John Giles and Luke Kelly, two of the most recognisable and beloved Dubliners, both masters of their craft.
They were born 11 days apart, at the height of the Emergency, in November 1940. Both men grew up in working-class areas just off the quays on the north-side of the city. Giles in Ormond Square, and Kelly on Sheriff Street.
It seems fitting that both men were great friends, and had a relationship that stretched back to their teenage years.
Before the music, there was football
Kelly’s love for the game was handed down from his father Luke Kelly senior, who had played League of Ireland football for Jacob’s F.C.
The young Kelly would play at centre-half for Home Farm, and it is here where he first came into contact with a young John Giles.
In Des Geraghty’s book Luke Kelly: A Memoir, Kelly’s sister Bessie recalls, “I have a clear memory of him telling my father he’d played against a fellow called Johnny Giles who was definitely going to go places.”
Giles shared his memories of a young Kelly in his own autobiography.
“Luke was the same age as me, and had been centre-half with Home Farm when I was with Stella Maris. Apart from his name, Luke, which was quite unusual at the time, he was unforgettable because of his red hair and the fact that he looked like a really hard nut.”
“But his appearance was totally deceptive. Luke was one of the gentlest centre-halves I ever played against.”
Giles also had his father to thank for his love of the beautiful game. Dickie Giles had also played League of Ireland, lining out for the likes of Bohemians and Shelbourne, before later managing Drumcondra F.C.
In an interview with the Irish Independent, Giles spoke positively on the influence his father had on his footballing life, but sadly remarked:
“I've got to be honest, apart from football, I didn't get on very well with my father. He wasn't my ideal man, he was outgoing, a bit brash, plenty of confidence in himself but apart from football we weren't close.”
Both Dickie and Kelly Snr also happened to be friends. Giles says in his book that, “Indeed my father knew his father, who was also a football man, and a drinker – to know my father he’d have to be a drinker.”
It can be a blessing or a curse that we are all influenced by our fathers. We put into practice what they teach us, try our best to emulate them in all parts of life, and act the way ‘that’s in our blood’.
For Kelly and Giles, their father’s gave them the joys of football, but sadly for Kelly his father’s love of drink would also be passed on. Kelly died aged 44, in 1984 of a brain tumour.
All Grown Up
The two men would continue to bond over football and music, and by the early 1970s Kelly was a well-known musician with The Dubliners, and Giles was one of the premiere footballers in England and part of Don Revie's legendary Leeds United side.
When Kelly was playing a gig in Leeds, he asked whether Giles was in the crowd and if he was he should come backstage to meet him.
Giles was indeed in the crowd and the two old pals met up and went for a meal. From then on whenever Kelly was performing in that part of England he would stay with the footballer, and as Giles describes it in his book,
“We would play golf, which may surprise a few who never associated Luke with the Royal and Ancient game. But mainly he loved his football, and he would always come to Elland Road whenever the Dubliners were in the area.”
The two men had many great nights together, with Giles organising parties for the Irish international side, of which he was player manager, and Kelly attending when he could.
Giles recalls a stand-out night in 1974 in the Central Hotel after a famous 3-0 victory at against the Soviet Union during the qualifiers for the 1976 European Championships.
He beautifully describes the sing-song the players had with Kelly, and the range of party pieces the squad had such as Eoin Hand’s ‘Green Valleys’, Terry Conroy’s ‘To Dream the Impossible Dream’, and Mick Martin’s ‘Step It Out Mary My Fine Daughter’.
Liam Brady who had debuted for the team that, debuted his party piece ‘Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town’. Giles sang ‘Don’t Cry for me Argentina’, while Kelly himself sang Eamon Dunphy’s favourite tune, ‘Raglan Road’.
It was one of the famous nights they had. Two couple of Dublin geniuses brought together through two of life’s greatest pleasures, football and music.