Mother & Baby campaigner Tony Kelly laid to rest

by Rose Barrett
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Rose Barrett

He was a tireless campaigner for all survivors of the Mother & Baby ‘care’ system in Ireland but sadly, last week Anthony Tony Kelly was laid to rest at Bohernabreena Cemetery, Tallaght.

Anthony, known as Tony to family and friends is believed to have died on November 1 last year but was not found for at least two weeks. It is believed that once again, the confirmation of his roots, of who he was, delayed his final funeral and farewell. A DNA test was required to identify the campaigner who lived most of his adult life in the UK before returning to Ireland on a lifelong search for family and roots.

The late Tony spoke many times to the Dublin Gazette of his early life and search for his birth mother, Bridget Kelly. He spoke fondly of good people he met in his early childhood, of families who took him in short term in foster homes. In fact, he had been placed in at least ten foster homes before he was fostered long term to a family in Mayo.  He was only five-six years old when he was sent to a remote farm in Mayo where he remembered the kindness of the farmer but described the cruelty of his stepmother and stepsister at length. At fifteen, we was sent to work with Mayo County Council before he finally took the boat to England, aged sixteen.

Having fought tirelessly for survivors of the Mother & Baby Institutions, Tony himself was shocked to find he was not entitled to any compensation when the governent’s redress scheme was announced.

“I was entitled to nothing, except the enhanced medical card. I already had a medical card,” he told the Dublin Gazette. “But I was shunted around from Billy to Jack, never forming an emotional bond. I never knew where I came from, was denied access to my records, pointed in the wrong direction several times by officialdom and I have five dates of birth on record – five!”

The late Tony recounted having been told his official documents had been destroyed in a fire, that he had been legally adopted, and then told he was fostered. He was given contact details to a family of a Bridget Kelly believed to be his mother but later discovered that it was the wrong Bridget Kelly. “So, after connecting and making a bond with that family, I learnt it was the wrong family.”

Tony stated he could never form a permanent relationship, nor did he have children because he spent most of his adult life trying to find his birth mother and extended family. He even attended his birth mother’s funeral without knowing the connection. He later met her family, among them an All-Ireland SFC winner but sadly, the family did not wish to connect.


That was another heartbreak for Tony but joy followed when he eventually discovered his birth father’s family and he discovered that he had worked and lived in the UK close to his birth father and his business.

“I was in my 70s when I finally found siblings on my father’s side, and they were so good to me so finally, I had family, I had blood connections. Despite Covid, we kept in touch and I look forward to seeing them all again” he told the Gazette. He claimed to have found forensic proof “that the signature on the form signing my mother’s rights away, was not, in fact, my birth mother’s signature.”

Tony Kelly was small in stature, but he was man who had a successful life on the wrestling circuit in the UK and he was strong from having worked on the buildings. But it was his inner strength and his tenacity that his friends remember him for.

Sheila O’Byrne, another survivor of the Mother & Baby homes, spoke of her heartbreak for Tony. “I had pleaded with him many times when he was in Elm Park Hospital, to give me a key to his home so I could keep an eye on him when he got out.

“I wish he could be buried with his birth mother in Deansgrange Cemetery but now at least, he can rest in peace.  I hope Tony is at peace, he did so much work fighting for mothers and babies wronged by the Mother & Baby ‘homes,’” she said.

Forty to fifty people attended the service last week at St Kevin’ Church in Tallaght, among them Tony’s nieces from the UK, Sheila O’Byrne and several campaigners who had similarly been impacted by the institutional care of the ‘homes’.

Was the delay in Tony’s funeral a travesty in that Tony had spent his life waiting on officialdom to give him information and access to his roots – or was it Tony passing on the next world, saying “You kept me waiting all my life, now it’s my turn to keep ye waiting…”

Tony Kelly, who felt compassion for everyone in search of their history, their beginnings – a wrestler who wrestled with the world all his life, if finally at peace. Rest in peace, amen.

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