DES Kelly, one of the pioneers of the country music scene in Ireland, died in Galway last week. He was a founding member of the famous Capitol Showband which was fronted by Butch Moore who became Ireland’s first Eurovision singer back in 1965.
Des, who was a brother-in-law of Fr Des Grogan, former Partry Parish Priest, was born and raised in the hurling parish of Turloughmore. He was a proud Galway man who lived most of his life in Barna on the shores of Galway Bay. He had been in failing health in recent years.
Des was the country singer with The Capitol and he enjoyed a huge hit in 1967 with The Streets of Baltimore. His late brother Johnny, also a member of The Capitol, had a No I hit in that era with The Black Velvet Band.
Ireland’s first all-country band, The Smokey Mountain Ramblers, fronted by George Kaye and Pat Ely, was assembled by Des Kelly who became their manager. It is beyond doubt that Des was the man who laid major foundations for what was to become the boom decade of country music in the 1970s.
Des also guided the career of Planxty, the trad group who became synonymous with the 1970s and who had a huge impact on the music scene for many years.
In February of 2016, a night in his honour was held in the Salthill Hotel in Galway and featured Phil Coulter, Andy Irvine, Paddy Cole, Johnny Duhan, The Conquerors, and Pat Ely, Georgie Kaye and Tommy Higgins from the Smokey Mountain Ramblers.
Des was also a gifted broadcaster and presented a popular show for 20 years on Galway Bay FM.
The chief celebrant at the Requiem Mass in Barna Church was Fr Des Grogan, a native of Ballinlough, Co Roscommon. His lifelong colleagues, Paddy Cole and Eamon Monaghan, members of the original Capitol Showband, were among the large congregation. Paddy’s rendition of The Streets of Baltimore on the saxophone at the end of the Mass was greeted with sustained applause.
Des will be sadly missed by his wife Maura (nee Grogan) and their family, Linda, Sandra, Ian, Judy, Desie and Ali, sisters Maureen and Bernie, in-laws, grandchildren, the family circle, and many friends.
- Michael Commins