Monday 23 April 2018

James Kelly

This gentleman of the press was a true friend to all who knew him, writes Dominic Cunningham

HE has filed his final copy. His last byline has been attached. And James Kelly, one of the truly dominant figures in Irish journalism for the last 80-odd years, has gone to his eternal reward.

Jimmy, as he was affectionately known, has been described as the doyen of the media industry, the father of Irish journalism. But he was much, much more -- he was a close and very dear friend.

Tomorrow, exactly three months after his 100th birthday, Jimmy will be laid to rest in Belfast's Milltown Cemetery, bringing to an end the incredible career of a newspaperman who was respected and revered across Ireland.

With his trademark shock of white hair, disarming smile and wonderful sense of humour, he found it easy to make friends and win confidence.

Jimmy's distinguished career began and ended with the Irish News. He started at the age of 17, writing snippets for the Random Jottings column in the Belfast morning newspaper and ended on his 100th birthday, with his final submission on May 15 this year.

But it will be his long association -- nearly 50 years -- at the Belfast offices of Independent Newspapers and particularly his widely read Sunday Independent column for which he will probably be best remembered.

He revelled in telling how he claimed responsibility for the historic 1965 meeting at Stormont between the then Taoiseach Sean Lemass and the Northern Ireland prime minister Terence O'Neill.

These were the days long before the invention of the digital camera or Photoshop but the late Brendan McCann, the Indo's legendary Northern photographer, managed to mock up a picture, apparently showing Lemass and O'Neill shaking hands.

The photo appeared alongside Jimmy's Sunday column advocating that such a meeting was long overdue -- and ,just a few weeks later, the talks actually did take place.

Jimmy's was a prolific pen, which recorded and analysed practically all of the major events of the last century in Northern Ireland. He was at Stormont when the Northern Ireland government was suspended in favour of direct rule by the British in 1972, and attended the launch of the DUP/Sinn Fein-dominated power-sharing executive.

A true gentleman of the press, Jimmy was predeceased by his beloved wife Eileen in 2004 and is survived by his three daughters, Patricia, Grainne and Eileen. To them, and the extended family, sympathy is extended.

Many glowing tributes have rightly been paid to Jimmy Kelly by the great and the good. But those of us humble hacks who were fortunate enough to be his friends mourn him, and we will miss him. May he rest in peace.

Sunday Independent

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