Donegal GAA mourns death of well-known former referee Dessie Kelly, Castlefin

Tom Comack


Tom Comack

Donegal GAA mourns death of well-known former referee Dessie Kelly, Castlefin

The late Dessie Kelly pictured with his daughter Joanne

There is great sadness in Donegal GAA circles  and in the wider Ulster GAA community at the passing of one of Donegal’s great GAA stalwarts Dessie Kelly.

Dessie Kelly from the Demesne, Castlefin passed away at Letterkenny University Hospital yesterday (Thursday) afternoon following a short illness. He just turned 80 in May.

Dessie, originally from Convoy, was a well known and respected referee both at club and intercounty and was a former chairman and secretary of the Donegal Referees’ board.

And along with Fr Sean O Gallachoir, PP, Gortahork, he presided over the running and appointment of referees for all club games in Donegal.  

“Dessie and myself basically ran the referees’ board in the county for years. I always had great time for Dessie,” his former refereeing colleague Fr Sean, told

“He was a great and loyal GAA man. Dessie refereed at both club and to a lesser extent at county  level and he used to act as one my umpires when I was refereeing at county level.

“He really enjoyed that and he had a great knowledge of Ulster GAA and was well known right around the province. No matter where you went in Ulster there was always someone that would know Dessie.”

He refereed for over a decade and half from 1964 to 1980 including the 1972 county final meeting of St Eunan’s and Clanna Gael. And one his biggest appointments outside the county was an Ulster Club Championship game between Bellaghy, Derry and Scotstown, Monaghan.  

He was also a former county U-21 joint team manager with Ambrose Given from Convoy and he took a keen interest in Scór.

In more recent years he travelled the highways and byways of Donegal, Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh as an employee of Gael Linn.

And he was also a well known fundraiser and raised large amounts of finance for Donegal county board and numerous clubs in the county.

An avid Donegal fan he rarely missed Donegal games and travelled all around the county to watch club games.

He is survived by his wife, Patricia; sons, Martin and Eugene and daughters Jacinta and Joanne and sister May.  

His remains are reposing at his family home from 6 pm this evening (Friday) with removal at 10.20 am for 11 am Mass on Sunday in St Mary’s Church, Castlefin with burial after at St Mary’s Cemetery.