Tributes pour in for Irish HIV activist, Fr Michael Kelly, who has passed away

President Higgins led those mourning 'the loss of a true hero' for his tireless work championing the rights of those living with HIV.

An elderly man sitting in front of a bookshelf

Fr Michael Kelly, HIV activist, educator and campaigner, passed away on Friday at the age of 91. Born in Tullamore, Fr Kelly moved to Zambia in the 1970’s, where he continued to live and work for 50 years.

Fr Kelly worked tirelessly to help those at risk from HIV throughout sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world, and championed the rights of those living with HIV. The annual Fr Michael Kelly lecture is a regular fixture during World AIDS Day events, bringing together activists and speakers from across the world.

President Higgins led tributes to Fr Kelly, releasing the statement “Fr Michael made an immense contribution to improved health outcomes for many people in Sub-Saharan Africa. Through his work with Irish Aid and several multilateral organisations, he was an inspirational figure to health workers, aid workers, humanitarians and diplomats from Ireland, Zambia and beyond. Fr Michael was renowned, not only for his intellect, but for his extraordinary positivity and compassion.”

In 2012, Fr Kelly was presented with the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad, and in 2018 was presented with the Order of Distinguished Service Award from President Lungu of Zambia for his work on social justice. He worked as a consultant for Unicef, Unesco and Irish Aid, while An Post issued a stamp in his honour last year as part of their Irish Abroad series.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, stated, “Fr Michael’s leadership and advocacy on HIV and AIDS, and also education and human rights, was inspirational.” Coveney continued, “Father Michael’s energy, dedication, and passion will live on in the memories of those he inspired.”

President Higgins’ statement concluded, “It is so fitting that his memory will live on in the Father Michael Kelly HIV and AIDS Lecture, which is held annually to coincide with World AIDS Day on 1st December. This event will serve as a reminder of the outstanding work and rich legacy of Fr Michael Kelly. I offer my condolences to his family and many friends.

“Ireland and Zambia mourn the loss of a true hero.”

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