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Thursday 17 August 2017

A wonderful life through the lens of a legend

Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

The editor, writer and photo-journalist Padraig Kennelly, who died last Sunday aged 82, was a master of re-invention driven by his passions.

At the time of his retirement in 2010, he was the longest-serving editor of a regional newspaper -- Kerry's Eye -- the paper he founded with his wife Joan and his four sons in 1974 at the family home in 22 Ashe Street, Tralee.

Becoming the owner/editor of a newspaper was a new venture for Kennelly and one that surprised his closest friends.

Speaking at his funeral Mass on Tuesday, former government press secretary Sean Duignan confessed he thought his friend was mad when he told him his intentions.

Duignan was so sure the venture would fail that he made sure to make a big fuss of the launch of the paper.

The newspaper was conceived as a campaigning publication: his journalistic credo was "people power", a phrase that is still retained in the masthead of the newspaper 37 years later.

Kennelly's son, Jerry -- one of Ireland's most successful entrepreneurs and founder of Stockbyte and tweak.com -- said he could remember vividly the day his father made the announcement to the family.

"He came down to breakfast at 22 Ashe Street and told us all he was starting a newspaper and he was doing it next week and we all had a job to do. I was 14 at the time," Jerry recalled.

He said neither he nor any of his brothers had had a third-level education -- their university was the family home on Ashe Street, their "university of life".

He said his father had been his mentor, role model and adviser every step of the way with every decision he made in business, and even at the time of his death his wisdom and courage had never failed him.

"Even his battle with cancer he saw as a project to be dealt with and he was not going to be defined by his illness," he said.

The illness was bone cancer, which he fought for eight years. But even trips to Cork for treatment were an opportunity for learning and he spent hours in the library at UCC between appointments.

Originally trained as a pharmacist, Kennelly joined his father's pharmacy in Tralee after qualifying in 1953, the same year he purchased his first professional camera.

What started as an interest became a passion, prompting him to change careers and become a professional photographer.

In 1956 he married his childhood sweetheart, Joan O'Connor, who was also a photographer.

The couple were as inseparable in their careers as they were in their private lives and together they built a successful photography business.

In 1959, Padraig and Joan moved into photojournalism, covering news, sports and social events.

Among the major stories they worked on were the visit of General Charles de Gaulle to Ireland in 1969; the Irish visits of US presidents Kennedy and Nixon; the Littlejohn spy affair; Sean Bourke, the Limerick man who arranged the prison escape of Soviet spy George Blake; and the transatlantic crossing of John Ridgeway and Chay Blyth on the English Rose 3 in 1966.

"Padraig and his beautiful wife Joan were the most dynamic and the most daring, adventurous, carefree, optimistic and gloriously happy husband and wife team," Duignan recalled.

Between them the pair took over 500,000 photographs of life in Kerry between 1953 and 1973, which have been digitised and catalogued in The Kennelly Archive.

A selection of these photographs feature in his book Eye Witness, which was launched in 2009, three years after the death of his wife.

He also had a successful career as a television cameraman and contributed to RTE's Seven Days, Hall's Pictorial Weekly, Newsround and Guth na Gaeilge where he worked with Sean Duignan who would become a lifelong friend.

An exhibition of their photographs taken in Sneem, Co Kerry, in 1969 during the visit of General de Gaulle opened in the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris on May 9.

This would turn out to be Kennelly's last public engagement and his swan song.

His son also recalled that although terminally ill with only weeks to live, his father didn't play the part of an 82-year-old cancer sufferer and was still giving "jib" to government ministers.

"He presented Lucinda Creighton with a copy of his book Eye Witness and signed it for her. She was thanking him profusely and he said: 'Minister, if you had spoken for half the time I'd have given you two copies.'"

Mr Kennelly had confided that getting to Paris was his goal and once he had achieved that he'd be happy.

He'd done everything and didn't need anything more as he'd had a fulfilled life.

Speaking on behalf of his brothers Padraig Jnr, Brendan and Kerry, Jerry said: "We're going to miss our da like crazy. He was an absolute inspiration but an old rogue as well.

"As you can see from us we're not in mourning -- we're celebrating a great life and a great man."

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