Harry Kelly – A tribute
An Charraig Mhór GFC would like to pass on our deepest sympathy to the family of club stalwart Harry Kelly following his death on Saturday. Despite his advanced years the news still came as a shock as his name has been synonymous with the club since 1947 when he first pulled on the jersey to represent his club.
Amongst the pages of ‘The Carrickmore Tradition’ we read of ‘New Players 1947’. It is here that the story of Harry begins.
John Donnelly, Aughiogan: Mick Fox, Creggan : Pat Gormley, Tursallagh: Mickey Quinn, Village: Tommy Chambers, Tremogue: Mickey Grogan, Altinagh: Seamus Grogan, Tremogue: Paddy Loughran, Village: James Kerr, Innishatieve: Mickey Mc Kernan, Drumlester: Packie Mc Kernan, Drumlester: Frank Donnelly, Aughiogan and Harry Kelly, Innishatieve.
This list, we will all agree, contains the names of many notable servants of the club. Each of these men went on to write their own chapters in the history of Carrickmore St Colmcille’s. However, one of these names was to write his own particularly enduring chapter that brought his association with the club from the 1940’s into the new millennium. That man was Harry Kelly.
In his youth Harry stated that he ‘was at a disadvantage as there was little football played at Sluggan School or in Innishatieve when he was growing up. Despite this Harry went on to make the midfield position his own for over a decade. His impact was such that he along with Peter Mc Callan and Peter Hughes were the first men to bring Senior Championship medals back to Innishatieve in 1949. Harry and his two comrades were to establish a tradition in that townland that would reap great rewards for the club.
Harry often spoke of the men of ‘40 and ’43 and was inspired by them to make his own mark in club history. His crowning achievement would come in 1949 when Carrickmore defeated Derrytresk to capture the Senior Championship title and bring the O’Neill Cup back to Quinn’s Corner after a six year absence. This was the club’s third title and was one in which Harry played a key role in the centre of the park alongside his future brother in law, Jack Kettle. Future family ties were also up front in the form of Mickey Quinn. The memory of Harry’s display that day in Pomeroy was long lasting. Players on the 1999 Senior Championship winning team may recall fellow ‘49 player, Mickey Harte, speaking at the post final celebrations which also marked the 50th anniversary of the ‘49 win. Mickey spoke from the heart about the ‘unsung hero of ’49, Harry Kelly’. He went on, ‘the image of big Harry Kelly is etched in my mind. I can see him still fielding balls in the middle and spraying passes out wide into the forwards’.
This was to be Harry’s only Senior championship but that in no way demeans a career that was to last another eight years at the top level in Tyrone. The 50’s was to become a barren decade in terms of O’Neill Cups but nonetheless was to produce some of the best teams ever to play for our club. Harry played his part in securing the St Enda cup and West Tyrone League in 1952. The following year it was to take three games to decide the Senior Championship quarter final against Clonoe. An epic of these proportions had never been witnessed in the county and was not seen again for another 43 years. In 1955 Harry won another West Tyrone League medal with the Ulster Herald reporting Harry as’ outstanding on the day’. He would replicate this league win in 1956 no doubt showing the same qualities.1957 was to see Carrickmore defeated in the championship at Dunmoyle by Omagh, one of the giants of the 50’s. This was to be Harry’s last game but was just the end of his first decade of club involvement. His life in the club was only in its infancy. The next year 1958 he had assumed the role of what we now call a manager and along with Jim ‘Duff’ guided the team to the ’58 final only to see a young team fall to the all-conquering Clonoe O’Rahillys.
The arrival of the 60’s we would restore our championship tradition with three wins in the decade. Not surprisingly Harry was at the core of it all as a mentor for many of those seasons notably for the O’Neill Cup winning years of 1966 and 1969. He is pictured proudly in the back row just as he was as a player. The names of the ‘66 mentors Harry Kelly, Mickey Harte and Jimmy ‘Hughie’ Mc Callan echo through the ages and are joined by those of John Fox and Frank ‘Arthur’ Mc Nally for the ’69 victory.
As time passed Harry would become the go to man at Pairc Colmcille, having helped guide our transition from ‘James Grogan’s Field’ to the ‘big meadow’ at the foot of the rock. There his club involvement would remain until the early years of the new millennium. He witnessed not only the cutting of the sod at Pairc Colmcille in 1971 but its development to what we can see now. Speaking to Harry on many occasions he said that no one could have envisaged the extent of the development in such a relatively short period of time. He was keen to divert attention from himself and praised the dedication of the committees down through the years.
By 1980 he would hand the mantle of player over to his son Damien who would proudly carry the family name into the 1981 Senior Championship final. The threads of history would once more interconnect with Damien lining out at midfield just as his father had done so many times. O’Neill Cup honours would elude Damien, but he was one of a very important group of players who kept our Division 1 status alive when the wolves were at the door. His career ran until 1992 when he and others had guided us safely to the sanctuary of the 90’s. Daughter, Ursula would represent the club on the camogie field and Scór, and has no doubt displayed the same qualities of commitment and dedication that she has shown in recent years as her fathers’ carer.
Harry was always a player at heart and thought like one until the end. Over the years he was a father figure to generations of players and the jobs he carried out reflected that. As groundsman he cut the grass for many years until he handed the reins over to the late Jimmy Mc Elhatton. For many years it was a chore with gang mowers until 1987 when he became the driver of our first ‘sit on mower’. Then there was the cleaning of the changing rooms, showers, lining of the field, placing of the pitch-side flags, raising and lowering of the national flag, litter lifting … .the list was endless. Jerseys would be washed, dried and folded by Harry for all the teams. After training, players from the 1970’s through to the late 1990’s would enjoy a cup of tea and a biscuit made by Harry. Visiting teams and managers would get to know Harry and like us, all queries once the river was crossed would begin with ‘ask Harry’.
His support of the players was staunch even in the worst of times and he was always quick to defend when it was easier to attack. In return the players of Carrickmore had the greatest level of respect for him. When the cup was brought back to the corner, respective captains were quick to point out the role played by Harry in the winning of that year’s championship. Passers-by or those living close to Pairc Colmcille could equally see Harry’s car ‘at the field’ at 8 o’clock in the morning or eleven o’clock at night. He was a constant source of wisdom and guidance and conversations with him educated many of us. All of this was done with his customary humility.
Of course, his level of commitment would not have been possible without the support of his wife Pauline, who afforded him the time and space to pursue his love of the club. We must also not forget that Harry stayed the course despite repeated personal tragedy that would have diverted all but men of his calibre. The passing of Damien in infancy ( 1958 ), the tragedy of Damiens’s twin sister Evelyn’s death (1973) and the untimely death of Paula through illness (1978) were crosses that he bore with dignity. Even the loss of his dear wife Pauline in 1999 did not alter the path of his club loyalty.
In 2000 the club built the extension to the ‘new stand’ which encompassed ladies changing rooms and the committee room upstairs. There to officiate was Sean Mc Cague, President of the GAA. Part of the official business saw him also unveil the An Fíor Gael monument. On that day Harry was presented with a specially commissioned miniature version of the monument as a token of appreciation for his lifetime of dedication. It’s hard to believe that 23 years have slipped by since then. However, those who attended Harry’s wake will have noticed that the special memento was positioned beside his remains along with the club jersey and his President’s Medal. An Fíor Gael translates as ‘the true Gael’. It could hardly be more appropriate.
In his 80’s when he felt it was time to leave the committee he rebuffed calls for him to remain involved by saying ‘to do what ?’. Just as he knew when to be there, he knew when to leave. His connection remained , however, and he was a regular attender at the ‘2 o,clock club’ until relatively recently where he and a long list of other club faithful would share their own diverse opinions on club matters.
Harry’s death will be felt by all associated with the club but most deeply by his immediate family. In our prayers we keep Imelda, Damian, Ursula and the late Evelyn, baby Damian and Paula. We also keep in our thoughts his sister -in -law Kitty Kelly and the entire Kelly family circle many of whom shared their club journeys with Harry. It is perhaps fitting that in the year of his death, our first Club President, Harry (2000), lived to see his nephew Lawrence become our most recent President. It was a fact of which he was most proud, as was witnessed by those who watched his video message to Lawrence on the night of the 2023 presentation.
The simple truth is that Harry Kelly did it all for An Charraig Mhór GFC. He was a player, supporter, manager, groundsman, caretaker, committee member, Club Officer (Treasurer 58-60), Club Trustee at the time of his death and Club President.
Harry Kelly, the last of the ’49 men. We will never see his likes again.
Gavan Mc Elroy
On Behalf of
An Charraig Mhór GFC