Northern Ireland

Veteran journalist James Kelly reaches his century

Image caption Irish News columnist James Kelly celebrates his 100th birthday on Saturday.

James Kelly covered the most significant moments in Northern Ireland's history, from the Belfast blitz to the Good Friday Agreement.

He still writes a regular column for the Irish News.

And on Saturday Mr Kelly, regarded as the father of journalism in Northern Ireland, celebrates his 100th birthday. He's been taking a trip down memory lane with our reporter Karen Atkinson.

"My uncle was assistant editor of the Irish News. I always looked up to him. I used to bring his supper down to the Irish News," he said.

"I walked into this place where all these men were working around a table. I got quite interested from that point on."

Born on the Falls Road in west Belfast in 1911, he was just a young boy when the 1916 rising took place.

One of his earliest memories is of a family trip to Dublin in the aftermath of the rising and surveying the damage to the Irish capital.

This, and the memory of Ireland being partitioned, shaped his interest in politics and journalism and in 1928 he joined the Irish News as a reporter.

"There I was, in the centre of things in the Irish News and the staff was so small that I was able to be sent on big stories," he recalls.

The big stories continued when he went to the newly-found Irish Press in 1931 and after that, the Irish Independent, where he stayed for almost 50 years.

One of his biggest challenges was covering the Belfast blitz.

"The sirens went, and then the anti-aircraft guns. We were horrified to find, the following day, that nearly 1,000 people had been killed.

"After a couple of hours sleep following the bombing, I decided to go down to cover the evening paper. I drove into the city and there were frightful scenes, crowds rushing about from the damaged areas."

By the time the recent Troubles began, James Kelly was a veteran journalist, reporting on terrorist atrocities, the 1974 Ulster Workers strike and consequent fall of the Stormont Parliament.

"I remember how depressed I was, with the killing on both sides. I said, where is this getting us, where is this going to end?" he said.

Mr Kelly remembers sharing a television studio with Ian Paisley who was asserting his support for the Ulster Workers' Council strike.

"I was there with a couple of other journalists and Paisley starting, going on and on and on. We couldn't get a word in edgewise."

He laughed as he remembered: "At the end of the programme, Paisley was provided with a big plate of sandwiches. I told him, 'You didn't give us a chance to get a word in,' and he said, 'Jimmy, you and I would never agree anyway'."

James Kelly officially retired in 1983 but continued to write a regular column for the Irish News every Saturday.

His last piece will be published on Saturday on his 100th birthday.

A big family party has been planned and Mr Kelly has already received many cards and letters from England, America, Canada, Australia congratulating him on reaching the memorable milestone.

Asked if he felt his age, he replied emphatically: "No. I think some terrible mistake has been made.

"I should be dottery, but living with a family - it's marvellous. They have looked after me so well."