A tribute from one friend to another

By Carl Llewellyn

Like many of the choir members it was with great sadness we hear of another choristers death, Des Kelly. We’ve known Des Kelly a long time, 88 years of age is quite an achievement, especially when you were able to have the health to stay in your own home.

My association with Des began in Horeb Chapel when he became my Sunday school teacher in the 1960’s. Des was born in Fochriw and his start in this life was tinged with sadness, as soon after his birth, his mother Margaret died, leaving Des to be brought up by his father and grandparents. Des’s father John Kelly originated from Scotland and in later years he returned to Scotland to live with his sister. Des was close to his grandmother, who cared for Des in his childhood and his youth was spent in the village of Fochriw.

Des attended Carmel Welsh Congregational Chapel that stood on the hillside between Pentwyn and Fochriw Village. Des was a childhood friend of former chorister, Dai Mantle, who were close friends. Des’s love of singing began in Carmel Chapel where he was taught the rudiments of Sol-fa and became a good sight reader.

Des originally worked for Powell Dyffryn Company, who shared offices with Guest Keen & Nettlefold at Dowlais House. A gate exists near Dowlais Engine House which marks the entry to Dowlais House, the original owners being the well-known Guest Family. While working in Dowlais House, Des eventually transferred to work for Guest Keen & Nettlefold in a clerical capacity and worked his way up to the position in the purchasing department, a post he held until he took early retirement.

There were three loves in Des’s life - his family, the Choir and his Bowls, the later associated with Guest Keen. When he played with former chorister Glyn Llewellyn, Des became the President of Guest Keen Bowls Club and was also at one time chairman of the local Bowls league. It was a great joy to Des when his son Ian took up the game and plays for his local bowls team.

It is recognised that Des Kelly was instrumental in forming the present male voice choir, after the Guest Keen Glee Party had disbanded. Des went around the Dowlais steel works to find out if there was enough interest to form a male voice choir, the rest is history. A meeting was advertised and it is believed 13 workers of Guest Keen & Nettlefold, which included Les Williams who worked for Guest Keen & Nettlefold in Cardiff turned up. Once the choir was established Des was elected deputy Chairman for a long period.

There are a few present choir members who once worked in Dowlais Steel Works with Des at different periods, those being Royden Evans, John Francis, Meurig Price, Peter Rosser and Peter Evans.

Des lived at No. 9 Mount View, situated near the Merthyr Slip Road with his wife Eirwen and only son Ian. Eirwen was one of the founder members of the Dowlais Choir ladies section and was an active member. Sadly Des’s wife’s health deteriorated in later years when she suffered that ailment known as “The memory thief”, taking away her normal character, Des must be admired for his love and care he gave Eirwen before her demise, as it was not an easy task therefore his devotion to Eirwen was commendable.

It was in his son’s childhood Des brought along Ian to attended Horeb Chapel Sunday school. The Sunday school Superintendent William Henry Thomas, another Guest Keen worker, asked Des if he’d become a Sunday School teacher, to which Des agreed. From that period and up to his death, he was a faithful member of Horeb Chapel.

Des has been part of the choir since its formation, and although age and health took its toll Des still kept up his loyalty to choir, attending concerts when able to. 

Des’s death has been felt by the choristers that knew him, an old work colleague John Francis spoke in the rehearsal following Des’s demise about the debt of gratitude the choir owes Des for pursuing the dream of reforming the Dowlais Male Voice Choir.

The choir in the past have combined with local ladies choir to sing joint items such as “Hallelujah Chorus” and “Zadok the Priest” but the one that comes to mind that gives me association with Des is an anthem called ” Dyn aneg o’r wriag” with lyrics:

DYDDIAU DYN YN FEL GLASWELLTYN

(MAN DAYS ARE LIKE A BLADE OF GRASS)

Des’s life was like a blade of grass - it grew and it died but the love towards his family and contribution he made to the originations he was involved with demonstrates his life was a fruitful one.

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