Conor Kennedy obituary: kind, elegant, creative man of words

Stylish copywriter and co-founder of Javelin read voraciously and cherished books

Conor Kennedy: loved Dublin bookshops. He had more than 800 books in his Ranelagh home and many more in Spain.

Conor Kennedy: loved Dublin bookshops. He had more than 800 books in his Ranelagh home and many more in Spain.


Conor Kennedy

Born: January 5th, 1958

Died: August 31st, 2019

Conor Kennedy, award-winning copywriter and co-founder of Javelin Advertising has died, aged 61. With his long, white locks he was memorably described as “the one guy in Irish advertising who looked like he worked in advertising”. He came from a family of writers and creative people: his mother was the celebrated writer Val Mulkerns, who died last year; and his father, the writer Maurice Kennedy, died in 1992.

Kennedy grew up in Rathgar, Dublin, with his sister, the journalist Maev Kennedy, and brother Myles, a writer and care worker. He was always fascinated by words and was a voracious reader from a young age.

After leaving the now closed Sandymount High School, he tried his hand at a few jobs before joining McConnell’s advertising agency in 1979. He found his feet quickly and began producing notable work for clients such as the IDA, Renault and Huzzar vodka. He later moved to a new McConnell’s agency, KMMD, and it was there, over a lunchtime pint, that the idea for a new agency was formed. It was 1986 and a recession was in full swing, but he gave up his job, along with colleagues Joe Dobbin and Paul Myers, to start Javelin.

They stationed themselves above a sweet shop in Leeson Street with a typewriter and a single landline. Today the company employs more than 40 people. Conor Kennedy was executive creative director at the time of his death.

The fledging agency quickly carved out a reputation for imaginative and deceptively simple advertising and went on to land contracts with companies as Toyota, An Post and Irish Ferries. Conor Kennedy was responsible for the long-running Toyota slogan “The Best Built Cars in the World”. It was a reworking of a wordier sentence he had found in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study of the manufacturing processes at the car company.

‘Dashing figure’

Speaking at his funeral, his close friend, Dobbin recalled how Conor’s writing exuded style. “He didn’t approve of exclamation marks and was heard while advising a new recruit to the world of copy that they were allowed no more than three, in total. Over a lifetime.”

He was “the one guy in Irish advertising who looked like he worked in advertising”, former colleague Nutley said in a tribute. With his distinctive white hair and sartorial elegance, Conor cut a dashing figure striding down Grafton Street with his tweed coat flapping behind him. Maev recalled how Conor’s long dark hair turned white after a serious motorbike accident when he was 17.

Nutley said Conor ran a creative department that was “free of fear, where laughter and crazy thoughts were allowed to flourish. Not always on brief. Not always strategically sound. But the best stuff often isn’t.”

He met his former partner, Lin Ko, in Barcelona and they had a daughter, cinematographer Cadhla Kennedy. She was described by friends as his greatest joy. He lived part of the year in Spain and had been planning to move there when he retired.

Book collection

He remained a voracious reader all his life and liked nothing more than browsing in Dublin bookshops on a Saturday and leaving with a bagful of purchases. Joe Dobbin said about 90 per cent of books he, and colleagues, read were gifts from Conor. He had more than 800 books in his Ranelagh home and many more in Spain. As part of his retirement planning, he intended to gather friends and family for a party during which they would take away their choice of books. His family and friends did just that after his funeral last week.

“Kind” was the recurring word used in tributes to Conor Kennedy after his death and many people shared stories of how he helped them. He was a long-term board member of the St Patrick’s Festival, he worked with the Texaco Children’s Art competition for many years and he was chairing the radio jury in this year’s Kinsale Shark Awards before he fell ill.

While the advertising world is associated with glitzy, glamorous events, he was happiest among close friends. He also loved time alone, striding around Avondale in Wicklow. He had a keen interest in world affairs and the machinations of Brexit were occupying his mind in the days before his death.

He learned he had lung cancer in early July and died in the Beacon Hospital less than two months later, surrounded by his family.

Conor Kennedy is survived by his daughter Cadhla, her mother Lin Ko and siblings Maev and Myles.