'Spider' Kelly was a 'Derry hero'

Mourners at the Requiem Mass for Derry boxing legend Billy 'Spider' Kelly were told that he was a man of "courage and determination."

Fr Michael Canny celebrated the funeral Mass for the former British and British Empire featherweight boxing champion, who died at the weekend aged 78, in St Eugene's Cathedral yesterday morning.

Fr Canny said Mr Kelly's name was known throughout Ireland after he repeated his father's success of holding both boxing titles in 1954.

He said: "No matter what part of Ireland I have found myself in, I discovered that the name Kelly from Derry is synonymous with boxing. When Billy followed in the footsteps of his father and won the Empire Cup and the British Featherweight titles, he ensured that the Kelly name will forever be remembered in boxing and Derry history," he said.

The St Eugene's administrator also described the boxing champion as a "Derry hero and legend." "Those who know about boxing have described him as 'an amazingly gifted glove artiste.' He was an idol of his day and attracted record gates. He was a celebrity of his day not just locally but throughout the country. To succeed in winning the two titles proved that he was a man of courage, determination and above all boxing ability."

Fr Canny also said Mr Kelly had fans in the Catholic Church hierarchy. "I am told that when the late Cardinal Thomas O'Fiaich came to Derry he met Spider and told him of how in 1954 he and others smuggled a radio into Maynooth to listen to his fights."

The large attendance at the Requiem Mass was also told that of the boxing legend's faith. "His faith was important to him and he was a regular attender at Mass and other events here. He himself told of how when struggling in a certain fight he prayed to St Patrick reminding him that he was fighting for Ireland. He got his second wind and went on to win. He was a man of simple, uncomplicated faith. He also lived his faith each in every day. Helping, caring, doing all he could for others was his hallmark," he said.

Mr Kelly was laid to rest in the City Cemetery after the Requiem Mass.

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