Kennedy, Eamonn Lucas (1921–2000), diplomat, was born 13 December 1921 in Dublin, son of Luke Kennedy, civil servant, and Ellen Kennedy (née Stafford). He was educated at O'Connell Schools, Dublin, and at UCD (B.Comm. (1942), BA (1943), MA (1946)), where he later was awarded a Ph.D. in economics (1970).
Kennedy entered the Department of External Affairs in 1943; a sign of his early promise was his appointment (1946) as private secretary to the incoming secretary of the department, Frederick H. Boland (qv). The following year Kennedy moved to the US as consul general in New York and then north to Canada as second secretary at the office of the Irish high commissioner in Ottawa, John Hearne (qv). He returned to the US (1949) as first secretary at the Irish legation in Washington, working with another veteran diplomat, Seán Nunan (qv). After four years in North America, Kennedy moved to Paris (1950) as first secretary. He arrived in the French capital as Irish diplomacy in Paris underwent a sea change, with long-serving minister Seán Murphy (qv) being succeeded by Con Cremin (qv), the change being symptomatic of the move across the Department of External Affairs to a more technocratic style of diplomacy, where economics and multilateralism took precedence over bilateral relations. Like Cremin, Kennedy was one of the rising stars of postwar Irish diplomacy, a generation which also included Conor Cruise O'Brien, Hugh McCann (qv), Eoin MacWhite (qv), and Paul Keating (qv).
Having served in the diplomatic capitals of the old world and the new, Kennedy returned to Dublin in 1955 as first secretary in the political section at Iveagh House. This was the nerve centre of External Affairs in the 1950s, and with Ireland's admission to the United Nations (1955) Kennedy was centrally placed to play a most important role in the Irish UN policy over the coming years. His appointment (1956) as counsellor at the Irish permanent mission to the UN, where he worked with his old boss, Frederick Boland, who was now Irish ambassador to the UN, began a five-year posting in New York where Kennedy became an indispensable member of the Irish UN delegation. He devoted his attention to decolonisation issues, serving on the general assembly's fourth committee, which dealt specifically with the matter, first as Irish delegate and later as rapporteur for the committee to the general assembly.
Though a supporter of the UN and used to working with pro-UN ministers Liam Cosgrave and Frank Aiken (qv), Kennedy was later portrayed by his colleague Conor Cruise O'Brien as being ‘in the best books of the Americans’ (Memoir, 181) and being ‘sorry that Ireland was neutral and thought that it should behave as much as possible like a member of NATO’ (To Katanga and back, 28). O'Brien left his readers in no doubt that he and Kennedy did not see eye to eye on Irish foreign policy and that their views were often at the opposite ends of the spectrum, adding that Kennedy ‘genuinely believed that the United States was the unquestioned leader of the Free World’ (Memoir, 181). Kennedy, along with Cremin and Boland, with political support from John A. Costello (qv) and Liam Cosgrave, was part of a ‘pro-western nucleus’ in External Affairs that was countered by an ‘independent’ nucleus in which O'Brien was the main mover, his political support coming from his minister (from March 1957), Frank Aiken, and the taoiseach, Éamon de Valera (qv) (Skelly, United Nations, 19–20).
With his UN background and experience in the affairs of the emerging states of Africa, it was little surprise in December 1960 that Kennedy was appointed Ireland's first ambassador to Nigeria. Though the embassy was opened in January 1961, Kennedy took up the post in August 1961, the mission in Lagos being Ireland's first on the African continent. Dublin expected that Nigeria would ‘exert a dominant and moderating influence in African affairs’ (NAI, DT S16852A, memo to government, 14 Nov. 1960) and this also explains why Kennedy, a young though experienced diplomat, was sent to Lagos. Irish-Nigerian links were already well established as Nigerian students had studied in Irish universities, Irish trade and business links with Nigeria were developed, and there was a very close link between the two countries through Irish religious missions in Nigeria. Kennedy improved his own links with Nigeria by sailing to Nigeria with the governor general of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi ‘Zik’ Azikiwe, as a fellow passenger and having many conversations with him en route. Kennedy's report on the voyage and his presentation of his credentials showed his considerable diplomatic abilities, deftly mixing succinct pen-portraits of Nigerian politicians and officials with a concise clear understanding of contemporary Nigeria (NAI, DFA 317/88/1).
Kennedy returned to Europe in 1964 as ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. After six years he was posted to the other centre of gravity of the European Community as ambassador to Paris. Kennedy's movements from New York, to Lagos, and on to Bonn and Paris summarised the changing goals of Irish foreign policy from the 1950s to the 1960s, from an independent stance at the UN, via a flirtation with the newly emerging states of Africa and Asia, to European integration as Ireland sought membership of the EEC.
When Kennedy left Paris in 1974 Ireland had just become a member of the EEC. Kennedy returned to New York to succeed Cremin as ambassador to the UN. He now had to implement an Irish UN policy which, though constrained by the limits of European political cooperation, sought a specific Irish tone. As his Irish Times obituary succinctly put it, ‘he combined a subtlety of approach and diplomatic skill with a steadfast adherence to established Irish positions’ (23 Dec. 2000).
These were skills that Kennedy needed in his next and most senior posting, as ambassador to Britain. From 1978 to 1983 Kennedy dealt with issues that placed immense strain on British–Irish relations, in particular the murder of Earl Mountbatten by the IRA (1979), the deaths of ten IRA hunger strikers (1981), and the Anglo–Argentine Falklands war (1982). His ‘exceptional resources of intelligence, patience, tact and courage’ came to the fore in these matters, and Kennedy ‘combined honesty and courage and an acute sense of the national interest in his reporting from London and in his contribution to discussions on policy at the highest level in Dublin’ (ibid.). Ireland was serving on the UN security council in 1982, while Fianna Fáil government policy sought to reap some benefit from Britain's difficulties with Argentina (going against a European Union position on sanctions against Argentina). Given thirteen years of violence in Northern Ireland it was in Ireland's interest to promote a peaceful outcome to the crisis in the South Atlantic without damaging British–Irish relations. In these areas Kennedy's views ‘although cogent and coherent were not always welcome’ in Dublin (ibid.).
From London Kennedy moved to his final posting, Rome (1983), as ambassador to Italy, with non-resident accreditation to Libya and Turkey. He retired in 1986 and died 12 December 2000 in New York.
Eamonn Kennedy married (February 1960), in New York, Barbara Jane (‘Janie’) Black, a wealthy American journalist, and youngest daughter of Mr and Mrs William Black of Premium Point, New Rochelle, New York. They had a daughter, Helen, and a son, Mark.