West Cork musician Jessie Kennedy is giving voice to local history

Jessie Kennedy: 'The songs just felt like they were coming through me.'

THIS has been an intense year for West Cork musician Jessie Kennedy, writes Aisling Meath

A rising profile on the back of her second album and a performance at Cork Opera House with folk legend Donovan were both overshadowed by the loss of her mother, well-known singer Mandy Murphy, in April.

Kennedy inherited an angelic singing voice from her mum, and from an early age was surrounded by music and musicians. Her father, Jim Kennedy, as well as running a kayaking business, is well known in the Cork music scene. Jessie was also mentored by Donovan who recalls her as an eight-year-old playing Nigel Kennedy’s Stradivarius violin. She was even given her first guitar by singer-songwriter Jimmy McCarthy.

Kennedy’s music is rooted in West Cork where she grew up and still lives. By day she runs the Coffee Shop in Union Hall with her husband Billy.

As well as being mother to two children, Jessie is ever present to the call of her musical muse. The Carbery Songs, her second album, was born from a compulsion to give voice to three women who had lived at the castle in nearby Castlefreke.

Lady Mary Carbery, Elizabeth Freake, and Juanita Carbery, members of the Carbery/Freke family, all wrote autobiographical accounts of their lives. Kennedy later discovered that her own great-grandmother was an acquaintance of John Carbery and went to dances at the castle in her youth.

She also discovered hymns written by Mary Carbery, which had remained uncovered for over a hundred years. Some of these ‘lost’ songs have been reworked for the album and were recorded at various locations around West Cork such as Rosscarbery cathedral, Castlefreke, and Clonakilty.

She later went on to perform them at the castle in Castlefreke at the invitation of Stephen Evans-Freake and his family.

“It was amazing,” says Kennedy. “On that cold November day with the massive fire blazing in the original fireplace, we played to the spirits of the castle and I felt at that moment that this project had come full circle.”

Lady Mary’s voice is narrated on the album by Patsy Putnam, wife of David Putnam.

“I was compelled to go to the music room every evening when the children were asleep and the songs just felt like they were coming through me. I felt a real urgency to write them, to tell the stories of these remarkable women, to give them a voice,” says Kennedy.

“I could almost feel like I was in their skin. I could smell and feel the cold dripping dampness of Elizabeth’s chambers and the bliss felt by Lady Mary when she rode on horseback along the Owenahincha strand. Their words echoed through me constantly as I worked on this project.”

As well as popping up on the regular gig circuit, Kennedy also performs at the Starlight Serenades, which form part of moonlight kayaking trips at Lough Hyne, run by her dad Jim and her stepmother Maria.

Other upcoming appearances include the Electric Picnic in September. Kennedy is also writing her next solo album as well as collaborating with Donovan.

  • Jessie Kennedy’s new single, ‘The Flight’, has just been released via iTunes. For more information and other upcoming gigs, see jessiekennedy.com


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