Lives Lost to Covid-19: Bobby Kelly died in the institution he came to love

Bobby was a thoughtful man who loved to sing and was ‘nearly always in good humour’

This article is one of a series about people who have died with coronavirus in Ireland and among the diaspora. You can read more of them here. If you would like a friend or family member included in the series, please email

Bobby Kelly


In New York, Bobby Kelly's four nieces would often tear open parcels sent all the way from Dunnes Stores in Ireland.

Bobby would visit his local shop and give the same staff member their ages in order to select and parcel gifts for their transatlantic journey.

"So Dunnes Stores became well known on Long Island," says Jim Kelly, remarking on his older brother's generosity a year after his death last April at the age of 83.

Bobby, the eldest child of Joe and May (Mary) Kelly, was born with intellectual and physical disabilities and spent much of his life in institutions. As a child Jim can remember long bus journeys from Harold's Cross to Portrane Hospital in north Co Dublin, where Bobby was staying.

Bobby also spent some of his life in Grangegorman, St Loman's Hospital in Lucan and later in the Maynooth Community Care Unit, where he was when he died.

“He was one of the first to pass away, and we weren’t allowed up to see him because the place was locked down,” says Jim. “They said it wasn’t looking good, and it happened very quickly.”

“He was nearly always in good humour. He loved my kids and his grandnieces. My son in America used to come over and see him; he was the apple of Bobby’s eye.”

Jim also remembers his brother’s visits. “He would come out here to us and fall asleep on the chair. In the later years he slept a lot. He loved coming out and he loved going home. He was institutionalised; he loved that safety net.”

Although Jim describes some of the institutions in which Bobby had spent time as “grim”, things had begun to change over the years. By the end he loved his time in Maynooth and was well cared for by staff.

Bobby had learned to paint as part of his therapy and he was well known in the pubs around Maynooth where he went to drink coffee. He loved singing, especially the music of the Dubliners, and Foster and Allen.

“He loved the radio as well. He listened to the news and the weather; he could tell you the news and weather backwards,” he says. “He would put on the radio and he would sleep.”