A SECRET heartache lies behind Enya’s decision to allow one of the most haunting tracks from her latest album to be used in a new Hollywood tearjerker. The chart-topping Donegal star has donated Only Time to the movie, Sweet November, a love story overshadowed by a gruelling battle against cancer.

The movie stars Charlize Theron as a woman who takes a different lover every month, until she meets the man of her dreams, played by Hollywood hunk Keanu Reeves, and they fall madly in love. It is only as true love blossoms that Keanu’s character discovers his lover is dying of cancer.

The story echoes a heartbreaking episode in Enya’s own life involving the death of close friend Frankie Kennedy, one of the founder members of the traditional Irish music band Altan. Belfast-born Frankie and wife Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, who comes from Enya’s hometown of Gweedore, Co Donegal, formed the band in the early 80s, taking the name from Loch Altan near Gweedore. The couple, who first met when Mairead was only 15, wed in 1981 and two years later turned to Enya to play keyboards on their critically-acclaimed debut album Music From The North.

Enya, who appears on the album credits under her real name of Eithne Ni Bhraonain, had just left Clannad, the band she played in with her brothers, sisters and uncles. Shortly after her stint with Altan, Enya left Gweedore for Dublin on the first steps of a dazzling international career that has brought her a pounds 41 million fortune, with album sales of around 44 million.

Altan went onto win countless awards and record four more traditional music albums before flute player Frankie, who grew up in Belfast’s Andersonstown area, was diagnosed with bone cancer. He eventually died in Belfast in September 1994 after a two-year battle against the disease and was buried at Derrybeg in Gweedore, a short distance from Enya’s childhood home.

A friend said: “Enya looks back very fondly on those early days. Like everybody who knew Frankie, she found his death terribly sad. “He and Mairead had been more or less childhood sweethearts. They did everywhere together and were deeply in love to the day that Frankie died. “Enya has never forgotten Frankie’s courage. He even went on tour with Altan in the United States when he was fighting the cancer. “The theme of this new movie would have undoubtedly struck a chord with Enya.”

Altan singer Mairead, who married again two years ago to fellow band member Dermot Byrne, said Frankie’s death had been almost impossible to bear. Speaking about his illness, she said: “If you’d told me what was in store five years before, I think I would have jumped into the Liffey. “But you have to keep going. I feel I’ve made the most of it and I’ve been luckier than most people who’ve gone through the same thing.” Mairead said her love for Frankie went on, even though he was gone. “I think love is a never-ending thing and I realise that now – because I went through what I did. “The body is gone, the physical person is gone but the love remains,” she said.

Enya’s Only Time is taken from her album A Day Without Rain, which jumped straight into the Irish charts at No 7.

The friend added: “The song is very much about the unknowns that we all face in life, whether it is uncertainty in a love affair or the sort of uncertainty the illness brings. “It is perfect for the movie which deals with many of the same issues.”

The movie, directed by Irish-born Pat O’Connor, whose previous credits include the movie version of Maeve Binchy’s novel, Circle of Friends, is due to open in the US next month and should be seen in Ireland later this year.

Sunday Mirror (London, England) | Jan 21, 2001