John Kelly, Indefatigable and unbowed Irish Republican [Obituary]

What ever people may think about the late John Kelly, above all else he was an indefatigable and unbowed Irish Republican. Born in Belfast in 1936 his families Republicanism stretched back to the beginning of the 20th century, when his uncle Billy acted as James Connolly’s Election Agent. He was an active Volunteer from his teens, serving 15 years in jails, both north and south of a border he was committed to destroy.

Due to the comparative success of the NICRM the then leadership of the IRA attempted to move the movement away from armed struggle towards a Stalinist form of left politics. When the northern State-let descended into sectarian loyalist violence, after the Stormont Government decided to crush the fledgling Civil Rights movement with political repression, the policeman’s baton and water cannon, Kelly was amongst a number of northern Volunteers who resigned from the IRA and went on to form the Provisional IRA.

Along with others, John Kelly was sent south in an attempt to obtain arms and money for the new organization from the southern Irish government. What ever the truth of this matter, Kelly was later arrested and charged with conspiracy to acquire the weapons, along with leading southern politician’s Charlie Haughey, Neil Blaney and southern Irish Army Intel officer Capt James Kelly,[no relation] a Belgian arms dealer Albert Luykx was also charged. After the first trial collapsed, all of the defendants were eventually cleared in a second trial.

After his acquittal in the Arms Trial John Kelly reported back to the Provisional Republican Movement, receiving another sentence for membership of the PIRA in 1974. He was to eventually settled in Maghera, Co Derry, in 1996 he won a seat for Sinn Féin on Magherafelt District Council. After the signing of the Good Friday Agreement he was also elected as an MLA to the new power sharing Assembly at Stormont, representing the constituency of Mid-Ulster. After a bout of ill health he stood down as an MLA in 2003, although it soon became apparent that John Kelly was not a man to take to a pipe and slippers and in retirement he became further disillusioned with the direction Gerry Adams was taking the PRM in.

He could not understand Mr Adams continued denial of his membership of Óglaigh Na hÉireann. For men and women like John, membership of the IRA was not only a national duty but something to be proud of and to deny membership in the way Mr Adams has, when he had no need to go beyond a “no comment” was to deny ones past deeds and fallen comrades. In a 2004 interview with the Irish News John Kelly said he was “”disappointed and flabbergasted” with the vehemence with which Gerry Adams has rejected persistent allegations that he was once an IRA member.

From that day on Mr Adams acolytes attempted to do their masters bidding by smearing John Kelly, which only reinvigorated the veteran republican, who believing the best form of defense is attack came out fighting. At the time of his standing down as an MLA there was much speculation that he had certain differences with the Adams leadership clique. At the time Kelly refused to speculate but once he found himself under attack he went into some detail. He lifted the lid on just what an undemocratic and top down outfit he believed SF had become under the leadership of Gerry Adams. For this alone many former members of SF who had experienced similar treatment at the hands of the Adams leadership will be eternally grateful to John Kelly, for unlike some he put the truth before mockney reputations that can be created and obliterated at the will of a vainglorious Party leader. John Kelly is survived by his wife Philomena and daughter Bronagh.

*The full text of John Kelly’s interview with the IrIsh News can be read here,



Filed under Ireland/Politics/Republicanism/Óglaigh Na hÉireann/no

10 responses to “John Kelly, Indefatigable and unbowed Irish Republican [Obituary]

  1. redhaze

    Mick have you the funeral details?

  2. WorldbyStorm

    It’s a funny one alright. A very interesting character. Kelly appears to have agreed largely to the peace process and even the GFA, but his animus was with Adams. A revealing dynamic within PSF.

  3. Mick Hall


    I have not replied with details as i noticed you got them on the Slugger site


    I feel your partly correct in that John became very hostile towards Adams in the last years of his life, but I feel this refusal to accept what is staring you in the face was/is partly due to people like John Kelly seeing themselves as soldiers, even when they had long ago ceased being on active service. Thus they thought along need to know lines.

    It is also true that individuals like Kelly, Brendan Hughes and more recently Bernard Fox are honorable people who would no more think of deceiving they fellow comrades then they would swearing allegiance to betsy windsor.

    Thus when the Adamsite behaved in the manner that they have, many of this type genuinely believed there was more than they were being told going on. Operations like the northern Bank only enforced this opinion.[will it not be interesting to find out what lay behind that raid.]

    Im sure this attitude must have also been prevalent amongst sections of the WP, I wonder if this might be why Irish republicanism is such a blunt political instrument, which at certain times enabled a section of its leaderships to be manipulated by perfidious albion.

  4. Renegade Eye

    Quite interesting post in honor of a real fighter.

  5. Gabriel

    Mick thanks for your recent post on Unrepentant Communist…hope you become a regular…Gabriel

  6. WorldbyStorm

    Very interesting analysis there Mick. But does that point to future divisions amongst PSF?

  7. Anonymous


    I was wondering if you heard John Kelly on RFE around the time of the Gerry McGeough challenge at the polls. It may have been his last interview, I don’t know but it was an extremely good articulate and interesting interview. He was sincerely a true republican.

  8. Mick Hall


    I think I heard the interview, John was a very articulate man and he also had a modest personality, which most of us find attractive what ever the individuals politics.

    Best regards.

  9. Mick Hall


    I feel there will be others who will leave SF but I doubt there will be major defections, not least because those who saw their Republicanism in such black and white terms [this is not a criticism] are due to their age coming to the end of there ‘careers’.

    But if one has reached this stage of the road within SF, bar the blighting of ones career what could happen that would make one leave, after the PSNI issue and countless others.

    It is also true that the media only make a fuss about people leaving SF if they are an elected official, for example when not that long ago an army council member resigned it hardly created a ripple in the media, despite the senior position he held in the PRM. There have been other full timers in both organizations that make up the PRM to go, but again not much was heard about it.

    Not least because some of these people have no wish to give their old organization a kicking on their way out the door as they feel it will serve little purpose.

  10. WorldbyStorm

    hmmm. that analysis suggests that it will retain its core pretty much as it stands then. I wonder too if the opportunity even to exercise the limited powers of the GFA institutions will also support its cohesiveness. That’s of course the big problem for the SDLP, let alone dissident Republicans. After all, this is the first generation ever of Nationalists and Republicans to gain a share of power in the North. Pretty tempting stuff I’d imagine.

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