Thursday 19 July 2018

'There was violence inside the home' - Brian Kennedy praised for honest account of reconnecting with estranged parents after 20 years

Singer appeared on Cutting Edge on RTE One

Brian Kennedy on Cutting Edge, RTE One
Brian Kennedy on Cutting Edge, RTE One
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Singer Brian Kennedy has been praised for his honest and heartbreaking account of reconnecting with his estranged parents after 20 years.

Kennedy (51) appeared on Wednesday night's Cutting Edge panel alongside Norah Casey and Niamh Horan and revealed there has been "profound estrangement" from most of his family for the past two decades.

Speaking about why he became estranged, he said; "When the choices are estrangement or dysfunction I'm going to choose estrangement every single time. 

"If you think about where I came from, there was a lot of violence on the street, even violence coming from certain members of the Church, and violence inside the home too. So it was a very dangerous place for me to be. 

"There was no point of respite anywhere. So I learnt to be very independent. I left home when I was 14 really, 15, to live with granny and then she died and then I was gone. 

"I went to England."

Kennedy said that he feels "envious" of people who have warm relationships with their parents and revealed that he finally reconciled with his mother and father two weeks ago.

"I decided because my brother had passed away and I managed to reconnect with him before he died, I thought to myself it's an important thing to do," he said.

"It's not what's the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do - what's the kindest thing to do? So I wanted to reconnect with them."

His brother Stewart facilitated a meeting at his house, but Brian's mother did not recognise her estranged son.

"Let's just say that there's a lot of ill health going on there now with various alcohol issues and mental health things and so on," revealed Brian. 

"My mother didn't know me at all, at all."

He added, "She didn't know who I was at all. 

"She kept saying things like, 'Are you married love?'  Slowly but surely that all came about that she clearly just didn't know me. 

"When my brother dropped her home, she said, 'Who was that tall fella with the lovely dark hair?'  He said, 'Oh, that's Brian' and [she said], 'Who's he?'"

Brian said he felt there was "forgiveness all round" and he was shocked because they looked so vulnerable.

"When you're a kid your parents seem like giants, especially if there's any kind of violence or dysfunction going on," he told presenter Brendan O'Connor. 

"And here I am sitting as a nearly 6ft tall man and these tiny little kids. 

"They were so vulnerable. My instinct was to mind them a bit."

The brief meeting was a "very bittersweet thing" but he said he was glad he did it. 

He spoke about other people having loving relationships with their parents but added; "I just come from a very abnormal situation that I've learned to live with over the years. Thank God for music."

Earlier in the show, the singer had also spoken candidly about growing up in Belfast in the 70s and 80s, during the height of The Troubles.

Speaking about the surprise visit of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to Belfast this week he said it was a "million years" from life in Belfast when he was a child.

"When I was able to go into town like that as a little kid I had to queue up at a turnstile, like you would in a ghetto, queue up in the rain or the snow or whatever, to get to the turnstile and the police would radio in your details back in the day," he said.

"And only then when they knew what time you were leaving and what time you were coming back and why you were coming into town, you could then come back, you were allowed to go through the turnstile, going into ordinary life and that was my day to day experience of Beflast."

The 51-year-old star said he witnessed regular, horrifying violence at that time.

"I saw people shot dead right in front of me, as close to me as you are now," he told presenter Brendan O'Connor. 

"I saw a woman get the rifle of a gun, a young English soldier smashed her face in with the butt of his gun because she was trying to get her son back off him because he was trying to arrest him."

Kennedy admitted that he did throw stones and once managed to get a rock through the slit of a saracen, from which the soldiers aimed their rifles.

"It's one of those things. I won't be dishonest about it," he said, adding that it was "tribal, it was gang warfare."

He described being 11-years-old and listening to soldiers say "disgusting things" about his sister or mother on his way to school.

"The accent would say, 'Oh, I f***** your mother last night' and they would say that to get a rise out of you and I'm like, I mean it's child abuse.  I was about 11 when that stuff was going on.

"They would follow you with their guns just to freak you out as if they're going to shoot you.  And I'm in a uniform just trying to get to school."

Host O'Connor commented that there were 'regrettable' acts and behaviour on both sides, to which Kennedy replied, "We're so politically correct, aren't we?"

Those experiences, he said, are still with him and when he visits Belfast today, he says he has a "black and white movie playing all the time in my mind about what that street used to look like and that building was on fire, and that person is no longer with us."

Viewers praised Kennedy for his candour.

You can watch Cutting Edge on the RTE Player HERE.

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