Camogie in Britain and London owes a ‘gratitude’ to Etty Kelly, who passed away last week after a short illness at the age of 88.
An ever present and vocal figure on the sideline wherever Camogie was played in London, the tributes reacting to her passing spoke volumes for the affection felt by many towards her, and the regard in which she was held for her contribution to the game.
Esteemed President of Camogie Board Britain, and the London Camogie Board before that, for several decades, Etty’s impact on the sport went well beyond playing or administration. In the mid-1980s, Etty, along with Mary MacArthur and Rita O’Hanlon-Wright, was responsible for reviving Camogie in London after a 30-year hiatus.
She remained a massive supporter of the game, as well as being involved with several clubs. But it was her influence on Camogie as a whole, and the many individuals she touched, especially those new in town, which shines through from the tributes paid.
Britain Camogie Chairperson Suzanne White, said: “The county board and all the clubs would like to express their gratitude and affection for Etty, for everything she did for Camogie in London and the UK. She made a massive contribution.
“Etty loved Camogie; she was dedicated to seeing it being played, developed and made available so that when people arrived in London they could take it up.
“She was the ideal person in the 1980s to get things going and to keep them going. She was always there, encouraging people on the field and off it, to take up roles on the county board and get things happening. She was a mighty woman.”
Suzanne added: “She was always on the sideline; she made a massive effort to make it to the majority of games in London. She’d bring her seat and cheer everyone on.
“She was able to connect with people. She was from the same parish as me in Meath and knew my grandparents and was able to tell me about them. She knew so many people she was able to connect with lots of new players. She’d find out about you.
“She was involved with lots of clubs, but she supported everybody who picked up a hurley and gave them great encouragement.”
Born in Dublin, Etty moved to London from Kilbridge in Meath in 1956 and initially played with the Sarsfields club. She also played with distinction for Newham Gaels and was often London’s representative at the Camogie Association’s Annual Congress.
More recently her affiliation was to Croydon Camogie Club in South London, but ‘as long as the game was being played’, Etty would ‘attach her colours to any camogie mast’. Her hometown club in Meath was Donaghmore Ashbourne, and when camogie celebrated its 110-year anniversary in 2014, Etty was inducted in the club’s Hall of Fame along with her sister Aily and niece Maureen in ‘tribute to their love and dedication to our wonderful game of Camogie’.
A tribute to ‘Aunty Etty’ on the Donaghmore Ashbourne Camogie Facebook page spoke of her enthusiasm for the game.
It read: “Once or twice every year unannounced this voice would arrive and we knew we better up the game or we would get the truth after the match win, lose or draw. I loved this. Her passion was amazing and she knew everyone.
“If she didn’t know you she wanted to know who you were, where you were from and try make a connection with someone she knew or coached.”
Katie Forde, chairperson of Croydon Camogie and former chairperson of the Britain County Board, said: “If the rest of us leave half the mark that Etty did, we’d be very proud. She was an unbelievable person.
“She’d always say to the girls ‘are you on the county board, and if not, why not?’. She didn’t accept that you wouldn’t have time, because she just loved the game. She had such a passion for Camogie.
“She used to talk to us about cycling to play games and she wouldn’t be long in slapping you down if you complained about commuting to training. She’d always say ‘you don’t know how easy you have it’.
“She was full of life and had great humour. She had a way with words that would bring you back down if you were slacking.”
When London entered the National League for the first time in 2006, their first game just happened to be against Meath. Katie was captain and Etty, of course, travelled with the team.
“She was so proud that London came out victors that day. She was absolutely in her element to be in the middle of it,” Katie recalled.
“She went everywhere, she’d put you to shame. She lived in Forest Gate in East London and she’d get a bus and tube to Greenford week after week. If there was a game in Birmingham she’d be watching one of us to see if a lift had been arranged for her.”
Indeed, when Croydon travelled to Dubai for the World Games in 2008, Etty went too. She could also lay claim to having won a Junior Championship with Croydon in 2003, at the age of 73.
“Against Erin go Bragh in Mitcham we needed nine to field. We only had eight so Etty went in goal, and she made a save that day that we all remember.”
Among the tributes paid on Facebook, Croydon Camogie’s Rita O’Mahoney described her as a ‘dear friend’ and ‘legend’. She added: ‘will miss the great banter, craic, enthusiasm for camogie and the sideline encouragement /guidance which was always delivered so passionately’.
Olivia McGrath described Etty as her ‘second mother’ when she lived in London, and also as a ‘true legend’. Ariane Parcell Such posted, ‘I will never forget this woman showing me how it was possible to score from a puck out, one of the many famous stories she had. Such an amazing woman, supporting Camogie near or far. Etty you will be greatly missed.’
Responding to the tributes, Etty’s daughter Thersea posted: ‘I am in bits reading all these wonderful messages and tributes to my lovely mum. She was an amazing woman. Lucky us to have her in our lives. Camogie was everything to her’.