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Thursday 22 February 2018

'Doyen of journalism' and chronicler of the North dies aged 100

James Kelly followed 'the tapestry of turmoil' across
the island
James Kelly followed 'the tapestry of turmoil' across the island
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

ONE of the country's most respected journalists, James Kelly, has died.

Mr Kelly, who filed his last column to the 'Irish News' just three months ago aged 100, died at his home in Malone, near Belfast, on Wednesday night, surrounded by his family.

The former northern political editor of the Irish Independent, Mr Kelly covered the most significant moments in the history of the North, from the Belfast blitz to the Good Friday Agreement. He once described his career as "following the tapestry of turmoil" across the island, having witnessed riots, the rise of the civil rights movement, the Troubles and the eventual power-sharing agreement at Stormont.

The son of a Kilkenny RIC officer, he was born on the Falls Road in 1911 and started work as a reporter at the 'Irish News' aged 17.

He joined the 'Irish Press' in 1931 and, after that, the Irish Independent, where he remained for close to 50 years.

Close friend and political historian Dr Eamon Phoenix said last night that Mr Kelly would be remembered as the "doyen of Irish journalism".

"He always said he followed the tapestry of turmoil on this island," he said, adding that one of Mr Kelly's first memories was being in Dublin just after the 1916 Rising.

"He had tremendous recall and could see the scenes of history working themselves out."

Mr Kelly married Eileen Shanahan from Co Meath in 1944. She died in 2004 aged 90. They had three daughters -- Grainne, with whom he lived with in Belfast, Eileen and Pat.

Billy Foley, news editor with the 'Irish News', said Mr Kelly remained a popular columnist until the end. "He did his column on an old typewriter and it was taxied down to us," he said.

Independent News & Media Ireland managing editor Michael Denieffe said Mr Kelly was the "lynchpin" of the Irish Independent's coverage of northern affairs for close to 50 years.

"Memories of Jimmy Kelly resonate with iconic images of the history of Northern Ireland and the way that this wonderful journalist chronicled them," he said.

Political analyst and friend Maurice Hayes said Mr Kelly was the most wonderful man and a great journalist. "He knew the North like no other. He covered the opening of Stormont and the closing of it . . . he saw them all come and go and had a fair judgment to make on all of them. He was a very good friend and I'll miss him enormously."

Irish Independent

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