By Mark Thompson
“Well Ciaran good to see you chara.”
“Mark just to let you know Niecie Kelly is critical ill and we’re preparing for the worst chara.”
Those were the words that greeted me as I arrived in Maghera last Friday week as we prepared to remember Fergal McCusker murdered by the LVF 20 years ago.
Ciaran Molloy, a Gael and friend from Maghera was instrumental, alongside the McCusker family, in organizing a series of remembrance events for Fergal, his close friend and GAA teammate in Glen (Watty Graham’s) GAC.
Sadly Niecie Kelly died on Saturday night at approximately 7pm.
I first met Niecie Kelly in the late 1990’s some years after his son Jimmy was killed alongside three work colleagues by the UDA/UFF in Castlerock, Co. Derry in March 1993. Miraculously, and thankfully, two people survived the attack as the two gunmen sprayed their work van with automatic rifles.
Like the killing of Fergal, and scores of killings of nationalists and republicans from villages and hamlets that straddle the county borders of east Tyrone, south Derry and north Antrim, the killings in Castlerock were characterized with the hallmark of collusion.
Niecie was a valued member of Relatives for Justice attending many campaign meetings down the years and participating in activities in our south Derry outreach centre at Gulladuff, and our east Tyrone office in Dungannon. He had such a lovely way that all our staff and volunteers loved him.
In February 1988 Niecie’s 15 year-old son Michael was bludgeoned to death with a pickaxe having stumbled upon a criminal gang as he played around a derelict shop in Maghera they were burgling. Initially reported as missing, his body lay for days before being discovered. Ironically a member of that same criminal gang, with links to loyalism, was arrested after the murder of Fergal McCusker.
Three months after Jimmy’s murder Niecie’s wife Anna died – Niecie often said to me privately the heartache was too much for Anna. They also buried a young infant, Sheila, who died in tragic circumstances. Losing three children took its toll he would add – it was too much for any mother; God blesses her soul he’d say.
Despite the unbearable pain of such loss Niecie Kelly wore an infectious smile and always had time for people. Determined and fair, straight talking, no nonsense, generous and compassionate, hopeful and positive, politically astute, sum up the Niecie I was privileged to know and humbled to share many a private conversation with.
The last time we met was several months ago as a large group of families gathered privately in Gulladuff Hall to discuss the pending publication of the Police Ombudsman’s Report ‘Operation Greenwich’ – the report that includes the killings at Castlerock.
Of course the publication of that report, which is concluded, may well not be published due to the ongoing legal challenge by a former head of RUC Special Branch and another officer around the Loughinisland report. RUC Special Branch played a role in the Castelrock attack.
Sadly Niecie, who talked to me on a regular basis about the report and like so many relatives, has not survived the delays and blockages hindering the work of the Ombudsman and ultimately publication – and that’s the awful indictment of the State, its former frontline combatants and political unionism, as they set about blocking and preventing families, good decent people like Niecie, from getting truth and accountability for their loss – for Jimmy. Neicie featured at the beginning of our Time4Truth Video launched on International Day for the right to Truth Time4Truth
Niecie was so supportive of RFJ and in particular myself personally, which meant so much.
He became a friend over the years and I always enjoyed his craic too – he liked a good joke, a laugh and a prank. He was one for carnival in his revolution despite the very hard times and the harrowing heartache that he too bore with great dignity. He was also a great source, a well, of information locally and that was important too for our work and other families. He’d great support too from the wider republican family of south Derry and beyond, which meant so much to him and he was fiercely proud of Jimmy and rightly so.
And so on that Friday evening as we gathered to remember Fergal McCusker we prayed for Niecie too. And as the large crowd, around 1,000 people, made their way from the spot where Fergal was murdered to the Watty Graham’s Hall we passed Niecie’s wee bungalow with him in our hearts, prayers and thoughts. As he is today.
Ní beidh a leithéad ar ais arís.