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Eamon Kelly: A Tribute

Fittingly, the annual Sliabh Rua Cúl Camp will bear the name of the late Eamon Kelly as a tribute to one of Clontead's most loved, adopted sons.

Arriving in 1971, as a fresh-faced teacher from St Patrick's Training College, via a couple of months in Kilgarvan National School, there was no early indication of the influence the Kerry man was to have.

The appointment raised eyebrows among the natives, allegedly disapprovingly, pointing to the man's credentials from the Kingdom. After all, this was hurling country.

Forty years later, on a February afternoon in Croke Park, those doubting Eamon would witness 32 of his former pupils claim an All-Ireland Intermediate Hurling Title against a team from Dicksboro, County Kilkenny.

Over those intervening years, Eamon had dispelled any of those nagging early misgivings; the words commitment, dedication, determination and loyalty rested easily on his shoulders. It was apparent he'd learned those qualities from Ardanaening, a townland just outside Killarney, where he had grown up on a farm, with parents Nora and Johnny and 18 siblings. He was very proud of those Kerry roots, and anyone accompanying Eamon across the county bounds would invariably receive an invitation for 'home'.

Former principal of Dunderrow National School, Michael Creedon, recalled one such occasion. Travelling to an INTO conference in Tralee, as both men served on the local executive of the union, with Eamon as its secretary, the inevitable detour followed.

Michael remembered the hospitality and Eamon's father Johnny's obvious gift as a Seanachaí, his brother and Eamon's namesake, was renowned nationally in the tradition of storytelling. Eamon had also inherited the gift of storytelling, and his regular party piece included The Priest's Umbrella.

The skills of a good communicator were invaluable during his tenure as principal in the old Belgooly National School, following his appointment as its principal in 1974 and later at Belgooly Central School, with the amalgamation of Belgooly NS, Ballymartle NS and Ballingarry NS into a new school in 1979.

Lily Cronin, who joined Eamon in 1974 at the old school in Belgooly and worked with him until her retirement in 2007, said: 'Eamon was a great leader, who brought cohesion to the staff room, creating a happy atmosphere for all.' 'School was his life, and he knew every child by their first name, greeting them every morning on their way to their classrooms.'

During his tenure, the school numbers increased dramatically, requiring additional classrooms. The former chairman of the board of management James O'Mahony reflected on how Eamon worked tirelessly and meticulously, particularly during summer holidays, to ensure grant applications were successful for numerous extensions.

Donal Kelly, who also served as chairman of the school's board of management, described Eamon as very much a team player who always had the students' interests at the heart of his plans.

Indeed, he always followed the fortunes of former pupils' successes, including Liam McCarthy and John D O'Callaghan, who won the Young Scientist in 2009.

While academic success was important to him, Eamon was keenly aware that school life needed a holistic approach. The school calendar was always full of important dates, communions, confirmations, the school sports, Scor na Bpaiste and the Sciath Na Scoil.

Eamon, Michael Creedon, Ger Harrington, Liam Shannon, and John Herlihy introduced the Sciath na Scoil to the Carrigdhoun division. Throughout Eamon's life, the Irish language and the GAA were always close to his heart. A lifelong passion acquired in St Brendan's Secondary School, Killarney, where he had been a boarder. Arriving in Clontead in the 1970s, he established a football team at the Ballymartle GAA Club. He picked up two Junior B football SE league medals in 1980 and 1982 before collecting a SE winner's medal in the Junior B Football Championship in 1983. In 1986, he had been club chairman when Ballymartle defeated Meelin to win the County Junior A Hurling Championship.

Pic EK-The late Eamon Kelly.

Over the years, he gave sterling service to the Sliabh Rua Underage Club, having been a founding member and held numerous officer positions, as well as leading the yearly Cul Camps.

This year’s Cul Camp, named in Eamon’s memory, took place last week, with 150 children participating, and his three sons involved in the coaching.

Eamon would have been immensely proud to see his love of Gaelic games continue. Great credit is due to the Cul Camp committee for their hard work and dedication in organising this year’s camp.

Michael White, current chairman of Sliabh Rua said, 'Eamon’s work and voluntary activities were dedicated to the betterment of the children in our area. It is only right that his contribution to the GAA and National Activities be honoured. He is fondly remembered by all those involved.'

He also served on the Ballymartle pitch committee and published its history in 1984, with the help of Brendan Coleman and John McCarthy.

When he passed away on August 21st, 2019, he was a club committee member and Cork County board representative, while also treasurer with the South East Board.

In addition to his involvement with the GAA in Clontead, Eamon was also keenly associated with several other initiatives in the Parish, including Riverstick/Kinsale Athletic Club, Clontead and Kinsale Community Games, Riverstick Ramblers and the Riverstick Community Association.

The latter developed the Riverstick Community Hall in the late 80s and continues to be a crucial piece of infrastructure for the fabric of the area's community. Eamon had been its outgoing chairman when he passed away.

Despite his evident commitment to his profession and the community, Eamon also pursued several personal interests. He appeared in several plays with Macra na Feirme in the 70s and on stage in the scor competitions. He featured with the Sliabh Rua Drama Group in 1994 in a play entitled Cough Water. However, victory in the All-Ireland Scor Question Time in 1990 must rank as his crowning achievement. It was made up of a team that included Maura Butler and the late Ger Harrington.

The crack question time outfit amassed two Munster titles and one Runners Up All-Ireland Title, before the famous victory in the Gaiety Theatre in 1990, in what became part of the Cork treble of that year. The trio also won a popular round the house’s pub quiz sponsored by Guinness and regularly battled it out with other well-known quiz teams of the time in what was a popular pastime. He also featured on two national TV quiz shows; Know Your Sport and Where in the world.

By the early 90s, Eamon began to turn his attention to golf and became an active member of the Kinsale Club, firstly appointed competition's secretary.

He was elected Captain in 2006 and had the honour of taking the presidency in 2009.

On the course, he claimed the club's annual Ducey Cup, a prestigious in-house competition.

George Cantwell, who, along with Alan O'Driscoll and John Horgan, regularly teed off with Eamon, described him as a man of integrity who was honest and truthful and enjoyed life.

Of course, Eamon's number one interest was his family. He had been married for 40 years to Marian (Nee Desmond) from Ovens, in 2019, with five children, Sinead, John, Clare, Eamon and Denis, in whom he'd taken considerable pride.

The family remarked:'He is fondly remembered daily by us, never far from our thoughts.' He was always on the go, from meeting to match and match to meeting. 'He instilled in us a great work ethic, determination, love of all sport, people and community. 'We are honoured that his memory will live on through this Cul Camp.'

Unfortunately, his time since retiring in 2011 had been relatively short, and he didn't get the opportunity to know a number of adoring grandchildren.

Remarking on his legacy, Cllr Alan Coleman said, 'When Eamonn arrived to Ballymartle school as a very young teacher he immediately involved himself in local activities and throughout his life was centrally involved in every good development in the parish. 'His contribution was immense. 'I believe this came from his understanding of the importance of a sense of place and his genuine interest in people and their wellbeing, which will be remembered in Clontead.'

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