Louise Kennedy: ‘It is good for the soul . . . the jewel in the ring of Kerry’
For the past 15 years, the fashion designer has been drawn back again and again to Kenmare and its ever-changing scenery, welcoming locals and excellent food options
Sheen Falls Lodge Hotel, Kenmare, Co Kerry
Fashion designer Louise Kennedy, who has gained an international reputation for her designs, began visiting Kenmare, Co Kerry, about 15 years ago, and one of the first things that caught her trained eye, besides the scenery, were the colourful shop fronts dotted along the main street.
The aesthetic of the individual exteriors appealed to her, and she is in no doubt that the physical and natural environment in Kenmare has informed her work over the years. For part of those 15 years she rented a house just outside Kenmare, but in more recent years she has been staying in hotels during her annual and sometimes biannual visits.
Sheen Falls Lodge is a favourite – Kennedy’s sister, PR woman Caroline Kennedy, has Sheen Falls on her client list . When Kennedy is not staying there, she likes to stay at the five-star Park Hotel, run by the Brennan brothers.
Every time Kennedy drives into Kenmare, the environment and scenery catch her eye. “There is this extraordinary scenery and the environment is so unspoilt.
“I have been there in summer and winter and it is good for the soul when you first drive into this picturesque setting. I would describe it as the jewel in the ring of Kerry.”
Kennedy says she tends not to travel away from the town too much and prefers to sit tight. Her last visit was in June, when she stayed at the Sheen Falls Lodge, availing of spa treatments.
“I stayed at the Sheen Falls Lodge the last time, but I’ve also had some terrific weekends with the Brennans in the Park Hotel. They are two very different experiences. I love hotels, and with the Park you get the Victorian heritage, while Sheen Falls has a stunning setting and I love falling asleep to the sounds of the nearby waterfall.”
Kennedy says that, in contrast to Killarney, she feels Kenmare does not get as many large coach tours, and has a more European tourist base. This gives it a sophisticated feel, with lovely delicatessens and excellent food options.
Kennedy is not a pub person, so if she does socialise it tends to be in restaurants or hotel bars. “There is such a fabulous choice of good restaurants and wonderful coffee houses. I love Mulcahy’s restaurant on the main street,” she says. “I like simple food and I don’t like too many sauces. They specialise in local ingredients and have a good organic selection. It is not in any way pretentious and I like that.
“Truffle Pig is another place I love in the centre of town and there is a wonderful spot for breakfast called Jam. To have so many good food options in a small town is a big draw.”
If Kennedy does venture outside Kenmare, she likes to visit Sarah Walker’s gallery in Castletownbere, the Aghadoe Heights in Killarney and, recently, she stopped for a gin and tonic in the famed McCarthy’s Bar, also in Castletownbere.
Kennedy likes the familiarity with the locals that comes from returning to the same place year after year. “I am struck by the locals’ warmth. People remember you when you pop back down. I love the mix of Europeans and Americans also, and especially this year I really noticed a lot of independent American visitors.”
Influence on work
In terms of the influence the area has had on her work, Kennedy says that the way the scenery changes at different times of the year has always caught her eye.
“I was looking at my iPad earlier and even just the amount of images I take when I am in Kenmare is huge. The one thing that always grabs me is the changing scenery. You really do get the whole ‘four seasons in one day’ phenomenon down there. I love the flora and you see colours there you don’t really see anywhere else. When I’m there, it’s just downtime though. I get out with the dogs and we go walking in laneways that you don’t see when you’re driving around.”
Kennedy adds: “I also try to squeeze in a visit when I attend the Kerry Fashion Weekend in March, which this year was held in Tralee. At that time of the year you get the open fires and logs. You don’t need to just visit when there are blue skies and sunshine.”
Having returned from a trip some weeks ago, Kennedy says she is already planning her next short break in Kenmare, most likely next month.