KEY MOMENT The late Gabriel Kelly on his retirement from the post of Organist and Director of Sacred Music in St Mary’s Parish Church, Westport, after a distinguished career spanning more than 60 years. He is pictured with Fr Francis Mitchell, then Adm, St Mary’s Church, Westport. Grianghraf: Cormac Ó Cionnaith
Gabriel Kelly – an appreciation
The bells tolled as we carried Gabriel Kelly’s coffin across the threshold of his beloved St Mary’s Church, Westport. He rang those very bells for years. Now they peeled for him, fresh from a sung funeral cortege thanks to St Mary’s Choir who sang him from his Mill Street home to the church. He would have liked that.
The Angelus bell was our teatime cue as children. Gabriel coaxed melodic tunes out of the heavyweight bronze alloys as they bowed to the clapper. Gabriel has called more people to pray in Westport than all the priests he served under. And he was no saint, as he would be the first to admit; yet he was a man of deep faith. He was imbued with an innate sense of liturgy, always respectful.
Sitting at Sunday Mass you always knew when Gabriel was filling in for Ms Eaton. To say his hands were a little heavier on the organ is an understatement! Yet he was gentle in so many ways, none more so than in the care of his mother, on whom he doted.
Gabriel was a master musician. After Mass he often cut loose on the organ. His energy was palpable as his enthusiasm and sheer excitement bounced throughout St Mary’s. Visitors would burst into spontaneous applause after his performances, the only time we heard clapping in church. He often accompanied my father, Joe, at weddings and liturgical celebrations.
He was synonymous with St Mary’s. At various times he was the sacristan, organist, choirmaster, accountant, parish secretary and parish registrar. At his funeral Mass, his close friend, Fr Tony King, said that for over 50 years Gabriel recorded the Parish Records, writing up the names for Baptism, Confirmation, marriage and death. He recorded over 15,000 names!
His cousin, Jimmy Outram, paid a beautiful tribute at his Requiem Mass. “Gabriel and music go together. He first started to learn to play the piano when he was 13 years old under the tutelage of Sr Brendan Gill at the convent. The great respect that he had for the nuns and the convent stayed with him throughout his life and he kept in touch with many of them as the years went by.” He worked in JJ O’Malley’s until he replaced his brother Alpho as sacristan in St Mary’s, back in the early 1950s when Alpho emigrated.
Gabriel eventually took over as organist from Ms Ena Eaton and remained in the role for 34 years. He was the third Kelly organist. Originally self-taught he took lessons from William J Watson in Dublin, among others. He travelled to many organist society gatherings across Ireland and Britain and played in places like St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christchurch. “His favourite music composer was Beethoven but for the organ, it had to be Bach.”
Gabriel also taught music, was choirmaster and participated in the Choral Society and musicals. He often played in Holy Trinity Church and was an ardent ecumenist. “He was made a Knight of the Order of St Gregory the Great by Pope Benedict in 2011… (and) was also awarded the Benemerenti Medal for long and exceptional service to the Church.” On his retirement Westport Town Council accorded him a civic reception.
He also loved clocks. “He had a great ear and could tell you immediately if a clock mechanism or pendulum needed adjusting or balancing.” He often visited the Wallace Collection clock museum in London. Tom Navin was tasked with winding the clocks when Gabriel was away. Winding came easy to Tom! It still does!
Gabriel loved to travel and especially enjoyed Lourdes. He was joyful and joyous company, and full of humour. Not one to suffer fools, Fr Tony put it deftly at Gabriel’s Mass: “He knew where he stood and there were times when he would help others to know where they should stand!”
Gabriel will be sorely missed. He was one of the genuine pulses of our Covie town. He got a well-deserved send-off, because he was highly respected. Predeceased by his parents Jeremiah and Mary, brothers Louis, Frank, Gerry and Alpho, he is survived by brothers Tiny and Ambrose (Chicago), relatives and friends. Solas Mhic Dé ar a anam.