Sunday Life

'Blair babe' Ruth's family fled from loyalist thugs

By John Hunter
19 December 2004

Loyalist hoods terrorised the family of new education minister Ruth Kelly, and hounded her Catholic father out of his thriving chemist business.

Bernard James Kelly - known as Seamus to his friends - fled to the Republic with his wife Gertie and toddler Ruth, after being forced from his business in Belfast's Belvoir estate, in the early 1970s.

The family of the latest addition to Prime Minister Tony Blair's front bench had been targeted by a well-known loyalist godfather.

Said a Kelly family friend: "There's no doubt whatsoever that Seamus was intimidated out of Belfast by loyalists, based around Ballybeen.

"And he never forgot it.

"Even though his right name was Bernard James, he was known familiarly as Seamus in the shop, and it was no secret that he was a Catholic. He took his religion seriously, like his daughter."

The pal added: "The name of a well-known loyalist was mentioned."

Kelly had moved to Belfast, when daughter Ruth, born in 1968, was just one.

Previously, he had a chemist's shop in Ballykelly.

His business there was sold to a local businessman who later built the 'Droppin' Well' complex, which included both a chemist's shop and a pub.

This was bombed by the INLA in 1982, when 17 people, including 11 off-duty soldiers were murdered at a disco in the pub.

By then, Mr Kelly had moved to England to become a prosperous businessman, who educated his children at £10,000-a-year fee-paying private schools.

He died at his luxury retirement villa in Spain earlier this year, and was brought home to Ireland for burial.

Like her father, Ruth Kelly is a devout Catholic who takes pride in her Ulster-Irish background.

The names of her four children, Eamonn, Sinead, Roisin and Niamh show her Gaelic heritage.

Otherwise, the toddler driven out of Belfast by loyalist terrorists is now thoroughly British, having been educated expensively at some of England's premier private schools..

She studied medicine at Oxford, before transferring to politics, philosophy and economics.

First elected MP in 1997, she was very much one of 'Blair's Babes', as the new women-intake was nicknamed.

She was put in charge of education last week in the mini reshuffle, following David Blunkett's resignation.

slnews@belfast telegraph.co.uk

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