Kelly, James Plunkett 1920-2003

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KELLY, James Plunkett 1920-2003

(James Plunkett)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born May 21, 1920, in Dublin, Ireland; died May 28 (one source says May 27), 2003, in Kilmalanogue, Ireland. Union official, radio and stage producer/director, and author. Kelly was best known for his writings about the Irish working class, the most noted of which was his 1969 novel Strumpet City. He left school at the age of seventeen to become a clerk for the Dublin Gas Company and soon joined the Workers' Union of Ireland, becoming a secretary for that trade union in 1946. But he also had musical inclinations, having learned to play the violin and viola, and earned money performing with the Radio Eireann Symphony Orchestra. Although he felt his musical talents were not sufficient to make a career out of playing, his connections with the radio eventually led to work there. He was already writing in the 1940s, having published stories in magazines, and some of his work was aired on Radio Eireann. He became assistant head of drama there in 1955 and during the 1960s was program head of features for Radio Telefis Eireann (RTE), where he directed and produced many programs, including his own. During the 1950s he wrote a number of radio plays, including Dublin Fusilier (1952), Mercy (1953), Homecoming (1954), Big Jim (1954), and Farewell Harper (1956); Big Jim eventually evolved into the play The Risen People, which was performed at Dublin's Abbey Theatre in 1958 and later became the basis for Kelly's international bestselling novel, Strumpet City. Kelly also wrote two other novels, Farewell Companions (1977) and The Circus Animals (1990), though they did not attain the same blockbuster status as his debut novel. However, his television drama When Do You Die, Friend? (1966) was highly acclaimed, as was his documentary Bird's Eye View, which he later turned into the book The Gems She Wore: A Book of Irish Places (1972). Kelly was also the author of the critically acclaimed short-story collection The Trusting and the Maimed, and Other Irish Stories (1955), as well as his Collected Short Stories (1977). His later work focused mainly on television, and includes That Solitary Man (1979), The Eagles and the Trumpets (1984), and One Man in His Time (1985). Kelly resigned from RTE in 1985. His contributions as a writer were recognized in 1993 when he won the Butler Literary Award from the Irish-American Cultural Institute; he was also made an honorary life member of the Irish Writers' Union.



Contemporary Novelists, seventh edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Independent (London, England), May 29, 2003, p. 14.

Irish Times (Dublin, Ireland), May 31, 2003, p. 12.

Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), June 3, 2003, p. 18.

Times (London, England), June 7, 2003, p. 40.

Washington Post, May 30, 2003, p. B8.