Sunday 23 March 2014

The life of Kilian McKenna was celebrated in a service of remembrance at the West Chapel of Golders Green Crematorium in North London.  Not anticipating his passing for one moment, he had not left any specific instructions, so, on his behalf we chose such words and music as he had appreciated in his own lifetime.

The principle elements of that service are reproduced here along with the beautiful images of Kilian amongst us in the years of our special Dublin childhood as captured by our father.


A service of remembrance for the life of
Kilian McKenna

21st July 1959 – 19th February 2014

Golders Green Crematorium (West Chapel)
Thursday 6th March 2014

Celebrant: Fr. Chris Connor


My Childhood (Jahvani)

my childhood was the time when I was innocent
when the world seemed to be fair
when my universe was around my toys

my childhood was the time when I lived in dreams
when everyone was selfless 
when everyone appeared to be a friend

my childhood was the time when my life was full of colours
when sorrows never knocked my door
when smile was gift presented to everyone

my childhood was the time when love was pure
when there were no obligations
when tenderness prevailed

my childhood was the time which is long gone
tears flow from my eyes when I go back in my childhood
my childhood will never come back but 
the child in me will never go 


Welcome: Fr. Chris Connor

Hymn: Lord of the Dance (are. Sydney Carter)

1st Lesson:  Isaiah 35.8-10
Reader: Sr. Annette McKenna

No Man Is An Island (Donne)
Reader: Clive Kneller

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee. 

Hymn:  I Vow To Thee My Country (Rice/Holst)

2nd Lesson:  First Letter of St. John 3.1-2
Reader: John McKenna  

The Infinite Shining Heavens (Songs of Travel)
Vaughan Williams

Before and After Summer (Childhood Among the Fearns)

Soloist: Tom McKenna   
Organ: Jack Stone

Eulogy:  Stephen McKenna

Kilian will be very pleased to know that I intend to be brief.

He was a most modest fellow and so he would have had little time for someone standing up here and going on and on and on.

To a certain extent, I hardly need to be here at all.  The fact of the matter is you will all have brought along with you, your own personal eulogies.

You'll have been been composing them, automatically, in your heads since you took the phone call or read the email conveying the sudden and shocking news that Kilian was no longer with us.

You'll have recalled his ebullient sense of humour, his agility and zest in telling an anecdote and his habit of slapping the table several times as his head shot back in guffaws of laughter.

Or, you'll have thought of his charismatic character, his old world charm, nay, his abundant sense of gallantry.

Not to mention his fine intellect and the amazing depths of his knowledge.

And for those that kew him in earlier times, but had not forgotten him,  you may have asked  - 'whatever became of Kilian?'    When, as his good friend from those days, Simon Treves observed,  'he became more serious'.

It is one of the great disappointments of life that children grow up.  
That they become sombre and loose the gaiety of their early years. Indeed as I look today at those beautiful pictures in the order of our service taken by our talented father,  I can't help but ask … 'where did that lovely boy go?'

Faced with the quandary of an all to early exit from life's stage,   I choose to console myself with the belief that when an adult dies, the child within is born again and takes its place somewhere in the heavens above. To borrow from Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

In one of the stars I shall be living.
In one them I shall be laughing.
When you look at the sky at night
And when your sorrow is comforted,
You will be content you have known me.
You will always be my friend.
You will always want to laugh with me. 

I'm sure that I speak for Rafe, Breffni, Sally and myself when I affirm: Kilian was with us. He is with us.  Kilian will always be with us.

Hymn: Abide With Me (Lyte/Monk)

A Christmas Chilhood (Kavanagh)
Reader: Finnian McKenna

My father played the melodion
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east;
And they danced to his music.
Across the wild bogs his melodion called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.
Outside in the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable-lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.
A water-hen screeched in the bog,
Mass-going feet
Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.
My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.
Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy's hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon - the Three Wise Kings.
An old man passing said:
"Can't he make it talk" -
The melodion, I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.
I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife's big blade -
There was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.
My father played the melodion,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary's blouse.

Prayers of Dedication & Remembrance
Response: Lord graciously hear us

Rafe:  We pray for our beloved parents May & TP who will soon welcome KiIian once more in to their loving embrace.  May the perpetual radiance of God's light shine upon them.  Lord hear us ...

Breffni: We pray for all those who offered Kilian the gift of friendship and kinship in his life.  May their lives be long and fruitful and may the road always rise up to meet them.  Lord hear us ...

Stephen:  We pray for all those who seek a life in the theatre.  May they be gifted, strong and resilient.  May they prosper and succeed.  Lord hear us ...

Sally: We pray for Kilian's godson's Tom & Finnian.  That their talents will continue to blossom and their resolve be firm; and may the bonds of brotherly love endure and support them throughout their lives.  Lord hear us ...

"Our revels now are ended"
Reader: Sara Kestelman

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, 
As I foretold you, were all spirits and 
Are melted into air, into thin air: 
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, 
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, 
The solemn temples, the great globe itself, 
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve 
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, 
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on, and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep. 

(William Shakespeare - The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1)

The Lord Bless You and Keep You (Rutter)

Final Blessing:  
Fr. Chris Connor

The Parting of Friends (trad arr. Neil Martin)
Roisin Hambley, John Fitzpatrick & Kevin Lawless

In 1984, Kilian contributed an article to  the Sunday Tribune for a series entitled “Kindred” in which he spoke about his relationship with his father.  We produce an extract here:

"There was no moment when I decided to be, like him, an actor.  After the move from Ireland I went into a kind of sulk.  I drifted into an educational catastrophe.  But I had a friend who'd gone to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) where educational qualifications were irrelevant.  I liked the sound of this place and applied for an audition.

My father chose both my audition speeches. He directed me, in the simplest way. 'Don't shout so much … slow down.’  This helped me to be successful on the day. But in the future I was not so ready to take his advice.

My involvement with acting did not, initially, bring us together.  If anything it induced a rift.  We agreed that he would not attend my performances at RADA. I could not have coped with his presence in the college bar.  But things changed.  I left RADA.  Like him, I became an actor and faced with the terror of the professional rehearsal room, respect swiftly returned.

Last October, while I was working for the Field Day Theatre Company we had a press night.  One of the critics referred to me as 'Kilian - son of the great TP McKenna'.  Some of the actors asked me if this bothered me. 'No', I said, 'not at all.' It never bothers me. I admire him and I love him very much."

~~~~~~~~~~~ Interment with May & TP ~~~~~~~~~~

Following his cremation in London we brought the casket of Kilian's ashes to Mullagh and following a requiem mass at the parish church of St.Kilian's he was interred in his parent's grave at Teampall Cheallaigh close by the shores of Mullagh Lake.

TP & May's grave where Kilian has now joined them.

The snowdrops arrive early each year here at Teampall Cheallaigh which has been a place of burial as far back as the 14th Century.  The oldest extant memorial to Philip O'Reilly was layed in 1683 while the first McKenna buried here was in 1795.

The quiet waters of Mullagh Lake which lies in the south east corner of the county of Cavan just a mile or two away from the border with Meath.  Teampall Chellaigh can be seen to the left of this landscape, marked by the small tower of the Church of Ireland. 

If I should die before the rest of you,
Break not a flower or inscribe a stone.
Nor, when I'm gone, speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves I have known.
Weep if you must,
Parting is hell.
But life goes on,
So ... sing as well.

(Joyce Grenfell)

~~~~~~~~~~~ Tributes ~~~~~~~~~~

On behalf of Rafe, Breffni, Sally and myself can we say how deeply grateful we are for all the many expressions of sympathy and condolence that have been extended to us from family and friends, far and wide, and we present a summary here in tribute to Kilian's memory along with images from a most special childhood.  

Further comments are very welcome via the 'comments' facility below.

Stephen McKenna

I will never forget the conversation I had with Kilian, when he came to represent the McKenna family of England at my mother's funeral in 2005. He heard about my recent school performance of Beethoven's 6th Symphony and drew me in with his knowledge of the history and depth of the symphony. Kilian sang the different themes from each movement and spoke with such passion about the music. He delivered a beautiful reading at the funeral Mass. Even my future in-laws who were present at the funeral were very taken by his dynamic and warm personality. Although I didn't see him often, he came to mind frequently. He will truly be missed, but the memories I have of his visit here and my visit to England will be treasured for my lifetime.
Peace and blessings,

Patrick O'Connell

I remember when Kilian came over to the U.S. for my Mom's funeral (Kilian's Aunt) in 2005, and he did a reading at the funeral. The day before the funeral I asked if Kilian, and my brothers could join me in recording our respective readings onto a cassette to have as a recorded memory of this. During that time in which my brothers and I were feeling such immense grief and sadness, Kilian was so understanding and supportive of us. He was more than willing to participate in the recording and be there for us, to try and cheer us up a bit. Although there were only a handful of times that I saw Kilian, each time was quite memorable and I really enjoyed his quick wit and easygoing way. He will be missed very much.

My prayers and thoughts are with Rafe, Stephen, Breffni and Sally, and with all of the McKenna extended family. 

God Bless, Bill O'Connell (Jr.)

Stephen & All the McKennas,  I was very sorry to hear the news of Kilian's passing.

He came over for Una's funeral and we all appreciated that very much. I will keep him in my prayers always.


Bill O'Connell, Sr

I only heard this news yesterday morning, via a mutual friend Clive Mantle. I met Kilian in 1975 during a National Youth Theatre season and he became - for a few years - one of my closest friends. I honestly don't remember laughing as much or so often than when he and Tim Spall were riffing on something. It was almost painful. On one occasion dear Kilian talked non-stop for seven hours through the night, fuelled by alcohol and a seemingly limitless fund of stories. But he was also a great listener, wise beyond his years. I last saw him in the late nineties, when he seemed more serious and I wondered why he was no longer acting: he was a brilliant actor. I'm very upset that he's gone, and at such a young age, and just so glad I had the great good fortune to have known him. My huge condolences to all the McKenna family.

Simon Treves

I just read a wonderful tribute to Kilian by Simon Treves. One thing Simon mentioned that really resonates with me was that Kilian was so quick-witted and humorous, that he really could have you laughing so hard it almost hurt! That is so true...I do remember my brothers and I being in stitches listening to his many stories and commentary. He was such an entertainer- these are some of the great memories I will always have of my cousin, Kilian.

Bill O'Connell (Jr.)

Kilian was always a delight to have visit. When he first came over to Boston, Christmas of 1987, we thought he was the smartest, the most handsome, the most charming young man. And, of course, he was. 

Over the years, we would hear of his acting and his travels and sometimes, if we were lucky, we would get a postcard or two. Killian was ever curious and thoughtful. We, here in the States, will have warm memories of him always. 


Patricia (and all of Aunt Una's nieces and nephews )
Medford, MA
Aunt Una's nieces and nephews from Medford, MA

I have never met Killian but I have heard about him from my sister Martina, brother in law Peter McKenna. I was really sad to hear about his sudden death at such a young age. My deepest sympathy to your family.

Frances Byatt-Smith

We were shocked and saddened to hear of Kilian's passsing. We have very happy memories of the time we spent with him in Masachusetts and when lived in Ireland. He made a huge impression on our teen-aged children. We enjoyed his great personality, keen intellect and sense of humor. Our deepest sympathies to the entire Mckenna Family

Lauren Boudreau Ortiz

What a terrible thing for you all  ..  to lose parents is awful but expected in the natural order of things, but to lose a sibling, and one so young, is a tragedy  ....  my heart goes out to you all  ...  i can only always think of kilian as he was when we did shadow of a gunman at stratford so many years ago  .. the best tommy owens ever, before or since  .... i have no words, stephen, to tell you how sad i feel at this news.  My love and sympathies to you all in your grief from my deepest heart.

Dearbhla Molloy

This is the most terrible, terrible news.  I am so very sad and please know that my heart is with you.  Kilian, as you state, was a remarkable man and far, far too young to die. Thank goodness he was in his bed and hopefully peacefully passed away in his sleep.

In deepest sorrow for all your family in your shocking loss.

Sara Kestelman

With great sadness and shock I heard about Kilian's passing. I wish to express my deepest condolences. I mourn for Kilian as a friend and I mourn for his unique and mesmerising talent.

Oh I wish I could have told him how much of his poeticness, his mystery, his storytelling, his songs - in short, his magic - still lingers on. How many beautiful memories I have to thank him for, including a trip to Ireland with our RADA mates when he exclaimed, full of pride, "This is McKenna country!". Also, meeting your wonderful aunt Edna who cooked for us and gave us so much whiskey that we hardly found our way back. Unforgettable. And other charming relations of yours providing cherished memories.

It is nearly 20 years since I last saw Kilian but untill I heard the sad news I wasn't aware how much he still meant to me.

God rest his soul.

With deep affection,


I just wanted to send you a quick note to say how very sad and shocked I was to hear of the loss of Kilian.  I know I haven’t seen any of you McKenna siblings for many years, but my memories of Sandymount remain vivid, and I always thought of Kilian as a kindred spirit, being of the same age as me and small and freckled also. It must be so very difficult for you all to cope with, and cruelly premature.  My  thoughts are with all of you.

Cousin Nicola

Stephen - I am so sorry for your family's loss. Kilian was such an energetic and entertaining presence on all my visits. We have lost so much. God bless Kilian and all of you, please give my love to your family.  

Daniel O'Connell

I am thinking of you all and wondering how you are coping.  A strange thought came into my mind today as it was the first time I felt relieved that T P had passed as he would have found the pain unbearable.  As i know it is for you all.

He loved you so much.And if there is any truth in this mad existence it is that the love lives on.

T P and May gave out that love and it is there now in the memory of them both.   May it help you survive through this horrific time .

With memories of dearest Kilian ,a great and kind mind and man.

My love to you all.


Devastated to hear this.  My great memories of Kilian was when we played cricket together in a showbiz eleven and he looked just like a pro but didn't run too well.  Also I'll never forget how you could not get in the house without being offered a cup of tea and it always came in a pot WITH A COZY on top.

Its bad enough when an older friend passes but when its someone appreciably younger its worse. However I feel he has done me a service by making us all realise just how tenuous life is and how we need to enjoy every day as it comes.

Adrian Korsner

My thoughts and prayers are for you and all the McKennas. 
As you morn his death, may you celebrate his life,
For he shall live on, forever in you heart.

John F McKenna

So sorry to hear this very sad news Stephen. Thinking of you all. X  

Annette O'Brien

Stephen, we are so shocked and saddened to hear about Kilian's very premature passing. Our thoughts are with you all. AX

Aideen O'Byrne

I was absolutely shocked to hear the terrible news about Killian.  I remember the last time I saw him, probably a year or two ago now, when myself and my fiance Emma as well as Martina and my aunt Marion all sat around the fire with him in Wilfield Park, drinking wine and telling stories, laughing and just having a great time. He was such an entertaining character and such a lovely man, that was a great night we had and I remember it like it was yesterday. Emma raved about how much she adored him afterwards and we all really adore him, and it's truly heartbreaking to know I wont get to spend more time with him on nights like that.

Nick McKenna