by Brian McDaid
A month has passed but still, the cars arrive from all corners of Ireland to pay their respect or just for a chat at his graveside.
A friend of Mandy’s, James Mc Carville lands from Monaghan and meets Mandy’s brother Teighearnán and they both head up to the graveside.
I decided to give them space and I took a spin out to Glenswilly.
It’s a fine summer’s evening, there’s a crowd of young ones saving the hay and building the bales into a stack in the old sports fields near Rashedoge.
Taking a left, I head on up the Glen and the school soon comes into view. Great days of celebrations flood my mind. The sight of three former pupils, Michael Murphy, Copper McFadden and Neil Gallagher landing in the gate of their old school in 2012 with the Sam Maguire in their hand would be a dream come true for many.
A few years later for me the day former pupils Damian Gallagher and Manus Kelly landed in that same school gate with the national and international silverware in their hands following that year’s Donegal Rally.
That was an image I’ll never forget.
On the wall in the school hall behind Manus and Damien with their silverware including the Jim Kennedy Memorial was a collection of pictures of a bandaged up Neil Gallagher (Mandy’s Cousin) lifting the National League title, next to that Copper Mc Fadden was lifting the Dr. Maguire County Final Cup and Michael Murphy in the middle lifting the All Ireland Sam Maguire Cup.
Parish achievements don’t come much higher than this.
By now, the road has taken me to McFadden’s and I take another left turn and I’m soon on the start of the Breenagh Stage.
Coming to the point on the road, where just over a year ago, I had arranged to meet Manus to do a portrait of him in the run-up to the defence of his title for the third time.
That night Manus was there waiting.
Tonight Glenswilly is looking picturesque but the road is a lonely one for me.
Manus was looking for rain that year and his wish was granted and over Breenagh he rattled his opposition.
Driving along the road past where the old sheep dip once stood I look across at the old cottage where Mandy pointed out the home that his Granny was reared.
The Breenagh Stage wasn’t used this year but the round bale positions markers can still be seen and are a nice memory of the year Manus won his hat-trick in 2018.
For them who worked with Manus, every time the door opens at Uptown Cafe or at his offices opposite the Mount Errigal Hotel they are just expecting Mandy to walk in.
For me it’s the hopeful gaze into every Tailored Facility Solutions van that I meet on the roads thinking for a moment I am going to see the outline of Manus behind the wheel, and his familiar wave that I have taken for granted since I first got to know him.
Sometimes it’s hard to express what you really want to say.
Its 36 years since a Donegal crew first won the Donegal rally, and I still haven’t got around to telling Vincent Bonnar and Seamus McGettigan how proud I was of them back in 1983.
I was there on that Fanad Head Stage when it was them who came through the stage first in their Ford Escort instead of Bertie Fisher who was leading the event.
Fisher was to drive through later in his rearranged Opel Manta. Bonnar pushed on to record the first-ever win by a Donegal man, that’s the problem with local heroes.
We just assume that they will know how much we think of them even if a word of praise for them never passes our lips.
Death is very hard to except at the best of times and in the case of Manus it becomes more difficult when someone departs this life at such a young age.
We try and place simple facts of where we were and what we were doing and say them over and over to ourselves that we associate with the time that Sunday we received the devastating news.
Then in our mind, we end up opening up old wounds that we thought were healed long ago.
For me, my mother’s death, also at 41 years of age, just three weeks short of her 42nd birthday in 1970 floods back from 50 years ago.
She was laid to rest in Conwall along what was then the new perimeter wall.
Now her grave is in the middle of the same graveyard and Mandy’s grave in now along the new perimeter wall.
Along with trying to come to with terms with the loss a friend and a hero his passing is also making me relive memories of me as a five-year-old losing a parent.
I’m now on the road back from Glenswilly were once the bump on the bridge of the old road was. I’m automatically looking over the Graveyard wall again now in search of Mandy’s grave.
The three trees together along the wall is my reference point, Manus would love that, a tree for every win.
As his grave comes into view there are now even more people up at his graveside this time, so tonight I will give my visit a miss.
Two months ago on the 26th of May at ten minutes to eleven on a Sunday night at the nearby Aura Leisure Centre, Manus had a Donegal win of a difference.
He was elected to the Donegal Co. Council to represent his area.
This was a different stage that we were used seeing him on but he took his victory with his typical Manus Kelly infectious joy, something everyone around him wanted to be part of.
It was the start of what was looking like a very promising political career.
My last conversation with manus was at his first and only area meeting of the Letterkenny and Milford Municipal Council.
That day Mandy and Kevin Bradley were the new kids in the block a week or so before the Donegal Rally which both of them would be competing on as drivers.
Along Lough Swilly, which flows out to the Atlantic between Inishowen and Fanad Head, the sound of Manus Kelly’s rally car that gave us so much joy followed by success with his first-ever outright win on the very last stage on 2016 Donegal Rally, was also going to give us so much sorry.
I was there you would hear and see him for the very last time when his car left the road that Sunday.
In our hearts and for along time to come he will remain the “King of the Hills of Donegal”
On what was one of the most heartbreaking days of what was the biggest wakes witness in Donegal fellow competitor and former winner of the Donegal.
Declan Boyle filled the Glen once again with that familiar old sound of a flat-four Subaru that Manus won the Donegal three years in a row. Declan and Mandy’s son Charlie led the funeral cortege to its final finish.
On his approach to the very last corner just off the “Conwal straight” Boyle put the Subaru on the right-hand side of the road to make sure he would get in the narrow graveyard gate with one cut.
That high gear Subaru reflected exactly how we all felt that day as it struggled to make it way over final few feet up through the cemetery on Manus final journey.
One of the bravest and most beautiful gestures on that very emotional day was that of Manus Kelly’s wife Bernie who did what she felt Manus would have wanted and presented her husband’s title to the 2019 winner, Sam Moffett with the winning laurels.
Now Conwall has two ‘Kings of Donegal’ within its cemetery walls. The first one was buried there nearly seven hundred years ago in 1258 AD.
His name was Godfrey O’ Donnell. Back then his people called him the Chieftain of Tyrconnell.
His grave is believed to be along the wall at the ruins of the 7th century Abbey.
A passage from a poem penned about that Donegal chieftain all them years ago has something very familiar to the way we feel over these last few weeks at the loss of our present-day King of Hills of Donegal, Manus Kelly.
Donegal yet died he there all gloriously,
A victor in the fight,
A chieftain in his people’s head,
A warrior in his might,
They dug him there a fitting grave,
Upon that field of pride,
A lofty cairn the raised above,
By fair Lough Swilly side.