THREE iconic rally cars lined up at the door of the Mount Errigal Hotel last night; a familiar scene at the Ballyraine, but this was for a rather more poignant occasion than usual.
By Chris McNulty. Pictures by Brian McDaid
The three cars – a Toyota Corolla, a Mk2 Escort and an S12 B Subaru Impreza now known the world over – were reminders of Manus Kelly.
Three years running, in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the Glenswilly man, as the winner of the Donegal International Rally, drove that Impreza across the finish ramp, just yards from where it sat last night, at the entry to the Manus Kelly Tribute Night, a function to remember and celebrate the Glenswilly man, who lost his life while competing in the Donegal International Rally.
Most of those who filed in took solemn looks at the machines.
In 2015, Manus achieved a life’s dream when he drove the Escort to glory in the National Rally, having cut his teeth in the Corolla. The Impreza became the poster car for the Rally and Manus the smiling face of the event.
Sadly, a June Sunday this year altered everything forever as Manus lost his life when the Hyundai i20 R5 he was driving left the road on special stage 15, Fanad Head.
“Five months ago, our lives flipped upside-down and they’ll never be the same again,” his brother Caolan Kelly told an audience of over 600.
“Things are extremely raw and we are dealing with a massive void in our own way. We are fortunate that we have a strong, close family unit that is supporting each other.”
A Memorial Trust has been set up in Manus’s honour with a host of auction items last night raising money that will go towards assisting Manus’s wife, Bernie, their children Annie, Mandy, Charlie, Conan and Bella. Manus’s parents, Donal and Jacquline, his sisters Bridgin, Kelda, Ciara and Shannagh and his brothers Donal, Caolan, Teighearnan and Leon, as well as extended family members were in attendance for a night of celebration and reflection.
“Life will never, ever be the same again without him, but I’m staying strong for the kids,” Bernie Kelly said.
“It’s tough. Manus was an angel in this world. Everyone loved him. Manus was extra special in so many ways.”
Manus won the National Rally in 2015 and the three-in-a-row from 2016-18 with trusted navigator Donall Barrett by his side for all of the triumphs. It was Barrett who sat in the passenger seat on the day of tragedy.
“The unthinkable happened when we lost Manus,” Barrett said.
“Since that day, reality has been hard to take in.
“I have mixed emotions: Complete sadness at what happened, but complete pride to call Manus a friend. Manus gave so much in his short life. He was a special person.”
Like the rest of the room, Mandy Kelly grew to admire Manus. He told how he watched with real pride as his father won the Donegal Rally.
“It made me proud and it was just class to see my own dad win the Donegal Rally three times in a row,” he said. “It was unreal.”
Donal Kelly, another brother, thanked the organisers of the night and said the kind messages had been ‘a great comfort to the family’.
Reflecting on Manus’s rallying career, Donal singled out Cathal Browne, Mickey Glackin and Paddy Boyle, who had been with Manus since the start.
Donal recalled that he had been at Manus’s first ever rally, an event in County Monaghan and, of course, was at his last, the 2019 Donegal International.
“He became a hero and all I wanted to do was to fill his boots,” Donal said.
“Boy, what a journey it was. What a driver and what a brother.”
Bernie Kelly noted how Manus had many ‘teams’ by his side whatever the occasion, from those in MK Rally, through a political journey that saw him elected as a Fianna Fáil County Councillor in May, those in the Glenswilly GAA club who went beyond duty’s call during Manus’s wake and funeral, and his work colleagues at his business, TFS.
Bernie paid tribute to Donall Barrett who, she said, Manus ‘adored being in the car with’.
Bernie thanked Fr Paddy Dunne, a close friend of the family, and Fr Michael Sweeney from Fanad, who anointed Manus on that fateful June Sunday.
She said: “Thank God, he didn’t suffer. If there had been a doctor on the fence that day, they wouldn’t have been able to save him. We’re thankful that he didn’t suffer.”
The great and the good of Irish rallying were in attendances, including legends such as Andrew Nesbitt, Austin McHale, Declan Boyle, Garry Jennings, Donagh Kelly and Rory Kennedy.
“Manus was a man with great charisma and sense of humour, a man of great strength and courage,” Caolan Kelly said.
“We are facing every obstacle with the characteristics that made Manus the man he was.
“As time goes on, things multiply and get harder. Pulling the duvet up and turning the brain off is a daily struggle.”
The evening’s Master of Ceremonies, Charlie Collins – who interviewed a number of guests alongside Oisin Kelly of Highland Radio – put it neatly when he said: ‘There was never a bad word said about him. Not before. And not since.”
There was hardly a dry eye in the house as Bernie Kelly mentioned how she was ‘trying to stay strong’ and how Manus’s passing had ‘changed me forever.’
She said: “We can’t wait to see the back of 2019. I’m staying strong for the kids and I have a great wee team behind me.
“We are not alone. We didn’t lose a friend. We gained an angel.”Tags: