Gerry Kelly Senior Counsel, 1942 – 2014 – A memoir

Gerry KellyHe would run. Every Sunday morning. He would run.  In the Wicklow hills. He ran in the frosty mornings of the winter and the warmth of the summer dawns, he ran.  With his friends Somers and occasionally with O’Brien, he ran.  Into his 50’s and into his 60’s he ran, and because it was Gerry there would have been laughter and gossip and joy in the running and he ran and laughed and gossiped until the day that he stumbled and fell, like a great Irish oak,  he fell.   And we visited him in St. James’s, fearing the very worst.  And it was a close run thing. But all that endurance and energy and determination and persistence of the running was now turned to his  recovery.  It took a long tortured difficult time and a lot of love and care from his dear dear Rose,  But he came back to his strength.  Wounded now, his left arm paralysed and his left side, still with some strength, but reduced. Walking with a limp, dragging his left leg, moving slowly.  But he was back. And if anything he was talking and gossiping and telling stories even more than before.   And back to the law.  Nothing ever gave him greater pleasure; greater satisfaction than being able to return to the law, to the wars of words that he so loved and had so desperately missed. To the life of the library. And he became a familiar figure in the library.  In his red braces and his battered hat, he wore a scarf now for he could no longer fasten a tie.

In the early hours of the morning he and I would meet to review the papers of our briefs, read the cases, draft the letters,  talk of tactics.  Often we would be the only souls in the library, working quietly at his desk.  Occasionally, even frequently we would be joined by those other dawn risers who haunt the early hours of the library, Constance Cassidy and Eddie Walsh.  Eddie would jest with him, tease him a little about his Labour Party work, asking when he was going to be appointed to the Supreme Court.  It was done with affection.

Often we would take our papers downstairs to breakfast and Gerry, as we descended the stairs would hold on to the banister, awkwardly, with his right hand crossed across his body, a step at a time, carefully, slowly and each time would say to me the same thing.  “John, you have to phone the attorney general and get her to put a banister on the other side, john, when are you going to phone her john”   And I would tell him that banisters were the responsibility of the Taoiseach’s office, not the attorney generals.

“We’ll have to get the Troika involved John, I need a banister on the wall, will you phone the Troika John?

And there was another routine he always followed, as we entered the restaurant, always the first customers of the day.  He would say to me in a loud aside, “We are not staying John unless that Jean is there, Jean will look after us John and if she’s not here we’ll go upstairs, do you hear me John”

And of course Jean was there. She always was, with a great beaming smile and she loved to hear him and he was a treasure to the staff, they treated him with great affection for he knew everyone did Gerry.  Had the first names of all the staff in the restaurants and in the library.  He would know a bit about their families and never failed to ask of them.  Share his stories with them.  I used to tell him he should have been a politician.  But Gerry didn’t get to know people for their votes.  It was because he was Gerry.  It was the way he was.   It was one of the library staff, Paul, who when he heard that Gerry had passed away placed a rose upon his desk.

He was famous for his stories was Gerry.  Tall stories. And it was sometime difficult to shut him up.  I recall walking across the yard with him once.  His great friend Raj was with us and we bumped into Judge Peter Kelly.  Gerry proceeded to tell Judge Kelly that Raj was directly descended from Mahatma Gandhi.    That would have been a bit of surprise to Gandhi and was an even bigger surprise to Raj.  But for a brief moment Peter Kelly believed it, until he remembered it was Gerry Kelly that he was talking to..

I breakfasted with him on the morning he died.   I thought he looked a bit grey that morning, but he was in good enough form.   The day before we had both attended the bar remembrance ceremony, for the Great War.   Gerry had read a poem at the ceremony, in Irish for he had the Irish did Gerry and loved to use it   ibpairceanna Flondris,  In Flanders fields, seideann na poipini leo, the poppiels blow, idir na crosa ro ar ro, Between the crosses, row on row, is air duinn thas ar eitleog ghroi, that mark our place, and in the sky, Canann fuisega fós le bri, The larks,still bravely singing, fly, Nach gCluintear I measc gunnai’s gleo, Scare heard amid the guns below

After the ceremony he had asked to take my arm for support and said he had been standing too long and wasn’t feeling too good.  And of course I had not thought, nor had anyone, to get a chair for Gerry.  He was feeling the strain a bit, but we still went down stairs, Gerry still making his ironic complaints about the missing banister.  We took the priests who had led the ceremony to lunch in the small snug next to the bar.  We probably gossiped a bit too much and drank a bit too much and stayed a bit too long but Gerry loved the stories and the laughter of such occasions and they made life a little lighter, worth living for.

At that final breakfast he was persuading a young devil Cadimhe Ruigror, that she should be sure to come to the law library Christmas carol service,  as he did himself, every year with his dear wife Rose and his daughters Aoife  and Aisling, and with Raj and other friends..  He loved the social side of the bar, loved its traditions and enjoyed nothing better than introducing his friends, over mulled wine and mince pies, to the place of which he was so proud to be a member.    And he had found a new restaurant, for Gerry was forever discovering Dublin pubs and restaurants.  He wanted me to go and dine with him.  There was an amazing chef there, a lady said Gerry, and she makes the most incredible puddings.  Anne Kavanagh she was, and they were already, Anne and Gerry, on first name terms and affectionate friends.   “You must come with me John, try some of Anne’s puddings, we must go up to Glasnevin John, to the Gravediggers, you must come and dine with me in the Gravediggers John”

Ah,  I will Gerry, I will.

I got home that evening about six and put my phone on to charge.  It was a couple of hours later that I checked it.  There were four missed calls, two from Peter Somers and two from Bernard McCabe, both close friends of Gerry.   I sensed something was wrong.  I knew.  I just knew it was about Gerry.  I did not dare to call them back nor listen to their messages.  I just knew something terrible had happened.   I sat before the turf fire looking at the missed calls and knowing it was bad news and not sure that I wanted to hear it.    The phone rang. It was Gerry’s daughter Aoife phoning around his friends with the awful news that he had passed away that afternoon.  She was using Gerry’s  mobile and  contact list and so my own screen, on receiving the incoming call  had lit up with the photograph of Gerry, as it would every time he rang.  A  bright, vibrant,  full of colour image, the photograph used in this tribute, a photograph I had taken in the barrister’s tea rooms only a few months earlier.  And I looked at the screen and I looked at Gerry, but I knew it would not be him.  I knew.

And of course it wasn’t.

-May he rest in peace-

                                                                                                                  January 2015


8 thoughts on “Gerry Kelly Senior Counsel, 1942 – 2014 – A memoir

  1. A beautiful tribute John to a man who always had time for everyone (and of course a laugh).
    Karen O’Connor

  2. Thanks for sharing this with us John. So accurate in your details a real legend in his own way Rip Gerry

  3. Ah,such a true true picture of Gerry.A great character gone to a better place.May he rest in peace.Anne Kelly.

  4. Nice piece ,Gerry was a real Dublin character and full of Great stories and yarns . And he did love the bar ,took him a while to get there ,but he knew it was the place for him .Had many good and fun times with him . May he rest in piece . Martin Carroll

  5. Whereas I paint my thoughts and feelings with a brush to canvas, you paint words to form masterpieces John. Gerry’s love of life is something to which we should all aspire.
    Your friend Rob

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