Yesterday, hundreds of mourners, including stars of the stage and screen, turned out to say a final goodbye to the veteran performer at a moving, sometimes funny, service at the Church of the Guardian Angels in Dublin’s Blackrock.
Ardal O’Hanlon (left) and Arthur Mathews at the funeral of late actor Frank Kelly (Niall Carson/PA)
Irish President Michael D Higgins, Father Ted co-creators Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews as well as Ardal O’Hanlon, who played the dimwitted Father Dougal in the TV series, were among those paying their respects.
In an emotional tribute, the actor’s son Emmet joked: “When he gets to heaven, when they chose to let Father Jack through the duty free at pearly gates, they’ll have no choice – it will be the first time anyone ever told St Peter to feck off.”
Pallbearers carry the coffin of the late actor Frank Kelly (Niall Carson/PA)
Kelly’s simple wooden coffin, adorned with bouquets of white lilies, was placed before the altar with a black-and-white photograph of the actor placed on top throughout the Mass.
Having spent 60 years in theatre and on television, Kelly, who died on Sunday aged 77, also appeared in Emmerdale as Dermot, the father of Home Farm’s Declan Macey (Jason Merrells). He joined the soap in September 2010, but left after five months because he missed his family in Ireland.
Despite his role in lampooning the Catholic Church, chief celebrant Fr Bill Fortune said the late actor was in fact a devoted churchgoer with a deep faith.
He pointed to the exact seat Kelly took “Sunday after Sunday” and which was “probably contoured to his person”.
Paraphrasing Napoleon, the parish priest said his friend and parishioner had “2 o’clock in the morning courage”, not a hot-headed but a cool courage, as he battled Parkinson’s disease, cancer and a failing heart over the past decade.
A number of poignant gifts were brought to the altar including the Irish Times crossword, which he undertook every day, and a picture of his beloved 40ft, a swimming hole in Dublin Bay where he plunged into daily.
Ardal O’Hanlon at the funeral of late actor Frank Kelly (Niall Carson/PA)
A picture of the family pet Lucky “who is already missing him” was placed next to them.
Along with 17 flowers, representing each of his grandchildren, a copy of his recently published autobiography The Next Gig was also brought to the altar.
“Dad’s next gig is in the best theatre hall,” remarked Emmet.
Fr Fortune told the packed congregation Kelly was many things – a son, a sibling, a friend, a husband, a father, a grandfather, actor, writer and parishioner.
“But none of those could encapsulate or define him,” he added. “He was much more than that.”
President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at the funeral of late actor Frank Kelly (Niall Carson/PA)
Such was his renown, “Fr Jack” was trending on Twitter ahead of Donald Trump and Leonardo DiCaprio for a short while after his death, quipped Emmet.
“That’s pretty cool,” he added.
After the service, Father Ted’s co-writer Arthur Matthews described Kelly as a legend.
“He was naturally very funny, he was great, he had a great life,” he said.
“He packed a lot in. He’ll be missed, he was a legendary figure in Irish comedy.”
He is survived by his wife Bairbre, children Aideen, Fiona, Jayne, Ruth, Emmet, Stephen and Rachel, and his grandchildren.