Ray Kelly, singer, songwriter, guitar player and frontman of the popular New York Irish band Mickey Finns, passed away suddenly on Wednesday, January 9.
Kelly, 46, originally from Whitegate in Co. Clare, played regular gigs with his band at Paddy Reilly’s on Second Avenue, where the band’s Irish traditional and rock and roll hybrid sound attracted a devoted following.
It’s understood that Kelly, who also worked as a construction worker, received a blow to the head at work but didn’t seek immediate medical attention. Later on, after returning to his home, he passed away from the injury in circumstances that recall the accident that befell Irish screen star Liam Neeson’s wife Natasha Richardson when she died after suffering a head injury on a ski slope in Canada in 2009.
It’s not yet known if Kelly was working for his usual construction firm or if he had taken on another job under contract at the time of the accident.
Band drummer Brian Tracey told IrishCentral: “Ray was the catalyst for making our first band The Prodigals as successful as they became. He was one of the key reasons we gelled so well once we founded the Mickey Finns.”
Friends for over fifteen years, the shock of Kelly’s passing has hit Tracey hard. “I’m doing my best to keep it together. Every day I get twenty-five voicemails, twenty-five texts and about forty emails asking about him. But right now my main concern is spending time with his young son Jude. He’s doing well, he’s a very strong kid.”
Kelly also had two other children, Robert and Rachel, who live in Ireland. Tracey told IrishCentral that issues with Kelly’s daughters’ passport are holding up their arrival to the US.
The fatal accident happened at a site in Lakeville in Connecticut, Tracey says. “I know that site, I’ve actually worked there. It’s a lake house and fairly isolated and you’re kind of by yourself, as Ray was.
“We don’t know the circumstances yet. His wife Liz said he had an accident and he passed away on his own. He was found by a fellow worker later in the day.”
“At the end of the day I have just lost my best friend. It really doesn’t matter to me a whole hell of a lot what the exact circumstances were. There was never a moment that we weren’t working on music or just hanging out.”
Meanwhile, fans of the band told IrishCentral of their shock and sadness over the loss.
“The Mickey Finns were a great hybrid of Irish traditional and New York rock and roll,” Sean Murphy of MurphGuide.com told IrishCentral.
“They played regularly at Paddy Reilly’s, which itself has a long tradition of promoting emerging New York Irish bands from Black 47 up through the Prodigals (of which Kelly was once a founding member).”
Dennis Callaghan, former head of the New York Celtic Meetup Group was also a major fan of the band.
“I knew him mainly through his music,” Callaghan toldIrishCentral. “We’ve been going to see those guys at Paddy Reilly’s for about four and a half years, right up till New Year’s Eve this year in fact. They were just a really fun band to listen to and watch live and they were the friendliest bunch of guys you could ever hope to meet.”
Kelly is survived by his wife Liz, sons Jude and Robert and daughter Rachel, along with the extended Kelly family in Ireland, and band mates in the Mickey Finns, Brian Tracey, Matt Mancuso and Eric Kaye.
Brian Grady, publisher of the Irish music blog Shitenonions.com.com told IrishCentral, “I guess Brian Tracey, the drummer in the band is the hardest hit. He’s known Ray for almost 20 years now, they started his first band The Prodigals together.”
Grady admits he only heard that a worksite accident had led to Kelly’s passing on Monday.
“It was a shock to everybody, but no one has heard the details of what happened yet. Let’s hope he’s remembered for the work he’s done. He founded two great bands,” said Grady.
“He was the driving force behind them. Hopefully the Mickey Finns will find the courage to go on because they’re all very talented musicians too. They could keep his name going.
“Ray’s personality and his voice live, when you saw him live with the passion and the fire in his eyes, it turned you into a fan.”
Funeral and memorial arrangements have not been announced.
Below is a video of The Mickey Finns, featuring Ray Kelly on guitar & lead vocal performing “Sweet Clare Girl: