Ray’s memories are sparked by the death last Sunday of his father’s long-time friend, British comic legend Tom O’Connor.
In the late Eighties and early Nineties, Tom O’Connor was a huge attraction in Ireland when he packed in the crowds at his annual summer season of cabaret shows at Dublin’s Clontarf Castle, along with Ray Kennedy and his band, Platform, and MC George Hunter.
But the Tom O’Connor shows were just one of the highlights in Ray Snr’s remarkable career — despite the fact that, unlike his son, he was never a household name.
Today, Ray tells the
Sunday World that his father, a native of Westport, Co Mayo, was a former Connaught cycling champion and a legendary commentator at the Rás Tailteann races for decades, and:
“I remember as a kid, whenever he went to his native Westport with the band, it was like Bruce Springsteen was coming to town there was so much excitement. I loved seeing all of that. Later, when I was in college, I played keyboards in the band a couple of times.
“Dad was proud of his Mayo and Westport roots and he’s still so well remembered there. I’ve just had a family staycation down there and I met so many people who talked to me about Dad.
“When he retired early at 53 from Aer Lingus, he then went full-time into entertainment. He got out early and had a second life. He went to Doyle’s Irish Cabaret and was there for the next 15 years.”
Recalling his father’s friendship with Liverpool comic Tom O’Connor, Ray says: “Dad was Tom O’Connor’s singer in Ireland.
“He had one of the best singing voices you ever heard. He was a fantastic singer, but he would always say that Joe Dolan was the best singer in Ireland.
“Dad just loved the fact that he was working with this superstar, Tom O’Connor, which Tom was at the time because he was on British TV. They really struck up a close friendship and the show they put together with the singing and the comedy was a such a huge hit. Dad was quite affable with the crowd and he’d warm them up for Tom.
“Tom was mad into the golf and when he was back home he would ring Dad and say, ‘I’m going out to play golf in an hour, Ray, what’s the weather like in Dublin?’ If it was raining in Dublin it would be coming to Liverpool in the next hour.
“Dad would say, ‘it’s sunny Tom, you can go out.’ Then Tom would ring Dad back, ‘what the hell were you talking about, it lashed on me!’
“They were such good pals, and every year a Christmas card would arrive from Tom. Mum and Dad were also friends with his wife, Pat, and family photographs were exchanged.
“Then there was a period where the Christmas card didn’t arrive and the phone calls stopped coming. There were reports about Tom not being well, he had Parkinson’s. That was 14 years ago, and Dad did speak to Tom on the phone at one point and he just said, ‘I’m not great, Ray.’
“Tom outlived Dad, who lived with prostate cancer for more than 15 years before it took him out.”