Northern Ireland

Remembering Kathleen Kelly: Loving mother and nurse who worked on frontline of Troubles

Co Monaghan woman worked in casualty department of Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital

Kathleen Kelly
Kathleen Kelly was a nurse in the casualty department of the Royal Victoria Hospital

Kathleen Kelly was a confident, unassuming, funny, smart and tremendously loving woman to all who knew her during her long life.

As a nurse working on the frontline of the Troubles in the busy casualty department of Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital, she tended to people with sometimes horrendous injuries.

A country woman, who was pragmatic, straight-talking and practical, she somehow got on with the job, but cared for those she nursed over more than two decades with great empathy and love.

It was no surprise to those who knew her. Born Kathleen McPhillips, in Feagh, Aghabog, Co Monaghan in 1933, she was the daughter of a district nurse, Mary Bridget Clerkin, and could recall as a young child people arriving at the house on a horse or in a horse and trap, at all hours of day and night, and her mother picking up her brown, leather medical bag to tend to whoever needed her help.

She also remembered her mother’s anguished cries when her young brother Patrick died of whooping cough. Her mother contracted TB soon after and also died. Kathleen was only eight years old.

Despite such early tragedy – her twin, Delia, also died as a small child – her father Patrick, a hard-working farmer, was devoted to his six surviving children and she had many fond memories of growing up.

She would describe being brought to Mass each Sunday on the horse and trap, the excitement of getting an orange in a stocking for Christmas, home-made bread and butter and ham and bacon from the pigs on the farm, collecting water from the well, walking to school, sometimes without shoes, where they were taught in Irish, cycling two-to-a-bike to local dances, a goat eating her sister’s best dress on the washing line before a big dance, and all of the family out working the land together and neighbours helping each other in the fields.

Kathleen Kelly collecting straw on a farm
Kathleen Kelly grew up on a farm in Co Monaghan

Kathleen initially studied at catering college in Clones. She and her sister Greta then came to Belfast, where Kathleen worked as a cook and Greta waitressed, including at the Greenan Lodge Hotel on Blacks Road.

Greta saved to buy a moped, and every chance they could they’d ride the whole way back home to see their father and the rest of the family.

The sisters also loved to go to the dances in Belfast, and it was at one of those in the late 1950s that she met a handsome man from Hannahstown, Gerry Kelly.

They dated for three years and married in 1961 and set up home at Stewartstown Park.

Kathleen and Gerry Kelly
Kathleen and Gerry Kelly

Kathleen and Gerry had six children and they were a devoted couple. Gerry saw Kathleen as the most beautiful woman in the world, and he often told her so.

When he died in 1998, Kathleen was heartbroken, but in her own pragmatic way she carried on with her life and found happiness with her family and her many friends.

She was an avid sports fan. She loved Gaelic games – her son Gerard was the last Antrim football captain to lift a provincial cup, the under-21 championship of 1989 – and she followed soccer, boxing, snooker, darts and any sport on TV.

She was a talented bowler, a prominent member of several clubs over the years and always radiant in her summer whites.

She was a country girl at heart and she’d cry when she heard the words of Take Me Home, Country Roads. Fittingly, it was sung at her graveside

In her mid-sixties she fulfilled a lifelong ambition to learn how to swim and spent many a morning at Whiterock leisure centre doing butterfly strokes, her head held high with her swim cap tight to her face.

Kathleen also passed her driving test at the age of 68, bought a little Peugeot 106, called it Peggy, and travelled regularly back home to Feagh to see family.

She was a country girl at heart and she’d cry when she heard the words of Take Me Home, Country Roads. Fittingly, it was sung at her graveside.

Kathleen Kelly with her daughter Brenda
Kathleen Kelly with her daughter Brenda

Kathleen was a busy woman all her life. Her home cooking and Sunday dinners were legendary and much relished by her children and grandchildren.

She became ill with dementia in her late eighties and was cared for by family, particularly her son Ciaran. She remained her confident, sharp and fun-loving self until her health began to deteriorate in recent years, and she was sadly unaware of the death of her eldest child Tricia last September.

Kathleen died on March 28 and was buried last week after funeral Mass in St Joseph’s Church, Hannahstown. Her family take solace that she is with Tricia now, as well as Gerry, her father and mother, her sisters Delia and Chrissie and brothers Patrick, Tommy and John.

She is survived and sadly missed by her children Brenda, Siobhán, Ciarán, Gerard and Aidan and family circle.

** The Irish News publishes a selection of readers’ obituaries each Saturday. Families or friends are invited to send in accounts of anyone they feel has made a contribution to their community or simply led an interesting or notable life. Call Aeneas Bonner on 028 9040 8360 or email