Donegal lost one of its most precious sons on June 23, 2019 when Manus Kelly, 41, lost his life in a freak car accident on the third day of the Donegal International Rally.
The Glenswilly man was loved so very deeply by so many.
Almost one year following his death, his sister Kelda talks to Michelle NicPháidín about her loving big brother, his mischevious ways, his great love of driving, his amazing smile and how his death impacted their lives.....
What was it like growing up with Manus? Any funny stories? Any lovely memories you'd be happy to share?
"I don't know where to start with the memories and funny stories, how long have you got?! His wake and funeral showed the massive love and affection people had for him. People felt like that about him and maybe only seen him a few times a year, imagine growing up with that character and having full access to that wit and charm every day of your life. He made our childhoods an amazing place to be.
"Manus was the second of nine children and the eldest son. I was next after him, there is just one year between us. He was a character with a massive heart, from day one until the end.
"As we were a farming family, Manus had a great passion for the farm and worked on it a lot with granda Mandy in the earlier years, and of course with our dad. As one of three girls at that time, I wasn't very fond of housework so I spent a lot of time on the farm too and have great memories of us being in the fields together, working the land, and the mischief we got up to when we were supposed to be working! We had some great laughs.
"That ́s also where we all first learnt to drive, on the tractor with dad, and where Manus first got his passion for driving. I remember when we used to go to the Gaeltacht in Ranafast, in the summer, Mum and Dad would come to visit on the Sundays and take us to Annagry Beach. Myself and Manus would sneak off in the car over the sand behind the sand doons where they couldn ́t see us, that's where he taught me how to drive a car, when he shouldn't have yet known how to himself!
But they did catch us in the end and I recently found a photo that proves it!
"Manus was always very charming and friendly. He had so many friends all his life, even as a young boy and student at St. Eunans he had many friends. He had a group of very good friends, David Mc Ginley, Damian Doherty, Enda Kelly, Marty Bond, Ronan Mulligan, Shane O ́Donnell, Johnny Mc Ginley, Adrian Mc Clafferty, who used to come to our house regularly to play card games, along with his good friend Fr. Paddy Dunne and our old neighbour Charlie Ned. The craic they had and the memories that were made in those nights are with us all forever. P.S. I was just the tea maker!
Other funny old memories of Manus, I could go on forever, between playing tricks on neighbours, taking the car for a spin while mum and dad were at Mass and thought he was there too in the gallery ... arriving to school at St. Eunans in a tractor one day because he missed the bus ... silently laughing his head off during our family Rosaries which led to some of the rest of us getting a clip along the ear and not him ... our play-scraps on the sitting room floor where he'd laugh that hard at how strong and fearless I was fighting him that he'd let me win ... stirring Mum up the wrong way because he knew how to and get away with it ... the list goes on, he was a character.
Manus was driven, he accomplished so much. When did you notice his drive?
"Driven is one of many ways to describe Manus, but yes, he was driven.
"Like many young people he had to find his way in life and try to figure out his path. Even with having a passion for cars and competing, it wasn't a career choice so he had to discover himself.
"He considered the farming route but with the advice of dad and mum he was redirected, due to the lack on money in farming, at the time, and they could see a better future for him, they could see his qualities and knew he had more to give.
"He also considered Nursing and went onto college in England to study nursing but felt it wasn't for him. He soon discovered his passion for business and so his career path kicked off. He could put his hand to anything and it would work, he'd make it work.
"He was a quick learner, had a smart head, was a fantastic people person and was a very hard worker. They are all the ingredients for success, and so his career path was clear and off he went and grew from strength to strength. He never stopped learning and rediscovering himself. He is an absolute credit to his parents and his wife Bernie, and an amazing role model to their five children.
"What he has instilled in his children and displayed throughout his short time with them is immeasurable and will guide them forever.
"Even though Manus always showed this passion for work and drive, it was even more evident for me when he set up his first business Kelly's PVC Fencing because even though it was a success, he could foresee its future potential and didn't just leave it there, he chose his next challenge, he never stopped, never doubted himself, he always 'kept her lit.'
"He went on to set up new thriving businesses, most of which still run today. He was a real goer. In the middle of all of this he would not only help others along the way, he also helped me personally in business.
"I was already in business with a large dance school but my goal of having my own studios, the first of its kind in Donegal, was ready to become a reality. Once Manus knew my plans he stepped right up, like he always did, and took the reins.
"I took him to the location at Pinehill Industrial Estate at the Mountain Top and he immediately got a team in place and had a fully equipped, three studio premises, constructed within two weeks. He and my husband Mauricio, and the workmen worked through the night. Unbelievable stuff, I have never forgotten him for that and never will. He helped my dream come true when he had so much work going on himself and a family to see to. That's who my brother Manus Kelly was, that ́s who he was.
What was Manus like as a brother?
As a brother, I speak on behalf of the eight of us, he was AMAZING!
"He was there for all of us when we needed him. He played the big brother role with passion. He had the biggest heart. He was also a laugh to be around, loved gatherings and an oul' singsong. He was very honest and straight-talking too, and we loved that about him. He was the best at giving speeches at the family weddings, he was so witty. Our boys would have a story or two more on him that you might not be able to print haha!! They had some laughs with him, and they idolized him.
He was the protector in our family. You always felt safe around him and loved.
There are nine of us. That's nine different personalities. Even though we are all very close to this day, like any siblings you can have your days! Manus had this way of dealing with the eight of us in our own individual ways, making us all feel loved and special. He was always that sibling you knew you could count on no matter what.
Picture used with the permission of Dermot Donohue studios, Letterkenny
He had nicknames for us all. I don ́t think any of us were ever called our birth names with Manus. mauther (mum), pop (dad), Biddy (Bridgin), Bimby (Me), Wee Gran (Ciara), Liam (Donal), Kellz (Caolan), Philomena (Teighearnan), Sammy (Leon), Wee Shannagh (Shannagh).
And of course, for us he was 'Manus John.' and the story behind that one is that he was the blue-eyed boy and we all took a hand at him for being mum's favourite as he was the only one who got the full title from her.
The ironic thing about it was that he loved it, and loved rubbing it in our faces. He would use it to his advantage, win over mum in everything, could do no wrong, and make videos of his glory and send it to our group laughing his head off. It was so funny.
We are truly blessed to have had him for a brother, I had 40 years with him and I count my blessings every day. He did more during his fourty-one years on this earth than many of us will do in eighty-one. He left an almighty mark on all of us. In life he taught us so much and in death he has taught us even more. A great brother.
What was important to him? What did he care about? Everyone knew him, he loved people and was loved so much by so many people, you don’t find that too often...
Family was number one to Manus. His wife Bernie. His five children Annie, Mandy, Charlie, Conan and Bella. Our parents, Donal and Jackie Kelly, and his siblings, Bridgin, myself Kelda, Ciara, Donal, Caolan, Teighearnan, Leon and Shannagh. His nieces, nephews, Godchildren and all his in-laws, the Mc Bride ́s in Kerrykeel. Manus had many close friends too which he valued dearly, he had great friends. But family was always number one to him.
"Manus and Bernie had a great relationship. They thankfully have so many lovely memories together, which Bernie I know is very grateful for and will cherish forever. He loved Bernie with all his heart and he was very good to her.
"His five children were his everything. I've never seen a father's face light up like the way his used to when he'd walk into his kitchen after work, and indeed any time he spoke of them. I can't speak enough of his love for his children. He was a passionate family man and he loved his children more than anything. Manus even had a way with everyone else's child that was so unbelievable and hard to come by.
"He worked very hard to create a future for them. Everything he did was for them. Yes, he was driven to succeed but his long-term plan was to not only have more time with them but also to work hard at his businesses so he could leave his legacy for them.
"I know he would have made them work hard to earn their way but he worked hard at those businesses to help set them up in life too. Annie, his eldest daughter, already worked alongside of him and not only learned so much from him, but she also values that precious time with him so much. Mandy and Charlie also have learned so much from him and they already have some of his qualities. He would be very proud of that. My heart breaks for them every day. He loved them so much and they miss him badly. I've no doubt he shines down on the five them every day and always will.
"Mum and dad, like any parents, are broken and lost without him. He wasn't just their son, he helped them a lot in life, no matter what the challenges, he was there. They miss that a lot. Manus was an excellent son. He had a deep passion for his parents. He was very protective of them. Dad spent a lot of time with him through work, and they had a great relationship. It's hard watching them in so much pain but we will always be there to help them. As we always will be there for Bernie and the children. Our hearts break for them all.
"With regards to Manus and loving people and them loving him so much and everyone knew him, well that is all so true, and even those who didn ́t know him felt like they did. He was one of those people that connected with everyone and whom everyone could connect with, even from a photograph, a TV screen/video interview, his presence in a room. He just had that way with him, and that smile! I don ́t think anyone will forget that smile. He always made time for everyone, no matter how he was truly feeling inside, he had the ability to get that strength and put the other persons time and needs first. He was one of a kind.
"His energy, his smile, his patience, his kindness, his passion for life, for people, for sport, for rallying, for business, for success, along with his passion for his family, and for helping others, are all the characteristics that most of us would dream to have. He had them all. He made time for everyone. I don ́t know how he did it. Is it any wonder he had so many good friends, so many followers, and had the wakes and funeral he had. That many broken hearts says a lot about a man.
What were the special occasions you enjoyed with him?
"There are many many special occasions I enjoyed with Manus over the 40 years. Too many to name and that's a great complaint. I suppose in the later years there were family weddings, christenings, birthday parties, Christmas in Glenswilly at our family home which was one of his favourite times. He loved having all the family around the table at Christmas (all 5000 of us!!) and of course no one could cook like mum so poor Bernie always had a challenge keeping him away from Mum's table at Christmas ha!
"Without a doubt those Donegal International Rally Wins 2016, 2017 and 2018 were special occasions like no other. I was so very proud of him. We all were. That is 'drive' at his best right there. What he achieved there each time, especially in 2016, was pure strength of character, self-belief and skill.
Yes, he had an almighty team and support behind him, but skill is skill, you either have it or you don't and he had it. What an amazing role model for his children for all areas in life. He was a Champion, their Hero.
When and where did his love of rallying come from?
"As I mentioned, he first got a passion for driving from the tractors on the farm, then quads and he also did a little bit of stock-car racing. Dad, although was never into rallying, was always a great driver and had a passion for driving so I think it stemmed from there as a child.
"But, his first real love for rallying and what ignited his passion to compete was when his wife Bernie got him a voucher for his birthday years ago for the Rally School in Monaghan. He went to that with a group of his friends, had a fantastic experience and that was it from there. He signed up for his first Donegal rally in 2005. The rest is History.
His passing was sudden and shocking. How are you coping one year later? How do you feel?
"His passing was shocking to say the least because those cars are meant to be very safe. The majority of my family were together that day at Stage 15, Fanad Head, and when we got the initial word of him being off the road, my initial reaction was those cars are safe, he and Donall were in a very bad accident in 2014 and walked out of it, he will be ok. My mum and Bernie immediately started to cry, it was like they both felt it in their gut that it was bad.
"Minutes, which felt like hours, passed, and thanks to the Mc Elwaine brothers in Fanad and their friend, myself, Mum, Bernie and Bernie's brother Mylie, we got to the field to be with Manus. Prior to that, my Dad and a number of my siblings took off running to try to get to Manus.
"Even though we didn't know the outcome at this stage, everyone's natural reactions were to get to him. It was surreal. You'd have thought we all knew.
"Myself, Bernie, Mum, Mylie and my sister-in-law Aislinn, and later my Dad and siblings, thanks to Garda Sergent Harrison, got lovely time with Manus in the field. He looked like he was sleeping in the car. We'll never forget that day for as long as we live, but we will be forever grateful for that time with him. I think everyone in the County remembers where they were that day. A date that will never be forgotten.
"One year later, for me, I am doing OK. I have to admit that it does get harder, not easier, but I know the so-called easier bit will come with time. I focus on his memory, his character, what he has taught us, and that he would want us to keep the head up on and live on as best we can. I talk to him a lot. I pray to him and for him. I pray a lot for Bernie and the children and for my parents. They suffer most.
"My passion is dance and working with young people. Once I get back to that soon, that will be my therapy and Manus will smile down on that knowing that's where I belong and that I'm making young people smile too. He was all about that himself. He loved what I do.
"However hard it currently is and will continue to be for us all, family and friends, we must continue to smile and enjoy this life how Manus would want us to. We cannot get stuck in anger or pain. That’s not how he would want us to be. We must live by his memory, what he has taught us, be good to each other and live the best life possible. It's a tough road and we each go through our journeys in different ways and at different times but we will all get there together and we will be with him again one day.
Any plans to do something in his honour?
"The best way to do anything in Manus’ honour is to be there for Bernie and the children and for his parents. Manus was a very humble man. He would want us to look out for each other, support each other, look after his children, and live the best life we can.
"He also took risks, battled through challenges, never gave up, followed his dreams, saw the good in everyone even when he was well aware of their weaknesses, always smiled and cared about putting a smile on other people's faces.
"If we could only learn from him and try to bring those things into our own lives, then we would be honouring him.
"Manus was more than a rally driver, a successful business man, a newly elected councillor, a popular friendly man, great husband, father, son, brother and friend. His legacy stands to the person he was, a true gentleman, and a very kind soul. We should honour him by being more like him in life.
Memories of his final journey
"I saw this kindness and honour shine through the people helping us in the field that day, the many family members, neighbours, friends, business people, near and far, who helped throughout his wakes, funeral and even on his month's mind.
"They all know who they are, and on behalf of my family I cannot stress enough how grateful we were. It has not gone unnoticed. It was a credit to him, and to themselves to do everything they did.
"His final journey from his home to Glenswilly Chapel and then onto Conwal Graveyard was so very special and so nostalgic for all our family and for the Glenswilly people who grew up with him. I remember so many childhood memories flooding back throughout the journey and it was just so beautiful. Watching him leave his home for the final time was difficult but I couldn’t help but smile for parts of his journey to his final resting place.
"He passed our family farm, aunts and uncles houses, our granny and granda Kelly's homeplace where Manus spent so much time in, as a child. Once we left our Chapel in Glenswilly and the specially made rally ramp was there for him to pass through, which was so special, he passed our own family home, rally cars in our gardens.
"Next we see that our good neighbour, Bernie Gibbons, had cut all his hay early in his large fields to accommodate cars during the funeral, it was so heart-warming, I couldn ́t believe it, and people everywhere.
"Next going over the bridge above the River Swilly in which we used to play as children, the Guard of Honour which began at the Chapel itself and it did not end, literally. Neighbours, friends, staff and students from his old National School in Glenswilly, Glenswilly GAA Club were unbelievable, it was so very special, and all the way to Conwal where granny and granda Lynch, and many other family members, are laid to rest. And the hundreds more people there waiting on him. Wow It was just a very beautiful and fitting final journey for Manus, one we’ll never forget.
THANK YOU ALL VERY MUCH.
"To my Brother, Manus John Kelly, Manus 'Mandy ' Kelly, The King of the Hills, The Legend. You were one in a million, I loved every minute of being your sister. I will love and miss you always.
This prayer/poem was given to all our family after Manus ́ death from our Aunty Deli and I think it's very apt for everyone.
You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that he'll come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he's left
Your heart can be empty because you can't see him
Or you can be full of the love you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember him and only that he's gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on
You can close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what he'd want smile, open your eyes, love and go on
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