Renowned West Cork musician and coffee shop owner, Jessie Kennedy, has just returned from a life-changing week in Kenya where she ran a marathon for an African charity.
By Aisling Meath
MUSICIAN and singer Jessie Kennedy is truly a Renaissance woman.
She’s an accomplished musician who is about to release her fourth album; and as well as running The Coffee Shop in Union Hall by day with her husband, where she cooks and is front of house, she is studying for a law degree in the evenings.
As if that wasn’t enough, the mother of two has recently returned from running a marathon in Kenya where she raised over €1,500 for an African charity.
‘I’ve been running for years for fun and general fitness,’ said Jessie. ‘Because my husband Billy (O’Flaherty) has run competitively all his life, I initially started joining him in some races for enjoyment. His discipline and knowledge of fitness has been a big inspiration to me. We’ve had some great times running together up and down Lough Hyne hill three or four times in a row. That certainly toughens you up,’ she laughed.
She plays the violin, piano and guitar, and ahead of releasing her fourth album with Clonakilty based composer Justin Grounds entitled ‘We are the Dark Night Ocean,’ she says ‘music is
in my blood.’
‘It was my introduction to this world,’ she said. Her late mother was the well known Cork singer Mandy Murphy, who sadly passed away in 2016, and her father Jim Kennedy was also in the music business for many years.
During the summer she gave musical performances at St. Barrahane’s Classical Music Festival and The West Cork History Festival, and among many other things her music has also been featured on RTE’s Rachael Allen’s ‘Coastal’ series and John Creedon’s series ‘Wild Atlantic Way.’
She speaks a lot about the ‘creative value in collaborating’ which is evident in her album ‘The Carbery Songs’ released in 2015, which was inspired by the memoirs of three women, Lady Mary Carbery, Juanita Carbery and Elizabeth Freke who lived at Castlefreke Castle.
The album also features some lost music composed by Lady Mary Carbery and unearthed by Jessie during her research. Some of these hymns had not been heard for a whole century, and along with The Vespertine Quintet, of which she is a member, they were lovingly recorded at St. Fachtna’s Cathedral in Rosscarbery.
Also featured on The Carbery Songs are Justin Grounds who also produced and engineered the album; Patsy Putnam who narrates the voice of Lady Mary Carbery, Tess Leak, Natalie Sutchbury, Conrad Good and The Vespertine Quintet.
Her late mother Mandy wrote the original melody of ‘Castlefreke’ as well as the legendary Donovan co-writing ‘The Autumn Song’.
Jessie has also performed with Donovan at The National Concert Hall, The Everyman Theatre and the Cork Opera house, as well as co-writing material with him.
‘I have known Jessie since she was a child, and she is a musician who will carry the Irish tradition into the future,’ said Donovan.
During the West Cork History festival Jessie, along with Patsy Putnam, with accompaniment by Tess Leak and Susan McManamon, brought ‘Lady Carbery’s West Cork Diaries- A Musical Narrative’ to an audience once more.
Jessie and Patsy’s musical collaboration has forged a close friendship between the two women and Patsy recalls how it began: ‘On a raw Spring day in the silence of Rathbarry Church Jessie first spoke to me about her project which eventually became ‘The Carbery Songs’. Most of the music and the words had been written she told me, so with Mary’s notated journal firmly in her hand Jess and I walked Rathbarry lanes together. It was here in her unassuming way, Jessie asked if I would care to choose and then read a couple of passages that I particularly liked. There and then I saw how the story had totally captivated her.’
Jessie added: ‘The greatest adventures and emotional bonds that I have experienced have all been because of playing music, forming ideas and writing with others.
‘I embrace the imperfect moments in what I create, the cracks, the note that bends and falters with emotion and uncertainty. That is not to say that I don’t pursue perfection, I do, but these imperfect and raw qualities in art and in life are what interests me.’
Mum to Lauren (17) and Liam (8) she said: ‘You just keep going, keep learning, keep giving it everything you can. My greatest hope would be to continue working with like-minded friends and artists, in whatever form that takes, to the end of my days. Nothing makes me happier.’
*Jessie will be performing with Nibs Van Der Spuy, renowned world acousticguitarist from South Africa on November 30th at Levi’s bar in Ballydehob.
‘We are the Dark Night Ocean’ with Justin Grounds will feature their original takes of ‘I am stretched on your Grave’ and ‘Lord Franklin’ with photography by John Minihan.