Tuesday 7 February 2012


What follows is a mixture of press, location and personal shots from across TP's career, most of which of have languished for years in a small wooden chest. Some of the pictures are in need of repair and that will happen in due course.

As ever, photographer/copyright details are credited where they have been available, which is not very often. Also, not all persons are known and we'd welcome any information which might fill in the gaps. SM/WM


'Straw Dogs' director, Sam Peckinpah, goes over a production point with Dustin Hoffman as TP looks on. In the film, TP's character wears his arm in a sling, though the sling was for real, his shoulder had been badly dislocated at a pre-shoot party organised by the director.

Peckinpah looks very old Hollywood here with the cloth cap reversed and a cigarette hanging louchely from his mouth.  His relaxation during set-up changes was knife-throwing.

A version of this picture hung for many years in Luigi's of Covent Garden which was London's premiere restaurant for the theatre fraternity.


TP pictured opposite Richard Burton in the 1971 film, ‘Villain’. Burton plays Vic Dakin, an East End gang leader in the mould of Ronnie Kray, who has approached TP’s character ‘Frank Fletcher’, a rival gang boss, to join forces in undertaking a major payroll heist.

This was TP’s second film with Burton having appeared as a courtier in the lavish costume drama, Anne the Thousand Days, for which Burton received an Oscar nomination.

*Also pictured are John Hallam (left) and Del Henney (right).


Terry Hand’s production of ‘The Balcony’ by Jean Genet at the RSC in 1971 was easily the most peculiar piece of theatre TP was ever involved in. Regarded as a masterpiece it is possibly best described as absurdist allegory, taking place in a brothel where a microcosm of characters enact rituals and sex games which are intended to reflect the power dynamics and corruption of the outside world.

The setting, the make-up scheme and the costumes each add to the sense of a grotesque dystopia with the authority figures placed high on stilts to emphasise their dominance.

In this production still taken at a rehearsal TP is pictured along with Philip Locke, Brenda Bruce and Clement McCallin. Out of costume, the stilts on which they will perform are clearly visible. TP recalled that this made for an arduous evening on the steeply raked stage of the Aldwych Theatre and it was not unknown for some of the actors to topple backwards.

Friday 22 April 2011


When TP's eldest son, Ralph, was  some seven years old,  he complained one evening of a deep seated pain.  As it got worse his mother thought it best to take him to the family paractitioner,  Dr.Ryan, in Sandymount. He diagnosed an appendicitis and Ralph was swiftly admitted to Dublin's Sir Patrick Dunn Hospital.

That was the trauma, but in this triptych taken by TP we see Ralph on the road to recovery in the Children's Ward.

Aided by a bottle of Lucozade and the comfort of his favourite dressing gown, the sequence could almost be an advertorial for the remedial mineral.

Ralph's still not out of the woods though and can only work his way up to a wary brave-little-soldier's smile.  Curiosity has the better of him though and, intrigued by his father's studious efforts at photographing him, he asks if he may have a go for himself.  TP's more than happy to relinquish control of the camera and smiles warmly for his son. The shot's just a little crooked perhaps, but not bad for a first effort.

Meanwhile, Ralph's brothers who have also been brought to the hospital are left to occupy themselves outside the ward on the landing lest they disturb the tranquility of the tender, young sicklings.  Not that anyone would could ever accuse TP's youngest, Stephen, of the same.  He's lost in his own world, gazing down the staircase, fascinated, no doubt,  by the comings and goings of the grown ups in the busy hospital environment.

Friday 18 March 2011


TP's first british film appearance was in a 'B' support feature movie - "Downfall!"

Tuesday 8 March 2011


Stephen Mc Kenna writes: “This is a picture which recalls one of the saddest of times in TP’s life, and very much mirrors the grief that we, his children, experience now. The year is 1973 and the picture was taken a couple of days after TP had buried his father, Ralph.

Although only a rough and ready snap taken on an instamatic by his sister, Una, the sadness in the image is palpable as TP stands contemplating the fresh grave at the family plot in Moynalty. On the side of the monument, just visible, are the names of his grandfather, a great uncle and great aunt.

Though I was only ten years old, I vividly recall the sense of loss that Dad suffered at this time. The pall of his grief seemed to last forever and even in one of their final visits to TP in hospital, towards the end of his own life, sisters Annette and Sally spent their time reminiscing with TP about ‘Daddy’.

TP would recall his father as a stern figure in his early life, but also an immensely warm and loving father, held in great devotion by all his children. While initially, Ralph McKenna was both horrified and terrified at his son’s decision to seek a life on the stage, it would not be long before he would grow to be immensely proud of his son’s talent. With TP’s mother, May, they’d often journey up to Dublin to see his latest performance at the Queen’s Theatre where he would becoming a leading member of the Abbey company. During the interval he would engage other theatre goers in the bar in conversation. Canvassing their opinion on the show so far, he’d ‘innocently’ enquire, what they thought of ‘that young McKenna fella’. Invariably, receiving a keen response he’d proudly reveal himself as the actor’s father.

And so now, it is we that are immensely proud of TP and all his accomplishments, but what we will nurture most tenderly, as he with his own father, is the memory of the enormous love and concern he extended to each of us all of his life.”

Saturday 5 March 2011


On May & TP's wedding day, following their celebratory breakfast, the happy couple made for Dublin Airport to depart on their honeymoon.  However, so long were their goodbyes at the hotel they managed to miss their flight. 

The word soon got back to the guests who were still having a fine time of it and spontaneously they got into cars, or hitched lifts and made their way out to the airport to continue the party there with May & TP.

Eventually, their rebooked flight was called and in this shot (pictured by Liam White) we see all the guests out on the viewing baclony waving a bon voyage to the the new Mrs & Mrs TP McKenna as they board their flat on the tarmac below.

Visible in this picure are TP's sister Sally far off on the left, while on the right side closest to the camera waving his top hat is May's father with daughter Alice on his left and son-in-law Eddie O'Byrne on the right.

Thursday 3 March 2011


This is believed to be the earliest picture of the young TP. 

Taken in a photographic studio when he would have been about two, it was then hand tinted and presented on a wood cut-out with stand. 

For as long as anyone can remember it took pride of place in a glass cabinet in the parlour of TP's parents' house in Mullagh. 

Incidentally, TP's gorgeous curls provide a reminder of his first great romance,  of which he would often talk - Shirley Temple!  Sure, didn't he fall in love with her the first time he saw her on the Silver Screen.

Wednesday 2 March 2011


Teampall Cheallaigh on the shores of Mullagh Lake

TP was laid to rest on Saturday 26th February 2011 close by the still waters of Mullagh Lake in the county of Cavan.  He was buried alongside his beloved wife May in the old graveyard of Teampall Cheallaigh.

In this picture the church can be seen in the top left hand corner and a little further along towards the right the headstones of the old graveyard are just visible.

McKennas have been laid to rest at this spot since the 1800s and although the graveyard was officially closed to further burials some time in the 70s,  TP was able to obtain permission from Cavan County Council to have his remains and those of his late wife interred there.

At the time the arrangement was confirmed, the Council conveyed the hope that TP would not need to avail of the granted permission for many years to come.  Alas, that time came this week.

Wednesday 23 February 2011


TP was a keen and talented photographer but virtually the sole focus of his work was his children.  In this first shot we see sons (r.to l.) Stephen, Kilian and Ralph squaring up for a big shoot out at their beloved Shelly Banks.  The McKenna boys were addicts for the Western tv serials of the day and they'd never miss an epsiode of The Virginian or High Chaparal.  TP's composition is straight out of a Spaghetti Western and as for the intensity of those facial expressions,  these could only be the sons of an actor.

"And our house is this big!"
This enchanting shot has son Kilian letting everyone in the world know just how big and impressive the family's Sandymount home is.  Indeed,  there's a story told that one St.Patrick's Day when the family went into the city to see the annual parade,  Kilian became separated from the rest of the family.  After an anxious period he was reported to be in the care of the Guards at the  barracks in Sherriff Street.  Now, just out of shot to the right there was a whitewashed portico entrance to the house,  so when the Guards asked Kilian if he could tell them where he lived, they were much impressed, and amused, when he assured them that he lived at the White House!

This is a much revered shot that portrays the idyllic childhood the McKenna children enjoyed by the sea.  It was as if Sandymount Strand and the Shelly Banks were the family's personal property,  their own, private playground.

In this shot Kilian, Ralph and Breffni sit atop the Great South Wall looking out to Howth Head with the Poolbeg Lighthouse away in the distance.

Sunday 20 February 2011


TP with neice Fiona at Wilfield Park
This is an immensely special snapshot, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, TP is hugging his neice Fiona whom he clearly thought was beguiling.  Secondly it recalls a curious time in TP's career when having moved his family to London in 1972,   suddenly, and perversely, film and stage offers started cropping up in Ireland and he needed a regular place to stay. 

Quite how it came about and what pre-discussion there might have been is really not clear (probably none), but for a period of at least a decade, TP was always welcome to stay with his younger brother, Peter,  and his wondrously hospitable wife, Martina, in Wilfield Park, Sandymount.

Naturally,  this made TP's life more than straightforward.  He was able to work away from home while enjoying the comfort and stiumulation of his brother's family  life as it would expand to include sons Peter and Nicholas.  

TP always liked to think that he was the most perfect of guests and he was proud to boast that his good friend, Norman Rodway, with whom he had stayed in London would refer to him as 'Slippers McKenna', so quiet were his comings and goings.

Well, that was TP's version of events. In Dublin, meantime ,  apparently exasperated one day at the lack of a teaspoon in his brother's house,   he took himself to the picturesque hardware store on the corner of Sandymount Green and purchased a dozen teaspoons.  

More than smugly satisfied with himself,  he made his way back to Wilfield Park and proceeded to the master bedroom where Peter was aspiring towards a weekend lie-in.

Unannounced, he entered the room and threw the spoons at his brother.

That he was not shown the door,  that he was ever spoken to again,  was a measure of the condition of T.P. McKennna.  He was impossible not to like.


TP, accompanied by May's sister-in-law, Mary White, arriving for the confirmation of his daughter Sally by Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster.  The event was photographed by Liam White, May's brother.

Photo:  Liam White

Saturday 19 February 2011


Messrs. Donnelly, Toal and O'Shea.  
No,  not a firm of solicitors, but Donal Donnelly, Maureen Toal and Milo O'Shea at the wedding breakfast for TP & May in 1955.  History does not recall the conversation but TP always talked of the great debt he owed Milo O'Shea for helping him make the leap from amateur to professional actor and Donal Donnelly, of course, remained a friend  acorss the continents for all the years.

Photo: Liam White


There's such an aura in this picture, an atmospere that is undefinable.  These are the sons and daughters of T.P. McKenna, TP's grandfather, pictured c.1909.


This informal and friendly shot was taken at the rear of the Queens Theatre probably at the time of rehearsals for Eugene O'Neill's A Long Day Journey's Into Night.  From left to right are Vincent Dowling, Pat Layde, TP and Philip O'Flynn.  Their happy demeanour owes much to the work they were involved with at the time. The younger breed of Abbey actors that they represented had to fight for the opportunity to tackle more ambitious repertoire and, in the case of the O'Neill classic, an unprecedented rehearsal period.  Although TP wasn't aware of it at the time he was just months away from making his London stage debut and an entirely new chapter in his career.  Thanks to his Abbery years it was a challenge he was more than ready for.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Monday 29 November 2010



TP pictured with Des Lynam and Henry Kelly at the annual St.Patrick's Day reception hosted by Bord Failte at Greens Oyster Bar in 1986.

Saturday 16 October 2010


This is a costume drawing by Alpho O'Reilly who was the Head of Design for RTE.  It was his costume projection for TP's appearance as 'Naoise' in the verse play 'Deirdre' by WB Yeats.

Brodcast by RTE in 1965 and a little while later on the new BBC2 network,  TP also starred alongside Fionnula Flanagan and Cyril Cusack.

It is a typical actor's artefact and may have been given to him by O'Reilly who was responsible also for the stage design of 'Sleuth' (1973) in which TP appeared at the Olympia and the Cork Opera House.  However, the pastel sketch has taken on an added poignancy as Alpho O'Reilly disappeared in wholly unexplained circumstances in 1996. 

He had lived contentedly with his sister to whom he was devoted in a house facing Sandymout Strand, however she had recently passed away.

He was last seen getting petrol for his car early one morning at a service station in Ashford, Co.Wicklow, and then heading off in the direction of Wexford;  and that was the last that was ever known of him or his car.

He lives on in this image though, because the celtic scrolls that decorate the background are actually charicatures of the designer.

Tuesday 21 September 2010


TP emphasises a point when making his
acceptance speech

In 1980 TP was the recepient of a a special award from the Irish Post newspaper.  These community awards were announced each year by proprietor Brendan MacLua in recognition of those who had made significant contributions to Irish life in Britain. 

Also recognised that year were author Maeve Binchy and ballet legend Ninette de Valois.

TP, in common with many of his Irish colleagues, never turned down a invitation from any Irish business or organisation,  whether it was to attend some gala or an opening.

Hard as it may be to appreciate now but the stock of the Irish in Britain in the 60s and 70s was depressingly low, both socially and politically, and TP considered it an automatic obligation to lend his support to any endeavour that would help transform that perception.

Family Affair

The evening also provided a rare outing for the McKenna family.  Well, almost.  Pictured above are (bottom, l to r.) daughter Sally, May & TP and sons (top, l to r.)  Breffni, Ralph and Stephen.  Absent is Kilian who was then appearing with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford Upon Avon.

Friday 17 September 2010


How pensive the young TP looks on this steam engine (left) when he must have been four or five.  Such marvellous machines were part of the agricultural landscape of the day.

The young Master McKenna is suited and this shot was taken on the family farm during the time of the threshing.

Then on the right we see TP, having done some growing up, on the steps of St.Kilian's, the parish church in Mullagh where he braved early starts and frosty mornings for daily service as an altar boy.

Sunday 12 September 2010


This is the earliest item in the McKenna archive.  A programme from Christmas 1942 for a production of The Yeoman of the Guard at TP's school, St.Pat's in Cavan.  It was his first stage part and, in the role of 'Elsie Maynard (A Strolling Singer)' he is billed as 'Thomas P McKenna'. 

There is another McKenna in the cast but he was not related.

Friday 10 September 2010


Proof positive, if it were ever needed, that you can take the man out of the bank, but you can't take the bank out of the man.

The year was 2000 and TP was approached to see if he'd be interested in becoming the key installation in a new interactive tour of the famous Bank of Ireland where, as David La Touche -one of the Bank's original founders, he would be the guide for thousands of visitors over several seasons.

Of course, it's a risk when an actor makes such a departure and there's the all too likely risk of becoming a spectacle rather than spectacular, however TP was more than assured by the quality of the script and the calibre of the production company. 

So,  for a brief and lucrative period he was happy to set aside his self-made promise that he would never, ever work in a bank again.

Wednesday 8 September 2010


Two publicity shots from the 1950S and good examples of the excellent quality of portraiture at that time, the left hand shot showing TP very much in an intense, theatrical moment while the other is a more standard charm shot.

“Don’t be an actor, my dear boy, until you are absolutely sure there’s nothing else you can do.” (Anew McMaster’s advice to the fifteen year old TP)

Sunday 5 September 2010


A rare dressing room shot of TP as he chats before a performance of Julius Caesar at the Royal Court in 1964.  Directed by Lindsay Anderson, he was Cassius to Ian Bannen's Brutus (originally cast as Nicol Williamson).  Other cast members included Daniel Massey, David Warner and Graham Crowden.  The production also marked the stage debut of a young Anthony Hopkins.

And just a couple of hours later, TP, as Cassius, realising that the game is up, runs on to a centurion's sword.

Wednesday 18 August 2010


Two sides of TP - one the actor and the other the father.

On the left a publicity still from the film Anne of the Thousand Days and on the right TP relaxing in the garden of his Dublin home prior to filming, still with a script to hand, and with the company of his youngest child, daughter Sally.


"Relaxing in the Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday, T.P. McKenna, who opens
tonight in Alun Owen's 'The Game' at the Gaiety Theatre, and Mrs. McKenna."

This is a shot that appeared in the Irish Press in 1965 prior to that year's Dublin Theatre Festival. 

TP & May had gone to the Intercontinental Hotel in Ballsbridge for a quiet drink when one of the regular press photographers passed by dragging his heels. 

He'd called to the hotel on the chance of snapping Ursula Andress.  She was hosting a party on completion of filming for The Blue Max in which she was starring with George Peppard.  However, Ms.Andress was firmly ensconced in her suite and in no mood for the press.

Would May & TP mind him taking a shot so he wasn't going back to the picture desk empty handed, he asked.

They'd be delighted, they said, and don't they look it.

Monday 16 August 2010


This was TP in playful mood for a press interview at home in Sandymount, Dublin about 1971.

Wednesday 11 August 2010


This photograph appeared in the Irish Press on June 11, 1967, and pictures May, sans TP, with her five children.

The occasion was May's imminent departure to join her husband on location in Turkey where he was filming The Charge of the Light Brigade. For the times this was a very exotic jaunt and so press- worthy.

On May's lap is daugher Sally (11 months) and, clockwise, Ralph (9), Breffni (6), Kilian (7) and Stephen (4). It is as well that May is smiling because the rest of us look like we're due to be orphaned.