Had strong Roscommon links
Peter Kelly was well into his sixth decade by the time he became a member of our national parliament, but that relatively late Dáil entry is almost irrelevant when reflecting on the life and times of the charismatic Longford man.
Albert Reynolds was the dominant political presence in Longford and the Midlands for over two decades or so. When Albert retired, it was publican and councillor Peter Kelly who emerged as the former Taoiseach’s successor as an FF constituency TD in Longford. He had earned that role…but long before succeeding Albert, Peter Kelly was already a force of nature at the heart of public life in Longford.
He didn’t really need that relatively late Dáil career to add further status to his life’s work; he had long been a major presence at the heart of community life in Longford. Many others have made it to the Dáil without ever coming close to having the impact within their own community that Peter Kelly did. That said, he was an effective two-term TD, probably more old-style than modern, assiduously calling on his years’ of experience to deliver for the people of the county and region he loved.
He was a county councillor, publican, undertaker, community activist and, let it be said from the outset, a mighty character who was a living embodiment of what it is to be a raconteur. He will rightly be remembered as a man of great humour who could entertain in company large or small, though his infectiously positive approach to life should in no way detract from his political acumen. Ultimately, he was a tremendous people’s person. A proud family man, he was married to a Co. Roscommon woman – Maura Hester from Castlerea.
Peter Kelly had been one of a number of key backroom men who helped mastermind Albert Reynolds’ rise from Longford County Councillor to the office of An Taoiseach over an 18-year period (1974 to ’92), which, looking back, was the golden era of the ‘country & western’ politics that was so often frowned upon in Dublin (perhaps specifically in Kinsealy!). It was, in the eyes of most observers, fitting that it was Kelly who emerged as the Fianna Fáil frontrunner when Albert called it a day. In 2002, Peter Kelly was elected in Longford/Roscommon constituency. He secured a second Dáil term in 2007 (this time in the more familiar Longford/Westmeath constituency).
Had he never made it in national politics (where he served until 2011), he would still have been celebrated as a Longford Chieftain. I first met him in 1992, when I became Editor of the Longford NEWS. I can honestly say that it was impossible not to like Peter Kelly. He had a wonderful, engaging personality. Socially, he was just terrific. He was pricelessly funny, a brilliant raconteur. Indeed, as I soon discovered, he was the life and soul of the party (and I’m not talking about the FF party). To see Peter Kelly in full flow at a function…doing his party pieces (including an Elvis impersonation) on stage, was quite an experience.
I describe him as a Chieftain because he really was a very big personality in Longford, a community leader who seemed to know everybody. Kelly’s pub, in the centre of Main Street, did a roaring trade over the decades, back when pubs were really thriving. Peter was also a well-known undertaker and community activist, being involved in voluntary groups, charities and sporting organisations. He was everywhere, and he had a word and a smile for everyone.
I last saw him at my father’s funeral in Rooskey in November. After he’d paid his respects, he stayed for ages in an adjoining room, chatting to people. I can only imagine the easy, good-humoured flow of the conversation. I wish now that I’d had more time to talk to him that day. My sincere sympathies to his wife Maura – to whom he was so devoted – and to his daughter, sons and extended family.
Peter Kelly – family man, politician, proud and passionate Longford man, raconteur – died after a short illness on January 2nd, aged 74. Quite the one-off, he was beyond politics: he was a proud, passionate and charismatic Longford man, and when we think of him in the future, we will instinctively smile.