Football community gathers to say a final goodbye to Dessie Kelly

By Diarmaid Doherty

REPRESENTATIVES from a host of football organisations and clubs gathered at St. Eunan’s Cathedral in Letterkenny yesterday for the funeral Mass of one of the county’s best known sporting administrators, Dessie Kelly, 13 Knocknamona Park, Letterkenny,

The former secretary of the Donegal League and founding member of Letterkenny Rovers FC died on Thursday after a recent illness. He would have celebrated his 80th birthday in November.


A leading figure in soccer circles in Donegal for decades, Dessie was honoured with a lifetime achievement award by the FAI in 2022, the first person from Donegal to receive such a distinction.

It was a proud occasion for Dessie, one of many achievements that were recalled during his homily at yesterday’s funeral Mass, by chief celebrant Monsignor Kevin Gillespie.

But, as Mgr Gillespie pointed out, Dessie’s time and dedication to Letterkenny Rovers and to football in general was not about himself – it was all about providing a sporting outlet for young people.

Mgr Gillespie also listed out all the organisations that Dessie was part of during a remarkable career in football, holding the position of chairman on so many committees.

“It’s a roll call of real commitment that made a real difference in the lives of others,” he said.

Mgr Gillespie was joined on the altar by Archdeacon Willie McMenamin, a close friend of Dessie’s. Family members and members of Letterkenny Rovers and the Letterkenny Reunion group also took part in the ceremony with the readings performed by Rovers secretary Eric White and Dessie’s niece, Fiona McDaid.

Mgr Gillespie said Dessie had made great friends through football and remembered Dessie’s close friend Terry Leyden who passed away only a few months ago.


“In the last few days, one of the things that struck me most was the deep bond of friendship that people had with Dessie,” he said.

“He inspired incredible loyalty. But then, he himself was committed to the last. Indeed he only recently stepped down after 25 years as chairman of Letterkenny Rovers.”

The days of coaching teams on the Oldtown pitch close to his home were recalled, as was his close association with his great friend and brother-in-law, the late Dick Duffy.

So many young men in the town, Mgr Gillespie pointed out, had found good direction in life because they discovered something on the football pitch.

“Dessie was part of that story for so many of them,” he said.

Dessie is survived by his sister Mary McDaid, and when they were young, they were raised in the Kelly household at Lower Main Street in Letterkenny, just a step across the road from the Devlin Hall where Dessie met his wife-to-be, Annette Boyce.

Soon they were surrounded by their children, and then grandchildren and Mgr Gilliespie said they all gave Dessie great joy.

He worked for some 25 years in the old PNT and then Eircom as a night time telephonist and then supervisor.

But it was for his dedication to Letterkenny Rovers and football in general that Dessie will best be remembered.

And therefore it was fitting that so many sports clubs, organisations and familiar faces from the game were present to say a final farewell to a man who gave so much.

Members and players from Letterkenny Rovers provided a guard of honour before and after the funeral Mass, and they also accompanied Dessie’s remains as they were brought one last time down Main Street, stopping poignantly outside his old home at Lower Main Street.

Burial took place in the family plot at Conwal Cemetery.

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