Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

The super chairperson – Joe Kelly, born April 8 1938, died Wednesday December 7 2016, Aged 78.

with 4 comments

Tributes are pouring in to Joe Kelly.  In future days a lot more will be written said and sung about an outstanding political activist and very firm friend.Death Notice of Joe Kelly

A small initial contribution is below, along with some other tributes seen on social media.

The mid-1980’s : The first big mass campaign where Joe Kelly and I worked together was Miscarriages of Justice, primarily the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six :  innocent Irish people in British jails, framed by the British State, sentenced to life imprisonment and no mass campaign existed.  That changed in Dublin, Joe Kelly was its heartbeat.  An enormous “Parade of Innocence” in Dublin, headed by the Diceman Thom McGinty, was one outstanding result.  Declan Gorman Writes About Dublin’s Parade of Innocence

Birmingham Six - Parade of Innocence

Methods were striking, fresh, inventive, effective and participatory. Stale routines went out the window.  No more haphazard meetings in pubs, where the hardened blokes of the existing left routinely strutted their stuff and kept tight control of “their” tight glove-puppet campaigns which could be easily controlled by the apparatuses they belonged to – Joe observed, it is always hard to separate a small boy from his train-set.

A regular day, date, time, and venue in a private room was the norm : e.g. every Wednesday, 8.00pm, same venue (the Teachers’ Club 36 Parnell Square was ideal)..  You met in a circle, everybody started saying their name and where they were from. The chairperson (invariably Joe) warmly welcomed you, asking if you would like to say anything?  A chairperson and minute-taker were elected, and a typed up agenda was proposed and adopted.  You were not allowed to speak unless you raised your hand and were called by the chairperson.  If you had spoken once on a subject, you would not a get in again unless nobody else was indicating. You were discouraged from repeating anything that had already been said.  Always, the chairperson would say “well done” if you had performed the slightest task well. Minutes consisted only of decisions and information.

Mansplaining and ABP’s (All-Bloke Platforms) were out – women were positively encouraged to speak and participate. Anybody who proposed an action was commended, and advised to go away and do it!  You were not going to get away with “placing demands” on somebody or something else!

If you stayed quiet during the meeting, you were asked at the end for your opinion, and if you thought we could improve things in any way.  And once the meeting was over, we could socialise, have a drink or a chat, get to know each other, enjoy the experience of active emancipatory politics instead of being bored, marginalised and top-downed.

It is a continuing process – we will best commemorate Joe Kelly by continuing to organise along these lines – some of these practices  have waned and weakened a little  in recent times : we should use them again with renewal excitement and vigour.

John Meehan 8 December 2016


Mandy La Combre :

Devastated to hear the sad news about the passing of our dear friend and trade union comrade Joe Kelly. He was a man loved and respected by many in the movement. He had a fine big heart of gold, an enormous social conscience and a great sense of humour to go with it. He fought tirelessly over the decades on many issues and campaigns and his death will be a huge loss to many people but especially to our group the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th which Joe was an important part of since its inception. He fought for women’s rights for over 30 years and used to say when talking about himself ” this is what a feminist looks like”.

We may never know a man quite like him again, he was so full of energy with so much time for everyone he knew and his fighting spirit should inspire us all.

Deepest condolences and solidarity to all his family.

There’s an old saying that says ‘no one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world fade away’ and Joe’s ripples will never fade. We’re going to really miss you though. A true gent.

Ailbhe Smyth : “Very sad to hear of the death of Joe Kelly. Joe was quite simply a wonderful man. A committed and energetic activist on so many issues, he was also a brilliant organiser, teacher and tutor and worked tirelessly in community education for decades. A loyal and staunch supporter of women’s equality and rights, Joe fought on many feminist campaigns, including violence against women. Going way back to the 1983 Anti-Amendment campaign, Joe fought for women’s right to choose and never gave up. He was actively involved in the Repeal the Eighth Amendment campaign and we will miss him sorely.”

Maeve Foreman : Ah John I’m so sorry to hear of Joe Kelly‘s death – my thoughts are with you and Flo and all of Joe’s family and friends. The world has lost a true warrior. Elder Lemons for Repeal forever!


Des Derwin : Goodbye Joe Kelly RIP. A remarkable man who affected us all. A great friend to have. A warrior for the downtrodden. My sympathy to the many who loved him. He danced and was part of the revolution!

A poignant observation in this year is that Joe was in the rare position of being one generation behind a participant in the Easter Rising. His father, Joseph Kelly, fought in the GPO. One of Joe’s many distinctions in a full, generous and active (to the last) life.

Harry BrowneWonderful man, what a life. And well done Des for working his signature table-quiz question into your sad update.


Betty  Purcell : My heart is sore to think of the world without the mischievous radicalism and acerbic good humour of the unstoppable Joe Kelly. Just got the news from John Meehan as I came out of an IHREC meeting, where we had argued hard on the abortion issue. John told me Joe wanted in recent weeks to set up an elders for repeal group! He would have been at the forefront of it. Hugs to his close friends and family, and sympathy to all of us.

John Meehan : That’s very well expressed Betty Purcell – we even had a jokey name – Elder Lemons For Repeal – ELF – Repeal 8 – I saw Joe at lunchtime in the Mater, no longer alive, wearing 3 Repeal the 8th Amendment Badges. We will mourn but will be the Elves Repealing 8.

4 Responses

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  1. Saddened to hear of the death of Joe and moved by all these tributes. I have linked to this article from my Facebook page. May his memory and legacy continue to light up campaigns for justice and fairness in the world.


    Dec 9, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    • Good Tribute Declan. Perhaps we will see you In Mount Jerome or the Teachers’ Club for the long goodbye to Joe.


      Dec 9, 2016 at 9:38 pm

  2. […] A fine appreciation here of a long time activist. […]

  3. It would seem a legend has left us …


    Dec 12, 2016 at 1:48 am

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