Frank Kelly (1936-)

Compiled by Martin McGinley.

Frank Kelly is one of Donegal’s leading fiddlers and during a lifetime of playing he has rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest names in the Irish tradition. 

Born the youngest of 12 in 1936 in the townland of Mullaghaneary near Killygordon, he grew up with neighbours and visitors calling to the house for chat, music and dancing. He started to play at eight or nine on a tin fiddle made by Mickey Mór Doherty, patriarch of the Doherty clan of fiddlers. His next fiddle was made by his grandfather from a shoe polish box.

Frank learned from the local players and also from the 78s of the renowned US-based Irish fiddlers like Michael Coleman and Hugh Gillespie. Hugh was of particular interest because he was originally from nearby Ballybofeyand a relation. Hugh’s brothers Mickey and Jim were also good fiddle players.

Hugh and Frank’s first meeting was when Frank was around 12 and Hugh was home from New York on holiday. In 1964 Hugh returned to live at Carrickmagrath, Ballybofey. The two men played together several times a week until Hugh’s death in October 1986. 

Frank won an All-Ireland senior fiddle title in Buncrana in 1979 and took part in the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann tour of North America that year. He has been active in CCÉ for many years, and was a driving force behind the regular CCÉ session in Crossroads, Killygordon also.

Frank’s son Bernard is a well-known accordionist. 

 ‘Memories of Hughie Gillespie’ is Frank Kelly’s album with the late Liam Deery from Ballybofey on guitar. It was first released on cassette in 1996 and then on CD in 2019. It is available at