Get ready to see a new side to Sinead Kennedy on new show, Summer at Seven

We welcome her into our homes every Saturday for the light-hearted Winning Streak - but Sinead Kennedy has worked on hard-hitting documentaries, from cervical cancer campaigner Laura Brennan to the migrant crisis.
Get ready to see a new side to Sinead Kennedy on new show, Summer at Seven

Sinead Kennedy fronts a new prime time magazine show, Summer at Seven
Sinead Kennedy fronts a new prime time magazine show, Summer at Seven

We welcome her into our homes every Saturday for the light-hearted Winning Streak - but Sinead Kennedy has worked on hard-hitting documentaries, from cervical cancer campaigner Laura Brennan to the migrant crisis.

Now we'll see another side to the presenter, as she fronts a prime time RTÉ magazine show.

Sinead Kennedy is grateful for her lot in life. The 36-year-old Corkonian received her training at the hands of RTÉ’s Young People department, where working with kids, live animals and live television “quite literally prepares you for anything”.

Following in the footsteps of people like Ray D’Arcy, Dara Ó Briain, Ian Dempsey and Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, Kennedy started her broadcasting life after winning a competition to front Sattitude, RTÉ’s Saturday morning babysitting service for the parents of Ireland.

Alongside a cast including Brian Ormond, Molly Bhreathnach and Liam McCormack, Sinead quickly became a household name.

Eighteen years later, the presenter is one of RTÉ’s most recognisable stars.

As Marty Whelan’s other half on Winning Streak, she is still beamed into our sitting rooms every Saturday, just at a different time slot, and has been behind some of the broadcaster’s most hard-hitting documentaries in recent years, most notably The Crossing, covering the Irish response to the migrant crisis and This Is Me, following campaigner Laura Brennan as she faced terminal cervical cancer.

We are talking ahead of the launch of Summer at Seven, fronted by Sinead and Kevin McGahern, which will air throughout July on RTÉ One.

There’s a buzz in the air around the country ahead of Covid-19 restrictions being further loosened and Summer at Seven hopes to act as a calming guide to a nation finding their way out of lockdown.

Paired with McGahern, who she is working with for the first time, Sinead says that their chemistry is light and fun, and ideal for the kind of content we can expect from the magazine-style show.

“It's a live look at topical issues and practical issues that we will all be addressing on the other side of the lockdown,” she explains.

“We'll be looking at things like, how it's going to look when you go to get your hair done.

Sinead Kennedy with her co-host Kevin McGahern
Sinead Kennedy with her co-host Kevin McGahern

"There are people who are still anxious and there are people who are not at all and I think we are going to try to bridge the gap between the two.”

Growing up in Ballincollig, young Sinead Kennedy wanted to be one of three things.

“I was torn between winning an Oscar, becoming a vet or trying my hand at television presenting,” she laughs.

The eldest of four comes from a tight-knit family, brought up to believe that anything was possible, as long as you worked for it.

A grafter, Kennedy is front and centre when it comes to the national broadcaster’s seasonal roll-outs, but behind the scenes has worked to get both a degree in psychology and a Masters in Mental Health under her belt.

She has been married to Conor, a captain in the Irish Navy, for five years, and the couple has enjoyed life together at something of a distance, often with her in Dublin and he in Cork -“it’s ironic, given that he’s the Dub and I’m the Corkonian”-.

While researching Sinead prior to her chat, there was precious little to be found about her, and that she says, is more down to her lifestyle than her life choice.

“I’m not interested in going to events every night of the week, I’d much rather be at home when I’m not working,” she laughs.

The Crossing, Kennedy’s extraordinary documentary following a month on board LÉ Samuel Beckett's deployment in the southern Mediterranean, marked a major departure for the presenter.

“Obviously Conor is in the Navy, so I would have had a very good idea about what was going on with the migrant crisis; it would have been dinner table conversation for us at the time,” she says.

“They had come back from a number of missions at that stage and though it was garnering a bit of media attention and I thought I would really love to make a programme about this mission.”

Along with director Judy Kelly, Sinead set off for Malta to join the ship, not knowing what to expect. It was, she says, a baptism of fire.

“We woke up the first morning to the intercom going off and they kept saying SAR and I ran up onto the deck in my pyjamas to find out what was going on.

"The captain was looking at me like 'are you genuinely on my bridge here in your pyjamas?!’

"He explained that it meant Search And Rescue and told us to get our gear on and get ready.

"It was a horrible morning, I think three people died.”

A month of unrelenting sorrow ensued, as Judy and Sinead paid witness to the Irish Defence Forces working round the clock to save the lives of migrants who, so desperate to escape the horrors of their own country, had paid to squish their way onto oversubscribed ribs and tried to cross an ocean.

On that first morning, they stood on deck as a rescue mission attempted to save the lives of 120 people.

“The floor in their dinghy gave way underneath them as we watched on,” she says.

Suddenly there were all these people submerged, there was a lot of panic, a lot of screaming and it was absolutely gut-wrenching to watch.

What is it like, watching a life or death situation like this unfold, I wonder.

“There are definitely moments where we were watching this catastrophe unfold, and you'd almost feel like a vulture,” she admits.

“You are capturing this awful thing, but because you know that there is nothing that you can do, maybe all you can do is document it and tell the story to make people aware of what is going on.

"I mean the story we told on The Crossing is happening every day, multiple times a day, thousands of people are being lost.”

Of course, Winning Streak stops for nobody, and while Sinead took two Saturdays off during the filming of The Crossing, she was back by Marty’s side the week after she returned home from the Mediterranean.

Her Television Dad, as she calls Marty Whelan, is as gorgeous as we all think he is.

“Marty is a gem. He is a pure and utter dote, everything he appears to be is true.” She says the transition back home was tough, but not insurmountable.

“It is strange bouncing from one thing to another. The thing is that Winning Streak is such a genuinely happy show, it was a joy to come back to it, really.”

Working on This Is Me, the documentary following Laura Brennan, the 26-year-old HPV vaccine campaigner in the last months of her life was the toughest but most rewarding project that Sinead has worked on to date.

It was love at first sight for the television presenter.

Sinead Kennedy worked with Laura Brennan on the incredible documentary This is Me
Sinead Kennedy worked with Laura Brennan on the incredible documentary This is Me

“After I saw her on the Late Late, I just couldn't get her out of my head. I found her on Instagram and I private messaged her.

"We had a laugh about how when she was younger she went into the hairdressers with a picture of me from Sattitude looking for my hair cut.”

The connection between the women was instant.

“I think maybe she felt what I felt, which was that we could make something really special together,” says Sinead.

“We became good friends; we are both the kind of people who would rather work late into the evening and sleep in the following morning, so she was always up at mad hours and we'd text each other through the night.”

A remarkable family, the Brennans touched Sinead and the documentary team beyond measure.

“I absolutely adore the Brennans,” she says. “I've literally never met a family like them.

"They are the most incredibly generous, gorgeous people, I mean she didn't lick it off the stone.”

In giving full, unobstructed access, Laura’s hope was to get the message out there about the HPV vaccine, even in her last days.

The impact of her legacy is seen across Ireland, doing exactly what she had hoped it would.

“Laura was so vivacious and articulate and what she did was so generous and selfless in a time when many people would have been maybe angry or understandably selfish with their time, wanting to spend it with their loved ones, instead of with people you barely know to try to save people they've never met.”

Laura didn’t get to see the documentary that she would have been so proud of, and her death hit Sinead and the team hard.

Coming to terms with it has been difficult, she says.

“We were in each other's lives for such a short time but it was so intense and I miss her. I found it tough for a long time after she passed.

"I was grieving but I felt really selfish for feeling sad, because I felt like I didn’t deserve to feel the way I did.”

Working with Laura Brennan changed Sinead Kennedy.

She had moved to the seaside town of Kinsale while working on This Is Me (“if you’re going to live anywhere, it should be Kinsale”), and in the aftermath of Laura’s death, the coastal retreat provided solace.

“I had time to come down, I had time to settle into a quieter existence.”

Back in Dublin, restored and ready for action, there is a dynamism to post-lockdown Sinead Kennedy.

As she prepares to usher us through the next phase of the pandemic on Summer at Seven, what’s next for the television presenter?

“I don't know if what I want exists. I am trying to make my own path, whatever that is.”

Watch this space; it’s an interesting one.

Summer at Seven will air on RTÉ One at 7pm on Thursday July 2.

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