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Gradam Ceoil TG4

Ned Kelly – Outstanding Contribution Award


Ned Kelly is a four time All-Ireland Fleadh Ceoil-winning accordion player from Ballycommon, Co. Tipperary who teaches music and manages a traditional youth orchestra in addition to running his dairy and beef farm.

Kelly’s parents had a love for traditional music and although they were not musicians themselves, his mother was instrumental in re-establishing the local Comhaltas, C.C.E Ballycommon. He started to play the accordion at eleven years of age and took lessons with Michael Harty and Willie Fogarty, with Paddy O’Brien as his main teacher throughout his education on the instrument.

In 1988 Ned won his first solo All Ireland title at the Fleadh ceoil in the under 15 Bosca Cheoil. The following year, he won the under 18 title, and won it again in 1991 and took the senior title in 1992. He also won the Oireachtas in 1989 and after that, toured extensively with Comhaltas and the O’Rourke School of Irish Dancing in Limerick respectively, across Ireland, the UK, Europe, the US and Canada for over a decade.

One of the biggest influences on Kelly’s musical life was the establishment of Comhaltas’ National Cultural Orchestra in the mid 1990s, which he was a member of. The orchestra ceased existing several years after it was set up due to funding, but the idea of a traditional music orchestra remained with Kelly. In 2014 he started a youth orchestra for a once-off concert in aid of the Donal Walsh Live Life Foundation, a charity organisation set up for Kerry teenager Donal Walsh who died of cancer in 2013.

The In Tune for Life orchestra, as it was named, then became a permanent ensemble, becoming one of the earliest traditional music orchestras of this type in Ireland. The group is made up of local youths from the Tipperary catchment area and the profits made from their concerts generally go towards charity. The first performance they did in 2014 for the Donal Walsh Live Foundation raised over €30,000 for the charity and they have gone on to raise over €230,000 for charities since. In July of this year, the orchestra performed at a concert with Phil Coulter, with the proceeds going towards Nenagh Special Summer Camp, an organisation that arranges summer camp activities for children with physical and intellectual disabilities.

The orchestra, however, was not Kelly’s first experience in raising funds for charity. In 2006, he organised a concert in Tipperary, inviting musician friends from around the country, including accordion player Maurice Egan, banjo player Brian Fitzgerald and flute player Gary Shannon. The concert was recorded and made available as a double CD titled Seize the Moment, and all the proceeds from the concert and the album went to the local hospice.

In his playing and teaching, Kelly favours a traditional style and instils this to his pupils. He also composes tunes and has had songs of his recorded by artists such as Beoga, accordion player Dónal Murphy and flute player Kevin Crawford. Kelly is also the chairperson of the local Comhaltas branch, C.C.E Ballycommon, which was established by his mother over thirty years ago, is a tutor on the Comhaltas TTCT Teacher Training Course and gives lessons in the accordion and concertina.