Poignant farewell to Kevin: “Newry’s most popular man”

June 24, 2013

By Christine Keighery

Following a week of unprecedented community spirit where the people of Newry surpassed themselves in their fundraising efforts to repatriate the remains of Kevin Bell to his much loved family, the entire city came together once again on Saturday to bid a final farewell to the hugely popular Newry man, who tragically lost his life in a hit-and-run accident in New York over a week ago.

Such large numbers were anticipated for his funeral Mass on Saturday that Ulsterbus generously  supplied buses to run from the city centre to Kevin’s late residence at Ashton Heights and onwards to Cloughoge, ferrying many hundreds of mourners to the church.

Flanked by members of Newry Mitchels GFC, the hearse was followed by hundreds of mourners on the short journey from his home to the Church of the Sacred Heart, Cloghogue.  With the church packed to capacity, extra sheltered outdoor seating was laid on to accommodate the huge crowd that had turned up to pay their respects to the 26 year old whose death has touched the hearts of everyone in the city and beyond.  Kevin had been described during the days following his death as “an exceptional young man who brought joy and happiness to his family and to all who knew him”.

Similarly, during Saturday’s moving ceremony, his great sense of fun and the mark he made on everyone’s lives was remembered in several tributes read out by close friends. Tears gave way to laughter as one friend read out the self-penned “Ode to Newry’s most popular man” which recalled the quick wittedness of the city’s “most famous strawberry blonde” and concluded with the moving line “one thing is for certain the legend of Kevin Bell will never die.” More friends shared their stories, poems and anecdotes which conveyed Kevin’s contagious good humour and banter.

Kevin, who had been living and working in New York for ten months was killed as he walked home alone after a night socialising with friends in the Woodlawn area of the Bronx.  As the news broke of his tragic death, the entire community united in grief and support for his devastated family, well known Abbey Primary School teacher Collie Bell, his wife Eithne, his brothers including his twin Brendan, Sean, Eamon, Conor and sisters Ciara and Maeve.

During the funeral service, Kevin’s family thanked the people of Newry for their unfailing support throughout a harrowing week in which they were buoyed by the knowledge of the measure of love and esteem in which their late son was held.

Indeed the local community had certainly came out in force throughout the week fundraising to help bring Kevin home, managing to raise an astonishing £42,000 in Tuesday night’s Quiz night in the Canal Court Hotel and a further £16,000 in Thursday evening’s repatriation run/walk which saw 1,400 people gather in Newry’s Greenbank.  Led by his former workmates in William Baird’s butchers, complete with their butcher’s hats and adorned in “The Late, Great Kevin Bell” t-shirts, the sight of hundreds of runners and walkers pounding the route was another reflection of the esteem in which Kevin and his well-known family are held by the community in Newry.

Kevin’s father had expressed how humbled and overwhelmed the family were following the unmitigated success of the quiz night, and pledged to use any excess funds to help families faced with the similar trauma of bringing a loved one’s remains home.

The fundraising continued in earnest when the team at Bosco for Africa decided to split the proceeds of Friday night’s previously organised concert between the Kevin Bell Repatriation Fund and the Africa project. The concert, starring West End performer Peter Corry, was held in the Bell family’s honour and in honour of Kevin’s love of music and craic.

Tributes poured in from around the world and fundraisers took place in New York and Australia.  A further event held in Newry’s Independent Club on Sunday, along with several other events organised for the coming weeks, is expected to boost the repatriation fund even further.

All proceeds were sent to a special Newry Credit Union account which was set up in Kevin’s name to receive funds from all the events held over the last week.  Staff there told us they too were overwhelmed by the generosity of people lodging personal donations into the fund.

As Kevin Bell was finally laid to rest in the Cloghogue cemetery on Saturday, his family can take some comfort in the fact that so rarely has the passing of one so young prompted such an outpouring of grief and support.  The “Late great Kevin Bell” will certainly be remembered for many years to come in the hearts and minds of all who knew and loved him.