I was saddened to hear earlier today from the Celtic League General Secretary, Rhisiart Talebot, of the death of Ivor Kenna, a true veteran of the Celtic League. Ivor was a member of the London Branch (later renamed England Branch) of the Celtic League for decades and his wife Florence is still Secretary of the branch.
As a member of the branch he took part in ‘the picket’ of the English National Trust HQ in London in 1985. One of a small group Ivor carried the placard with the memorable slogan ‘WANTED FOR CALF RUSTLING THE ENGLISH NATIONAL TRUST’ which had a graphic of ‘an evil cowboy’ on it.
Surprisingly a delegation from the group were invited in for tea and I recall as then newly appointed General Secretary getting updates by telephone during the day (no mobiles then) one of which said they were apparently ‘having talks over tea and biscuits’. The Calf was transferred to Manx ownership a year later:
Peter Beresford Ellis himself a member of England branch at the time recorded in his book ‘The Celtic Dawn’:
“The League has had some successes with several of its political campaigns. The achievement of persuading UNESCO to establish a project which would promote the Celtic languages and their cultures has already been mentioned. However, the League was instrumental in persuading the English National Trust to hand over the island bird sanctuary known as the Calf of Man to the Manx National Trust in 1986. The English National Trust had owned the small island off the south coast of Man for fifty years, in spite of the constitutional position of the Isle of Man and the fact that a Manx National Trust had come into being in 1951. The League began demonstrating outside the London National Trust Offices and took part in talks with the Trust, which immediately persuaded them to hand over the ownership of the island to their Manx counterparts.
Rather than show gratitude to the Celtic League, the Manx National Trust was highly embarrassed by the fact that since 1951 they themselves had done nothing to urge the return of the Calf of Man from the English National Trust. They blamed the League for ‘interference’ and refused to invite representatives of the League to the ‘handing over’ ceremony. This only provoked more publicity for the League and showed the Manx National Trust in a bad light.”
Later the London branch and Ivor were involved in other Celtic League Mannin initiated campaigns including the attempt to have the Chronicles returned from the British Library. On one occasion I travelled to London to distribute leaflets outside the British Library when the Library were running their ‘Adopt of Book’ campaign and afterwards Ivor and others facilitated a meeting for me to address at ‘The Conway Hall’ at Red Lion Square Holborn.
Although it would have been his 90th birthday in a few weeks time, Ivor was still active both in the League and as a lifelong socialist. Indeed only a few weeks ago I received a copy of the socialist newsletter he has produced for decades.
Ivor died in hospital in London on 3rd June and our thoughts are with his widow Florence at this sad time.
Image: The Calf of Man – Inset: The National Trust ‘picket; 1985, Ivor is pictured on the right with ‘the placard’. Michael O Laoire, then London Branch Secretary is pictured on the left holding the Celtic League (knot) flag.
Chairman Mannin Branch and Assistant General Secretary
Celtic League (5th June 2021)