United Irishmen Robert Emmet 1878-1803
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Order 'The Thimbleriggers' by James Kelly - The Dublin Arms Trials of 1970
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Sylvia Kelly's speech on the occasion of the unveiling of a portrait of her father, Captain Kelly, painted by Robert Ballagh - 1st May 2010

40 years ago today, Jim was arrested and taken to the Bridewell. He was subsequently charged with conspiring to import arms into the country. Following a lengthy trial he was acquitted along with his co defendants. I would like to ask Ray Yeates, Art Director of The Axis Theatre, Ballymun to read from Jim’s book, ‘Orders for the Captain’ detailing his arrest.

Despite a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’, a feeling prevailed that this was an aberration, a mistake, a feeling that he was lucky to get away with it. Politicians talked in terms of the jury being ‘got at’. This pervasive feeling was encapsulated in posters that appeared in U.C.D some ten years later. They read ‘Smoker’s die younger, gunrunners filter through’. As students we became inured to taunts of ‘Closet Provo’. Through it all our parents stood steadfast. They were a tremendous support to each other as they were to us, their children.

It is difficult to think of Jim without Sheila and vice versa. In the acknowledgement section of one of his books Jim wrote, ‘an especial thanks to a most loyal helpmate and friend of over 40 years, a woman of wit and good – humour, my wife, Sheila.’ She could have written similarly about him. They were very much a pair. When Jim’s pension was withheld it was Sheila who picketed the Dail. She continued her protest until she succeeded in having his pension reinstated.

There is no doubt, that the Arms Trial and its aftermath provided the backdrop to our lives. Throughout Jim’s life, while fighting to clear his name he was also fighting to protect ours. He never spoke publicly of what we had to endure as a family but privately he acknowledged it. Two weeks before he died he gathered us together and thanked us for our support. It was support we gladly gave.

The first death threat that I remember, arrived in the morning post. Jim’s immediate reaction was to reassure us. His explanation was simple: the threat was negated if it was written anonymously. As children we may have been reassured by this, but he wasn’t. Throughout this period every package delivered to the house was treated as a potential bomb.

As children, we got used to seeing Special Branch parked outside our home, we got used to being followed, we knew our phone was tapped, we even survived the shock of our father being arrested. What we did not get used to was how unfairly he was treated. Prior to the Arms Trial Jim was a private citizen. He did not have an affiliation to any particular party. His allegiance was to the State. Following the Trial our entire world was turned upside down. Not by choice, Jim became a public figure. His good name was discredited. No one would employ him. We could not afford to live.

Jim was loyal to the State and the State let him down. This is why 40 years later we are standing in this room still requesting an acknowledgement from the State that he should never have been tried, an acknowledgement that to date no government is prepared to offer. As you can imagine, there is a strong reluctance among politicians to engage with us.

As a family I do not think we could have survived without the goodness of others and the kindness of strangers. I would like to pay tribute to those who made a difference.

We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Colonel Heffernon and Kevin Boland. Both honourable men who stood up and were not afraid to be counted.

I would like to thank Jim’s brothers and sisters and their respective spouses for standing shoulder to shoulder with him and supporting him both emotionally and at times financially. It could not have been easy for them and I’m sure they have their own stories to tell.

Sometimes it is more about the gesture rather than the word.

Sheila’s father, George Kane, following the Arms Trial, quietly removed the photograph of DeValera that had hung on his sitting room wall for as long as any one could remember. This gesture was much appreciated by my mother as was the unquestioning support offered by her family.

Albert Luykx, a co defendant and gentleman, understanding children and much to our delight, delivered a basket of continental Easter eggs to our door one Easter knowing that money was tight.

To the stranger who stopped my play one warm summer’s afternoon and handed me an envelope to give to my father. I passed it to him through an open window and was rewarded with surprised laughter. The envelope contained £100.

During this time Jim was invited on speaking tours of the United States and Australia. On a visit to New York, he was sitting on the flat bed of a lorry, preparing to be introduced to the assembled crowd. Suddenly the strains of the song, Kelly the Boy from Killane filled the air. It must have seemed appropriate to the organisers. After all, his name was Kelly and he hailed from the parish of Killane but that is where the similarity ended. When he was called to speak the words of the song rang out, “Seven feet was his height with some inches to spare, and he looked like a King in command.” Jim said, “What could I do? I stood up, threw my shoulders back, stuck my chest out and stood tall, all 5’8 and a half of me.”

Our thanks to Michael Heaney for having the courage to make the Primetime documentaries; they stand as testament to a period so many would like to forget.

To the members of the 1916- 21 Club for your continued support. You took Jim to your hearts and for that we are grateful.

To the people of Bailieborough who campaigned on his behalf, a heartfelt thanks.

Thanks to Angela Clifford for her numerous articles and forensic study of the period. Angela, your tenacity is admirable.

Following Jim’s death in 2003, Sheila continued to campaign. She received unstinting support from the Civil Rights Veteran’s Association in particular Finn O’ Doherty. Finn was responsible for the launch of an online petition to clear Jim’s name. It continues to receive signatures to this day.

Sheila was extremely touched by the support offered by so many people and the belief they had in Jim’s integrity. She was honoured to be invited to America to unveil a memorial stone in his honour as she was to unveil a plaque in his home town of Bailieborough. Her greatest regret was that his name was never officially cleared.

Unfortunately by the time ‘Our National Games’ a play written by Gerry Humphreys was staged she was unwell and unable to attend the opening night. I travelled to Athlone the following day to see her. When I showed her the posters advertising the play, she was overwhelmed.

Sheila died in 2009. Following her death, while wandering through Dublin I found myself in the National Gallery. I sat in front of Robert Ballagh’s painting of James Connolly. The thought came to me that maybe Robert or as I thought of him then, Mr Ballagh, would be open to the idea of painting a portrait of Jim . When I got home to England, I wrote to him, and if I’m honest, I did not expect a reply. A reply came and it came quickly saying he was happy to do so, but currently was busy and could I remind him in the autumn. Then one day, I think in July, a letter arrived from Ireland. When I opened it a piece of paper fluttered to the floor. It was a copy of the portrait Robert had managed to complete.

So it is with great pleasure I unveil the portrait of Jim as painted by Robert and lastly thank him for doing so.
More images from the unveiling
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View Campaign Press Coverage
Books on the Arms Crisis

Order 'The Thimbleriggers' by James Kelly - The Dublin Arms Trials of 1970
The Arms Conspiracy Trial
The Arms Conspiracy Trial: Ireland 1970

Military Aspects Of Ireland's Arms Crisis Of 1969

August 1969: Ireland's Only Appeal To The United Nations
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