Death of Kieran Kennedy

Kieran Kennedy led the ESRI from 1971 until 1996 and wrote extensively on Irish economic development and on the unemployment problem – an account of his career is available on the ESRI website here.

My condolences to his family.

3 replies on “Death of Kieran Kennedy”

I’d like to add my condolences. Kieran’s focus on economic development and employment was important, especially through the 1980s, and he was always supportive of me, even as a sociologist straying onto economists’ territory.

Although not unexpected, the news of Kiernan’s death creates a genuine sense of loss.

I first met Kieran in Cambridge Massachusetts in 1964 when he was studying at Harvard. I joined the ESRI in 1969, where he was already working there as a researcher. After he became Director in 1971 he provided me with great encouragement and support until I moved to UCD in 1980. We worked together on several projects and I learned a lot from his doggedness as a researcher his thoroughness as an administrator. He respected the autonomy and independence of those working at the Institute, concerned only that they produced research of a high standard to bolster the Institute’s reputation in Ireland and internationally. His encouragement of younger staff to pursue further study in economics abroad played an important role in building up a cohort of well-trained Irish economists many of whom returned to Ireland to fill important position. He encouraged me to apply for the professorship of national economics in UCD, an institution to which he remained very loyal all his life.

Kieran was deeply committed to the application of economics to improving the quality of economic management in Ireland. The influence of his mentor T.K.Whitaker on his thinking and approach to economic issues was very evident. He was a consistent advocate of prudence in the public finances and spoke out about the policy errors of the late 1970s. He was also deeply concerned about the problems of unemployment and poverty. On these issues he took a more ‘statist’ approach than was popular among mainstream academic economists in Ireland at the time but he never stifled open debate on these topics within the Institute. Had he not returned to the Institute as Director in 1971 I believe he would have gone to the Department of Finance and worked his way up to becoming Secretary.

In some ways he was a figure from an earlier Ireland, committed to causes like the Pioneers’ Association, the Legion of Mary, the Irish language and an ethos of austerity that were falling out of fashion in the 1980s. But this did not prevent him from building rapport with the younger generation of researchers whose worked he supervised and encouraged. All who worked with him admired his integrity, hard work and commitment to the public good.

After his retirement from the Institute he quickly withdrew from public debate on economic topics, devoting himself to painting and the private causes that he had been involved with over this lifetime. His legacy lives on in generations of younger economists who benefited from his example and in the continuing contribution of the ESRI to Irish economic and social policy making.

Our sympathy goes out to Finola and their children.

The first time I met Kieran was during my brief stint as an administrative officer in the Department of Finance c. 1969. The lively coffee-breaks with Kieran, Sean Cromien, Cathal Cavanagh, Nioclas O Murchu, and a few others linger in my memory. TK Whitaker’s office was nearby. In those days Finance administrative officers and their bosses regarded themselves as a kind of elite.

Kieran’s Harvard PhD thesis with Simon Kuznets was really an exercise in economic history, and he always had a keen interest in Ireland’s economic past. Late in his life he returned to economic history, when he was the inspiration behind a group involved in producing historical national accounts for Ireland. Kieran hosted our meetings while still in the ESRI and kept the rest of us on our feet.

Mo chomhbhron lena cheile ionmhain Finola agus lena chlann,

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