Farewell to Fr Larry, an impressive man
Kilcummin is six kilometres from Killarney. It's considered more east Kerry than south Kerry. There are no tourist buses to be seen going through Kilcummin. Last Wednesday it was a busy spot as mourners turned up for the funeral Mass of diocesan priest Fr Larry Kelly.
The modern-style church is in the centre of the village. I knew Fr Larry Kelly, more on that anon, so I was attending the funeral and arrived 25 minutes before Mass began. Across the road from the church, probably in the most strategic spot available, was parked a large black vehicle and blazoned across the side of it was Healy-Rae. Naturally I laughed. They don't miss a trick. When I came out of the church after Mass there was no sign of the Healy-Rae vehicle.
It was probably sometime in 2003 when I first met Michael Healy-Rae. I was visiting my elderly father in Tralee General Hospital. Walking along a hospital corridor Michael Healy-Rae came up to me and said hello. It was Friday, I was tired and looking forward to getting home. So I turned to him and said: 'Why are you saying hello to me as you don't know who I am, It's just a political stunt."' Immediately he replied: 'Commane, you're as nasty in reality as you are in the paper.' I found myself stuck to the floor of the hospital corridor. We got chatting. He told me why he was in the hospital. And I told him I had been with my elderly father. If I remember correctly he visited my father the next day. Michael Healy-Rae's number is in my phone and from time to time we have a chat.
The day that I saw the Healy-Rae wagon was the same day that his brother, Danny Healy-Rae TD, was on radio answering criticisms to his attendance at funerals of 'strangers'. It brought a smile to my face. But the Healy-Raes would have known Fr Larry Kelly as he was parish priest in Kilgarvan, the epi-centre of the Healy Rae-kingdom. Before going to Kilgarvan Larry had been parish priest in Castlegregory, in other words he was my parish priest.
When I went to work in 'The Kerryman' newspaper in 1998 I went back to live in the old home in Castlegregory. Back then Fr Larry was in his late 60s. Though we may have had different opinions on many subjects we became good friends. He could well have criticised me for doing what many may have seen 'unusual' work for a priest. But that's not the way Larry worked or thought.
There was never any 'double-speak' from Larry. You knew what he said he meant. There was not a scintilla of 'sleeveenery' about the man. Larry was no career priest and never an apparatchik. He grew his own potatoes and vegetables. Those spuds were special and always my first real taste of summer. In his late 60s he painted the outside of the church. He lived a simple frugal life, never drinking alcohol. An impressive man. He had a great sense of humour, quirky and probably slightly eccentric. Maybe that's why we hit it off so well? His nephew, MEP Sean Kelly put it down to 'athnaíonn ciaróg ciaróg eile.'
Larry was a special person. In many ways an 'old-style' Irish priest. In other ways not at all. He was an avid GAA follower, who enjoyed being in Croke Park when Kerry were in the final.
I'm going to miss him. I knew he liked me and I treasured that. He was a kind man. May he rest in peace.