Moran and Mary Fitzpatrick - all gone ar shlí na fírinne.
This year has already carried shock after shock and then the news broke last Thursday that Ray Kennedy had died. A native of Mill Street, Westport, Ray spent his working life in Dublin with Aer Lingus. For most of us (younger guys!) he was best known as Ray Kennedy from Platform. He was the main attraction in the Lower Deck and Doyle’s Irish Cabaret in the Burlington Hotel. Those one-step older knew him as a great cyclist. All of us knew him as a great Covie.
Ray was on the Mayo Rás Tailteann Team from 1959 to 1961 and a Mayo and Connacht champion on grass-track and road. He won the One Mile Junior Championship at the Ballinasloe Relays, only to discover that race organisers did not have enough money to buy a winner’s medal. Ray laughed, as only he could. He had such a wonderful sense of humour and a superb wit. He could rowl, wheeze and whid like the best of them!
He later became the voice of the FBD Rás across Ireland. Ray’s dulcet tones (he also had his own radio show) could be heard in every stopover town. He had incredible cycling knowledge. For cycling fans he was as much part of the event as the competitors. He was approachable and loved meeting people. What a joy to have a Covie at the helm when the Rás passed through Westport. His experience made him the obvious choice for race announcer during the 1998 Tour de France stages in Ireland.
Cycle racing was in Ray Kennedy’s blood. His inspiration was another great Covie, Mickey Palmer, a legendary cyclist. Ray felt that Palmer (as he always called him) never got the recognition he deserved. Ray put that right with his book ‘The Story of Mickey Palmer – Woollen Jerseys and Whiskey Legs,’ published by Covie Publications and Recordings in 2009 and generously supported by FBD Insurance, thanks to his loyal friend Adrian Taheny. The book is a gem of social and sporting history, beautifully written and illustrated with priceless photographs.
Ray was encouraged to write it by the great Máirt Curry at Ray’s Westport art exhibition during Covie Week 2005. Ray had no choice and received great support from his family, wife Joanne, daughter Emma and sons Ray and Gordon, among others. Ray was an accomplished artist and cartoonist.
We treasured his visits to the ‘Port, especially during Covie Week. A rum chanter, we all loved to hear him sing. He contributed a song to the ‘Music and Songs of Westport – Covie Classics’ album in 2011 which he wrote himself. ‘The Brave New World of America’ is a haunting ballad based on the true story of his emigrant granduncles, John and Robert Henry. He also recorded a beautiful CD of poetry alongside his son, Ray, ‘The Road to Innisfree.’
Ray featured on the 1993 Late Late Show Tribute to Mayo 5000, displaying his wonderful cartoon to Gay Byrne, which was shown again during Covie Week 2017. Ray Kennedy was charming, fun-loving and loyal. He will be sorely missed. I can just imagine Máirt Curry instructing St Peter: “Whist, a mhac. I’ll welcome this man. He deserves a celestial Covie fáilte.” He certainly does, and no better man to do so than his friend Máirt.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.