Kurt Cobain's NI roots sparked new exhibition

By Eimear Flanagan

image source, Reuters
image captionKurt Cobain's daughter, Frances, was among the first visitors to the Irish exhibition

Childhood photos, toys and sketches belonging to Kurt Cobain have gone on display in Ireland in a "world first" exhibition dedicated to the late star.

The singer's family helped to curate a collection of his personal items for the event hosted by the Museum of Style Icons in Newbridge, County Kildare.

His mother, sister and daughter are attending the launch and are also using their trip to trace his Irish roots.

They have discovered Cobain's ancestors emigrated from County Tyrone in 1875.


The family's link to Northern Ireland was unexpected, according to the museum's curator, Marie Brennan.

She told BBC News NI that before his death, the Nirvana frontman had made an attempt to trace his Irish ancestry and died believing his father's family hailed from County Cork.

However, the family is now working with a genealogist and they have found a link to relatives in Carrickmore, County Tyrone.

image source, PA
image captionCobain"s mother Wendy O"Connor, daughter Frances Bean Cobain and sister Kim Cobain attended the launch

Ms Brennan said the Cobains have not released any further details but hope to travel to Northern Ireland later this week to find out more about their northern ancestors.

The Growing Up Kurt Cobain Exhibition opened on Tuesday, attended by the singer's mother, Wendy O'Connor, sister Kim Cobain and his daughter Frances Bean Cobain.

Frances was just 18 months old when her father took his own life in April 1994, plunging millions of Nirvana fans into shock and grief.

Almost a quarter of a century after his death, Cobain's legacy lives on through his music, finding a new generation of fans who were not even born when he rose to fame.

"The charisma of the man - he just seemed to touch so many people's lives and even though he was around in the public for such a short time, the impact that he had seems to have lived on for... well, it's almost 25 years since his passing," Ms Brennan said.

image source, Reuters
image captionThe collection includes this photo of Kurt, aged eight, playing the piano

She described the event as a "world first" and a "once in a lifetime exhibition".

"The family have brought together their own personal items that they've never shown before anywhere else in the world and they chose the Museum of Style Icons in Ireland, because of the Irish ancestry."

Up to 200 fans were given priority access to the exhibition on Tuesday and a similar number are expected to attend on Wednesday, before it opens to the general public later this week.

'Kept everything'

The Newbridge display ranges from the very personal and poignant to the peculiar.

Among the handwritten lyrics and notes to family members, there is a certificate that Cobain received for a childhood wrestling contest in 1974.

He was honoured for his "good sportsmanship and outstanding performance" by organisers who reminded young competitors it's taking part that counts.

The singer's mother "kept everything" from his childhood, according to Ms Brennan.

image source, PA
image captionThe exhibition includes some quirky items from the singer's past

The family's decision to exhibit the items in Ireland came about as a result of a "chance meeting" between his sister, Kim, and the boss of Newbridge Silverware, the company that runs the museum.

Ms Brennan explained that Kim met Newbridge Silverware CEO, William Doyle, at a party in the US and got talking to him about her family's Irish roots.

The businessman, who had already traced his own family tree, was able to give her some advice on how to research her Irish ancestors.

Mr Doyle also had a personal interest in archiving pop culture - the idea for the Museum of Style Icons was born 11 years ago when he bought a little black dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the film, Charade.

'Public persona'

The museum's permanent collection now features outfits worn by Princess Diana, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and the Beatles.

Mr Doyle persuaded the Nirvana star's relatives to loan some of his personal belongings for a dedicated exhibition.

"They wanted to show the world the man they knew, as opposed to the star's public persona," Ms Brennan said.

image source, PA
image captionThe future Nirvana frontman was an early style icon

The eclectic collection features his childhood books, such as the Cat in the Hat and the Pink Panther, and several early drawings, kept by a woman who believed her son would grow up to be an artist, not a rock star.

Ms Brennan said the multi-millionaire singer "wasn't into flashy cars" and the artefacts include the only known car he ever owned in his life, a 1965 Dodge Dart in powder blue.

image source, Reuters
image captionKurt Cobain's rather modest car is among the artefacts on display

Ms Brennan added that the family are now looking forward to exploring their ancestral homeland.

The exhibition continues until 30 September, after which it will be moved to a venue in Chile.

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