Local activist led the fight for rural dwellers

John Kelly leaves behind a large footprint on community life

Stephen Fernane

'A community man to core' is how John Kelly from Coolcashlagh, Spa, was described by his many friends this week as they come to terms with the death of a much loved activist in his community and beyond.

John (82) devoted his life to several associations, all of which left a permanent mark on the people and places he held close to his heart. John passed away suddenly last weekend after being admitted to hospital on Friday.

Just days before that he was at a meeting at his beloved Spa GAA club discussing the club's strategy ahead of a new season. "The word 'active' is one that comes immediately mind when you mention John's name. He was relentless in everything he did throughout his life," said former Spa GAA Chairman, Gerard Mangan.

John Kelly was a GAA man to his roots and he won the O'Donoghue Cup with Spa in 1966, which was the first time the club won the famous competition. A driving force behind the East Kerry Board, John served as Chairman, PRO and President of the regional team, and it was East Kerry's three-in-a-row of 1997 to 1999 that gave him the most pleasure. He was also a masseuse with the Kerry senior football team for a number of years.

Mahony's Point was another of John's favourite places in the world; a place where he always wore a broad smile at the annual Killarney Regatta as he loved rowing and did his utmost to uphold the tradition and legacy of rowing in the area, being an active member of the famous Workman's Club.

John's infectious approach to life also lit up the pitch and putt course at the Deerpark Club in Killarney where he regularly demonstrated his passion for the sport. It's said that John's first priority every day was to get his round of pitch and putt out of the way prior to tackling the day's schedule.

An enthusiastic and energetic farmer, the everyday trials and tribulations associated with rural life was another of John's lifelong commitments. He was a member of An Taisce and was actively involved in the Rural Dwellers' Association, sending in regular submissions to The Kerryman over the years. 

John had worked as a nurse at St Finian's Hospital and devoted over three decades of his life to the health service in the community. He served as PRO of the Retired Nurses' Association and transcended the organisation when broadening its scope and appeal to incorporate psychiatric and general nurses.

"He was a great guide to us as student nurses and John leaves a huge footprint on everything he was involved in. He was a very affable and approachable man and I loved our coffee mornings together," said Owen O'Shea, former nursing colleague of John's.

"You would always come away feeling better after speaking to John. I said to a man after news of his death broke, 'did you know John Kelly?' and he just said, 'everyone knew John,' which I think sums it up perfectly. It would be fair to say he was one of the best men the East Kerry region ever had," Owen added.

John also loved the written word and was the cornerstone of many's a local publication, which he believed was part and parcel of the important process of helping to preserve the local history and culture of an area; a belief which can be found today between the pages of such topics as the Killarney Regatta, his beloved Spa GAA Club, and the O'Donoghue Cup.

John believed strongly in politics as a means of creating the kind of change in society that benefits the individual and their community. This led John, at the age of 53, to contest the 1989 General Election for the Progressive Democrats when he polled 1,458 first preference votes. John is survived by his wife Sheila and their five children.