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Rostrevor Produced Giants In Music, Sport And Craic


ROSTREVOR can boast of having possessed giants in many fields, - a saint, president, statesman, clann chief, general, patriot (John Martin), as well as top sportsmen, musicians, politicians, clergy, lawyers and entrepreneurs.

Indeed, the parish of Kilbroney not only produced “Ireland’s greatest living person," Dr Ken Whitaker, but also the world’s tallest man, Paddy Murphy, who was over eight feet in height. A granite Celtic cross was erected over his grave in Kilbroney cemetery.

Music, song and dance have played a prominent role in the Rostrevor area for many generations, a tradition perpetuated by the famous Sands family. But another popular local combination has been the Kelly’s, - a mother, daughter and three sons, - who have entertained at home and nationwide for many years.

Incidentally, a niece, Siobhan O Dubhain or Kathleen O’ Farrell, is not only a noted author, but also an accomplished musician. In fact, her choir had the signal honour of providing the climax at the annual “Late, Late Toy Show” on RTE Television recently.

Rostrevor’s only poet, Alice Kelly, also developed an interest in music at the age of 10, when presented with an accordion by her mother, Mamie Farrell, who could play the melodeon and the tin-whistle. Indeed, their home on the Kilbroney Road was a real ceili-house, where local characters would gather to swap yarns. The fiddle and accordion would come out, and the lilting would waft over the countryside.

The late Willie John Farrell, along with his brothers, Patsy and Tommy Farrell, started work for a road contractor. Willie John then started his own business, making cement blocks, later becoming very successful in public works contracts, being joined by his brothers.

After attending the local Convent Primary School and Our Lady’s Grammar School, - where a teacher, Miss Garland, encouraged her interest in writing poetry, - Alice studied commerce at the Russell Academy at Margaret Square in Newry. She was then appointed secretary to the manager of the Alexander Hotel in Warrenpoint.

Meanwhile, Alice Farrell was playing with the Johnney Doyle Ceili Band, with Billy McKinley as drummer. Venues included the former I.N.F. Hall in Rostrevor, - later known as Harmony Hall, - as well as the old St Colman’s Hall in Newry.

She married Dessie Kelly, who was employed by Pat Heenan’s grocery firm from Hilltown. He then spent almost 30 years on the staff of Quinn’s the Milestone (now Dunne’s Stores) on Hill Street, Newry. A long-time member of the Irish National Foresters, Dessie is a Trustee of the Rostrevor Fr Matthew Branch, of which his three sons, Patrick, Sean and Patrick are also members.

Patrick is on the staff of the Roads Service; Sean is manager of Mourne Office supplies; while Patrick is manager of Romal Community Development. Bronagh has worked with disabled people since she left school, while Catherine has Down Syndrome.

Indeed, Bronagh was presented with the “Young Person of the Year” award by ex-International goalkeeper, Pat Jennings; and also received the prize of “Young Citizen of the Year” from popular folk-singer, Paul Brady.

The Kelly Family Folk Group have entertained for about 20 years at venues from Dublin to Donegal, as well as pubs, clubs and halls all over the Newry and Mourne district. And a host of meals and trophies, which adorn the living-room of the Kelly homestead at the Square in Rostrevor, testify to their individual and group success at talent contests, feiseanna and other competitions.

For some time, the group has played at Sunday Masses in the local Star of the Sea Church, where Alice Kelly has been organist, while Bronagh has conducted the youth choir. More recently, the group has been performing at the Old Chapel in Hilltown, where Bronagh (Mrs McElroy) resides.

As a teenager, Alice began to write poems, but they remained unfinished, snippets scattered all over the house. Then the family began to encourage her to complete them and contact a publisher. In 1992, she sent one of her compositions to the “Poetry Now,” and it was accepted, with an invitation to contribute some more.

Buoyed up by this success, she set to work completing the various pieces of poetry, resulting in the publication of her first book of 50 poems entitled, “The Wee Half-door” in 1996. This was received with great acclaim, one critic referring to Alice’s “great insight and zest for life.”

And last year came a combination of 50 poems and “stories about country life in the Mournes,” with the title of “Granny’s Pot of Gold,” depicting a way of life that is no longer with us. Among the themes are “The Fair Day in Rostrevor Square,” “Father got a wireless,” “Jimmy’s new wife,” “A young mother’s tears,” and “the best Christmases of all.”

But one poem, entitled “Mary’s needs,” has the delightful simplicity of Padraig Colum’s “Oh! To have a little house.” It begins: “Mary’s need they were but few, - chairs, she only had the two. A fold-up table that stood tall, when not in use against the wall; a mattress in the corner lay, where Mary slept, - `twas just her way. What an agreeable Christmas present this charming book would make, - it is available at Eason’s, etc.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008