Those We Lost

From left: Barney Devlin, Tommy Kelly, and Michael Kennedy

By Irish America Staff
April / May 2016

Barney Devlin

c. 1919 – 2016

Barney Devlin, the Bellaghy, Co. Derry blacksmith whose workshop Seamus Heaney popularized in verse, passed away in February at the age of 96.

Heaney first wrote about Devlin in 1969’s Door into the Dark, with the poem “The Forge,” whose opening line, “All I know is a door into the dark,” gave the collection its title. Heaney returned to Devlin’s forge at Hillhead in 2006, with “Midnight Anvil,” in the poet’s final collection, District and Circle.

Devlin’s forge became a regular stopping point on the Seamus Heaney tourist trail and remained well-preserved even after the blacksmith’s retirement. Devlin didn’t mind the fame and the stream of tourists: “Taking visitors from across the world through the dark door is like a second pension to me in my old age,” he told the BBC following Heaney’s death in 2013.

Yvonne Watterson, a Derry-born writer and old friend of Devlin’s wrote for the Times, “Barney lived for almost century, with heart and craft and good humour, bringing into his tiny forge thousands of visitors from all over the world. He loved the craic.” She recalls thumbing through the visitors’ book at the forge and seeing a note from Heaney himself that serves, belatedly, as a fitting obituary: “For Barney, old friend and good example of how to do good work and stay true. I’ll maybe write a poem.”

Devlin was laid to rest alongside his late wife, Margaret, and is survived by eight of his children, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

– Julia Brodsky

Thomas Francis Kelly

1925 – 2016

Tommy Kelly, star of the 1938 film adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, died in January of congestive heart failure at his home in Greensboro, North Carolina at age 90.

Kelly was born in the Bronx on April 6, 1925 to Michael and Nora Kelly with all four of his grandparents coming from Ireland. By age 12, Kelly had no aspirations of becoming an actor. But on an a fateful day in 1937, was plucked out of his classroom at St. Redmond’s parochial school in the Bronx during a nationwide talent search that eventually gave him the starring role in Tom Sawyer.

Though Tommy maintained an acting career until the 1950s, his life was marked with distinction in many other fields, particularly in education. Tommy earned a bachelor’s in English from Loyola University of Los Angeles (now Loyola Marymount University), a master’s in educational administration from the University of Southern California, and a doctorate in education from Michigan State University. Tommy worked as a teacher and administrator in California, served in the Army in the European theater during WWII, and worked for the Peace Corps in the 1960s. He directed schools in Liberia and Venezuela, and oversaw educational programs for the United States Department of Agriculture.

Tommy is survived by his wife, Susie, whom he married in 1948; four sons, Kevin, Matt, Mark and Paul; two daughters, Eileen and Ann; 12 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

– R. Bryan Willits

Michael Kennedy

1937 – 2016

Michael Kennedy, defender of radicals, outsiders, mobsters, and millionaires, died at the age of 78 in Manhattan due to complications while undergoing cancer treatment. According to his friend and colleague, Michael Dowd, Kennedy was “a man who had his heart and soul invested in Irish freedom.”

Soon after entering the legal profession, Kennedy underwent a radical conversion after being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War and became an avid proponent of marxist-leninist philosophy and took on many cases (usually pro bono) for anti-establishment types.

One of the high points of his career was when he lead the defense of a number of Brooklyn-based IRA gunrunners in 1982. The lawyers who worked on the case thereafter came together every year on the date of the acquittal and even went on a trip to Ireland together. According to Dowd, he was later “delighted with the peace process,” Sinn Féin’s rise to power, and the “end to violence.”

As a defender of radials and outsiders, Kennedy defended notable figures like Huey P. Newton of the Black Panthers; Cesar Chavez and his migrant farm workers’ union; Bernardine Dohrn, a leader of the Weather Underground; American Indian protesters at Wounded Knee; members of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, which claimed LSD and drug icon Timothy Leary as a member; John Gotti Sr., the mob boss, and represented Ivana Trump when she divorced Donald in 1991.

He is survived by a daughter with Eleanora, Anna Safir; and two children from his first marriage, Lisa Kennedy and Scott Hamilton Kennedy, and five grandchildren.

– R. Bryan Willits

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