Gene Kelly, Creative Genius

A personal celebration of his life and work

..It's so fair

Movie Memos. Date unknown.

When Gene Kelly was born, the little people must have been in rare good humor and been full of generosity because they showered on one wee son of the Kellys of Pittsburgh far more than one baby's share of their most precious gifts...

I got daisies, in green pastures....

This new page will contain information on Gene's Irish connections. There is lots to add, and I will move appropriate comments from other pages, so it may be some time before it is complete.

My friend Cindy and I recently visited Southern Ireland, in order to gather information on Gene's visits there, and also to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The weather was perfect, and we did not have to work and seek out people who remembered Gene - they seemed to appear around every corner, happy to talk and share. It was a special, precious time in a land full of a kind of magic, where the air is pure and fresh and intoxicating and the people are loving and giving, and the birds have an inexhaustible supply of song. This is my account of our trip.

I would like to thank all the people who made the time so enjoyable, who went out of their way to help us, and who made an American and an Englishwoman feel at home in the 'old country.' It was a delight to meet you all.

We once had a popular show on British TV called Ballykissangel, about life in a village in Southern Ireland.......

 

KISSED BY THE ANGELS!

 

It is almost 40 years since he was there, but the spirit of Gene Kelly seems to permeate the tiny village of Puckane. There is an atmosphere of gentleness, of acceptance, of peace, of the soothing of the soul. It is impossible to be there and not smile.

In Kennedy’s Bar the locals congregate daily to drink Guinness and voice opinion on everything and nothing. Most of them have spent their whole lives in the area; faces unwrinkled, eyes bright and interested, bearing witness to a lifestyle which many a rat-race-runner would greatly envy.

There is Una who is in charge of the bar and the shop, a Kennedy before she married Willie. He is allowed three drinks before being packed off home to warm the cocoa and the bed. She has an identical twin sister who is married to Willie’s brother Mick. Mick owns a Peugeot garage in the village, and Gene once commented that it should be known as the village of French cars. It is said that you could recognise people who hated Mick Slattery because they were the only ones not driving a Peugeot! The local pub regulars include the Englishman; the bishop’s brother; the wife of a well-known musician; and Mr. Foley who is involved with the Tidy Towns project, hoping to promote the many pleasures of Puckane. He was eager to shake the hand of anyone who was researching Gene’s links with the village or who had known him. So he shook ours, and offered to help in any way he could.

 

Gene came to Puckane in 1973 with his children, immediately following the passing of his dear wife Jeannie. He needed a place away from a Hollywood buzzing with sympathy and curiosity. He needed a place to grieve, to heal, to hide, a temporary return to a simpler life. He retreated to his ancestral home, to the area where he and Jeannie had spent beautiful times together. Perhaps he was hoping to connect, to feel close to her once more, in that magical land.

 

He chose a white-walled thatched cottage, number 3 of twelve newly-built holiday homes. It could almost have been a replica of the kind of dwelling which his forebears had left behind when they emigrated from Ireland to Canada in the 1830s.

 

He stayed for a month, with Tim and Bridget and his faithful, loving secretary Lois, whom the villagers called the ‘nanny.’ The family were embraced by the locals, without fuss. They accepted the presence of a great man because he did not behave like a movie star.

 

“A lovely, lovely man,” “A wonderful man,” seems to be the general consensus of opinion.  He appeared for a short time in the bar most evenings, had two whiskies and a beer, or a couple of glasses of Guinness, then returned to the children. He must have found great solace in the company of people who knew little and cared less about his life in Hollywood.

One evening a man named Peter McGrath came into the bar and stared at Gene. He went over to him and said, “Has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like Gene Kelly?” Gene was highly amused, got up and did a small dance on the wooden floor of the bar, just to prove he really was Gene Kelly.

Willie Slattery knew three young females who adored Gene and were desperate to see him, but did not want to intrude on his privacy.  Willie asked Gene if he would object to saying hello to them. He not only greeted them but gave them all a hug – the tale is that they all fell on the floor in a swoon!

Willie had a boat and one day Gene asked him for a ride over to a large island in the centre of Lough Derg, called Illaunmore. He had been invited by the owner – a Dublin businessman - to pay a visit and look round the island. So Willie took Gene in his boat, and they talked about Gene’s childhood and how the boxing he learned from Harry Greb had helped him with his dancing footwork. Gene told Willie of his Irish heritage, how his great grandfather had been a blacksmith.

Gene had requested no publicity during his stay, and the Press honoured his request, showing great respect for him. Paddy Kennedy, the owner of the bar at that time, was an avid photographer, but as far as anyone knows, he never took a photograph of Gene. He and Gene became friendly and every year until he could no longer do so, Gene sent Paddy and his family a Christmas card. Sadly, Paddy passed away several years ago.

There was talk of some kind of ‘show’ being put on in the lounge at the rear of the bar whilst Gene was there – many famous musicians have played there, it is one of the most famous pubs in Ireland – but nothing came of it.

One evening in the bar Gene talked with a man named Joe, from a nearby village called Carney. Joe invited Gene to his house for a drink and Gene happily accepted. During the conversation Gene said he wanted to take the family on a boat trip on Lough Derg, and Joe offered to organise it. But they had no life jackets. Joe knew a family who lived at Coolbawn on the Lough, who could provide the lifejackets. So Joe took Gene to visit the family, and he stayed all day, enjoying the company and recounting amusing anecdotes.

They had a daughter, Gerardine, who was about eight years old. She spent the whole day playing with Tim and Bridget. They did not want to leave, they had enjoyed themselves so much. Interestingly she said there was another child with them, whom Gene introduced as a ‘Mahoney.’ She remembers it because they all laughed at Gene’s pronunciation of the name, which was different from the way it was said in Ireland. Gerardine also said that Gene told them his wife had died the year before. So perhaps Gene visited two years in a row; the first time with his own children only, then with the son of family friends, the Mahoneys, from Beverley Hills. Opinions seemed to differ as to how many times he was there. He told Gerardine – who remembers him as a kind, gentle man - that they were using two cars. Lois drove one with the children, Gene drove the other, alone except for the luggage. He said that he had done that deliberately because on a long journey, children ‘grew fangs and claws’! He also wanted time to be alone.

 

Puckane hospitality has not changed with the passing of time. We were invited to the home of another member of the Kennedy family who was also eight years old in 1973. Margaret is the daughter of the late Paddy. Each week when new families arrived at the cottage, she would find the children and take them off to play. She said the kids who arrived were not seen as visitors, but as new friends. She played with Tim and Bridget for the whole month, leading them astray and teaching them new things like climbing trees. She knew that they had lost their mother but they all had a good time, forgetting their troubles and having fun. Margaret’s mother took her aside one day and warned her not to let Tim or Bridget fall into the slurry pit. She thought Gene might not like it!

Margaret remembers Gene as a gentle, shy man, friendly, kind and quiet. She also remembers thinking he was very old, and could not understand why every woman in Puckane and the surrounding area was secretly swooning over him!

Her aunt, Una, thought Gene was wonderful. He would talk to her about Jeannie, that she had passed away only a month or so previous to their arrival in the village. She said he usually wore a cap, and would sit quietly in the bar enjoying his drinks. Everyone knew of his bereavement so they respectfully left him alone unless he wanted to talk or to visit.

 

Willie Slattery says Gene had a driver to take them around, and they left via Cobh, which is the port near to Cork, from where ocean liners (including The Titanic) sailed. Gene agreed to give a Press interview in Cobh, before they left.

 

During our visit to the Howard Gotlieb Archives in Boston we found two folders pertaining to the two extended trips Gene made to Ireland in the 1970s. I have been able to fill in some of the gaps in the knowledge we gleaned from our own visit:

 

They went to visit Kerry in London before leaving for Ireland.

 

Gene hired a Ford Cortina automatic.

 

There were a whole month's worth of grocery bills for Kennedy's store in the folder.

 

Also a bill for a tyre from Slattery's garage. £20.81. 27th July.

 

And a bill for Cottage 3B Puckane. Extra 2 nights, 31st July-2nd August. So it seems like they were not in a hurry to leave.

 

In the 1973 folder are several letters between Gene and Paddy Kennedy. It appears that Gene was considering building a cottage in Puckane. I cannot give any details from these letters without permission, but it was a warm and friendly correspondence, in spite of some of them including discussion of business matters. One of them,  a letter to Paddy from Gene. 9th October 1973

ends:

..."God Bless all the Kennedys, especially your sweet Josephine."

 

 

 

There were no articles about the 1973 visit in the local newspaper, which is astonishing, considering Gene's fame. We talked to the managing director of the Nenagh Guardian, Mr. Pat Ryan, whose brother-in-law had taken Gene home for a drink, and to find the lifejackets. Mr. Ryan found only one item in his newspaper, which he kindly gave me permission to include, and that was from 1971.

Nenagh Guardian. August 14th 1971 

The famous American film star, Mr. Gene Kelly, visited Portroe while on holiday in this country recently. He called to see Mrs. Nora Kenny and Family, Portroe. Mr. Kelly is a close friend of world famous stage designer, Mr. Sean Kenny, and both have worked together in the States. Gene, who was accompanied by his wife, daughter Bridget, and son Timothy, praised the scenery, especially “The Look Out.”

 

Sean Kenny was born and raised in Portroe, on the edge of Lough Derg. (Gene worked with him on Clownaround.)  He died in London in June 1973, just before Gene’s stay in Puckane. His brother Joe has created a memorial bench for Sean outside the former family pub in Portroe. 

 

 

From details in the folders at the Gotlieb, the first visit, 1971, seems to have been organised by a Mr. Tobin from Shannon Free Airport. But it is not very clear. He states in a letter to Gene that they would make sure that pubs in the area had plentiful whiskey supplies:

He had been asked to hire a boat for the family so that they could go sailing on Loch Derg, and he booked them in at the Sail Inn in Dromineer for 16-17th June

 

This was their itinerary:

June 10th arrive in Pittsburgh

11th Guild Ball

Arrive Shannon Tuesday June 15th.

Lakeside Hotel, Killaloe

2 double beds in adjoining rooms.

16th-17th use boat to tour lake.

18th Lakeside Hotel

Titley rent-a-car.

Leave Saturday 19th June for Ballyvaughan.

Type A cottage (Rent-an-Irish-cottage) June 19th-July 2nd. Cottage number 6.

3rd July depart Shannon

3rd July arrive London, Savoy.

 

In the archives is also a letter recommending contacts on the Shannon. If you are one of the people mentioned below I would love to hear from you!

Bruce & Bab Pike. Rockvalley Puckaun

Also have an old cottage on an island on Lough Derg.

Rosamund and Jimmy Sterling, Castleton, Coolbawn. 10th Century castle, 3 children, own quay.

Fiona & Gilbert McNiel-Mos. Dromineer

Letter from Bernadette McCabe, Sligo,  poet and “your greatest fan” recommending her area.

There is a handwritten note on headed paper from Old Ground Hotel, Ennis, concerning lunch and evening banquet bookings

We visited Kilcoran Lodge Hotel, near Clonmel, where a picture was taken in the late 1950s, of Gene holding walking shoes, talking with a couple of fans. The hotel people confirmed that Gene had stayed there, but had no details as all the 

records had been lost in a series of fires. It was a very good hotel in a wonderful spot. 

 

 

 

We travelled a very long distance to Bantry Bay, from where Gene’s ancestors had probably sailed to Canada. We visited the tiny village of Dromore, where Ellen Connolly and Patrick Barry were married in 1824. They were Gene’s great grandparents. Their daughter Catherine Barry was Gene’s paternal grandmother. It was strange and somehow awe-inspiring to stand on the spot, in the now demolished church, where they would have stood. A connection going back almost 200 years, but very real. If they had known that one of their descendents would become a world famous icon…

   

Dromore, with the only remaining part of the original church, the back wall.

 

 

It was a fitting end to an amazing trip. Each morning before Cindy awoke I would sit peacefully outside cottage number 7, with a cup of tea, enjoying the singingest birds and the shiningest sun, writing notes and imagining Gene wandering around the village and interacting with the people, knowing the children were safe and in good company, allowing himself to let go of his grief and pain. Ireland has an atmosphere all its own, makes you feel like you have indeed been kissed by the angels and are somehow connected with eternity.

 

My friend wanted to make the trip as a personal tribute to Gene’s memory, as he would talk to her about the area and always wished to go back. The villagers will obtain a plaque to put on the wall of Kennedy’s Bar, which they are very happy about.

 

This will be the wording (So glad there is an English translation also!!)

 

 

Eoghain Ό Curráin Uí Cheallaigh

23 Lúnasa 1912 –  2 Feabhra 1996

Is iomaí cuairt baile a thug sé ar a áit dhúchais Loc Deirg agus go mór mhor teach Όil Uí Chinnéide.

Ba mhaith leis riamh filleadh ar ais le teacht an Earraigh

chun iascaireacht agus deoch a ól leat.

 

Eugene Curran “Gene” Kelly

23 August 1912 –  2 February 1996

Was at home many a time on his beloved Lough Derg

and inside Kennedy’s Bar.

He always longed to return next Spring to fish

and raise a glass with you.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Lough Derg from the village of Puckane

 

Dromineer on the lough, close to the village

 

A mountain road on the way to Bantry Bay

 

The Lakes of Killarney

 

 

 

Newspaper article. 1945. Source unknown. This Is About Gene Kelly And That's All It's About. By John Maynard

Kelly has many of the characteristics apt to be associated with the Irish. He is toughly independent in spirit, given to sudden brief lapses into depression when he will drop clean out of a conversation to stare darkly ahead, and he is a trifle sensitive...

 

Movie Stars Parade. October 1950

Though he didn’t glimpse the Emerald Isle until 1948, Gene Kelly is as Irish as shamrocks and shillelaghs

 

Modern Screen December 1952

An American In London

...On the very first Bank Holiday after they arrived in London, all the Kellys headed for Dublin. From the moment they started, Gene and Kerry were like nine-year-olds…The mere name of the place thrills them. They prowled the countryside for hours. They haunted ancient castles. Long before the too-short holiday was ended, Gene had instilled the love of Ireland in Kerry. And it looks as if it will remain a life-long romance.

 

Screen Fan. May 1953

...in June, Kelly delighted his blood cousins on the Emerald Isle by showing up in Dublin with a redheaded wife and a Celtic-faced daughter to enjoy a wee vacation.

 

Womans Weekly interview, 1976

"With my good Irish name, I feel at home in the old country...When Jeannie was alive we'd spend many happy days in County Clare.

 Sunday News, article on Gene Kelly Day. London 1970

It’s amazing to think he’s 58 years old. He just doesn’t age. With his Irish dimples and that blarney that keeps shining through his voice like warm Guinness…

 

Times Daily March 15th 1986

Today in Beverley Hills, along posh Rodeo Drive, they’ve laid a long green carpet.  It’s the St. Patrick’s day Parade. and Gene Kelly is the Grand Marshal. If anyone can lend a touch of class to this curious idea, he will.

 

Rock Hill Herald. March 16th 1986

His impish Irish grin and twinkling eyes have landed Gene Kelly another leading-man role – this time as the grand marshal of the second annual Beverley Hills St. Patrick’s Day parade on Sunday.

The parade rolls down 3,200 square yards of Kelly-green carpet, in front of 250,000 spectators and past TV cameras that will air it live at noon…

The salute to the Irish was irresistible to the Pittsburgh-born son of James Patrick Joseph Kelly.

“For 20 years I’ve had a house party on St. Patrick’s Day....

 

 

Michael Coffey. The Irish In America. 1997

…An evolution of the Irish character, from minstrelsy through “stage-Irish" stereotypes to the urbane suavities of Gene Kelly, marked a nearly total assimilation of what was distinctively Irish, at least in Hollywood terms.