The death of Frankie Kennedy, from cancer, in late 1993, was a tragic loss for fans of Celtic and Irish music. One of Irish music's most charismatic instrumentalists, Kennedy had been the guiding force behind Altan, the tradition-based band that he formed with his wife, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh. According to the Irish Times, "The news of (Kennedy's) death is simply unbearable. One can say all the usual things about a great traditional musician at his death, yet, though true, in Frankie's case, they would not even begin to capture the beauty of the man, radiantly evident even when he was undergoing chemotherapy."
A former schoolteacher, Kennedy met fiddle player, vocalist, and teacher Ni Mhaonaigh in Gweedore, County Donegal, in the late '80s. Sharing a love of traditional Irish music, they began to play together as a duo. Married in 1981, they recorded an album, Ceol Aduaidh, two years later. Giving up their teaching positions to devote their full-time attention to music in 1985, they formed Altan with bouzouki player Ciaran Curran and guitarist/vocalist Mark Kelly. Their first album with the band was released in 1987. The following year, the group was expanded to a quintet with the addition of fiddle player Paul O'Shaughnessy. The quintet recorded two albums -- Horse With a Heart in 1998 and The Red Crow in 1990.
Despite several personnel changes, Altan's popularity continued to grow. Just as it looked as though they were about to break through commercially, Kennedy was diagnosed with cancer. Over the next three years, he balanced chemotherapy with performances and recordings with the group. His final performances came during Altan's United States tour of May and June 1994. He died three months later, six days shy of his 38th birthday. Attended by hundreds of musicians from Ireland, Great Britain, and the United States, Kennedy's funeral service was held in Donegal and broadcast nationally by Radio Na Gaeltachta. He was buried in Derrbeg, County Donegal. ~ Craig Harris, Rovi