Published March 11, 2002, Pawtucket Times
Some people just know what they want to do in their professional careers. But like many others, world-renowned Irish Storyteller Jimmy Kennedy fell into his chosen trade.
Kennedy became a comedian by accident. The 77-year-old, Dublin-born Kennedy chuckled when he was asked to remember an event that took place at the beginning of his career — an event that played a key role in changing his life. The budding singer was asked to replace a comedian who failed to show up at a variety show. So like a trooper, Kennedy went onstage and told a few traditional Irish stories.
“I had a few stories that I had told around the table at the local pub,” Kennedy said. “I simply told those stories, he said, explaining in his heavy Irish brogue, this accident had pushed him into a life-long career of comedy.
Kennedy known as “Ireland’s Master of Mirth, comes to Pawtucket next Saturday on St. Patrick’s weekend to perform with the internationally renowned Three Irish Tenors. The trio is comprised of Tom Cregan, from the Royal Opera Convent Garden; Claran Nagle from Riverdance: The Show; and Anthony Norton, from La Scala Milan. Joining Kennedy and the Three Irish Tenors is Soprano Jacqueline Whelan and her Irish harp, as well as a host of dancers and musicians.
The Irish performers come to the Tolman High School auditorium in Pawtucket on a three week nationwide tour of the United States. The Pawtucket stop is their only appearance in Southern New England. This is Kennedy’s fourth tour with the Three Irish Tenors.
During the two-and-a-half hour show, Kennedy will dress as a Seanchai, and an old storyteller who wears and old suit and cap, holding his walking stick. He will sit next to a turf fire and spin this tales.” It’s a family oriented show that provides great entertainment for both seniors and their grandchildren,” said Kennedy, who explains that shows like this usually play in Irish hotels during the summer throughout Ireland.
Neither Kennedy’s father, who worked in the whisky business, or his homemaker mother, who cared for her 11 children, ever showed any inclination of going into show business. But he young Kennedy did. At age 11, he was a “boy soprano” in the church, belting out our songs to his congregation. Three years later, he would win a talent competition at Dublin’s Queen Theatre, fanning his love for appearing before audiences.
Add these early experiences with daytime jobs on radio and in television, and Kennedy was ready to hit the road to perform.
“I have been on the road touring for most of my life,” said Kennedy, who noted that show business had enabled him to travel to many parts of the world that he could not afford to see. His performance tours began in 1943, later taking him throughout Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, the Far East, the United States and Canada and to Bermuda, the Caribbean and Alaska on cruise ships.
During World War II, a patriotic Kennedy entertained American troops in Germany with his Irish songs and comedy routines. One such tour led him to meeting a dancer who would become his future wife. Of course, his two children and grandchildren are musically inclined.
With more than 60 years invested in show business, Kennedy said he has played with some of the names in the Irish entertainment industry, specifically the Irish Rovers, Dame Vera Lynn, who was known as the “armed forces sweetheart,” Paddy Noonan, Noel henry, Jimmy O’Dea and Stanley Hollway, the famous British actor who played in “My Fair Lady.”
Kennedy also played at the Gaiety Theater in Dublin in the early 1950s, which was one of the highlights of his career.. At this widely respected theater, he went on stage with the late comedic actor Jimmy “Odea.
“To play the Gaiety in Dublin was considered to be a feather in your cap,” he quipped.
During his career, Kennedy has recorded his comedy routines on a number of albums including “Innisfree,” “Green Isle, Sounds of Ireland,” and “A Little Bit of Irish.”
What’s the secret to his success of being a “Seanchai?”
Kennedy said his routines concentrate on good, clean Irish humor. “It is stories of Irish life and situations,” he noted.
Kennedy Does not plan to retire soon, saying, “the great thing about show business is that there is no retirement as long as people want to see you.” He added, “I often say to people that when I walk up in the morning, ‘this may be my last day.’ Someday I will be right.”
Now that’s humor.
The event is being sponsored by the Northern Rhode Island Council on the Arts and Convergence Pawtucket.
Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.