Remembering Seamus Kelters: Pioneering Trauma Journalist

By Susan McKay

On the morning of what was to be the last day of his life, Seamus Kelters retweeted the following from Susie Dent:  ‘Logorrhoea’: incessant and usually incoherent talking. Goes well with ‘throttlebottom’, an inept person in public office. Morning.  He was a journalist, and had plenty of experience of both of these phenomena.  He loved witty ways around the tedium of dealing with idiots, and he was very, very funny himself.

We met through work.  He was an exceptionally good journalist.  He invited me to Kerry as part of a Dart gathering ten years ago.  There were about 10 of us, all veterans of horrific Troubles-related stories.  I had just finished writing a book of extreme bleakness and felt frail and chastened.  We had a ball.  Wild children let out to play. Laughter from morning til night.  But Seamus also made sure we talked, and talked seriously.  He had learned a lot from his work with Bruce Shapiro and others at the Dart Centre.  He cared about his colleagues, and wanted us to understand that work related trauma had to be addressed, other than just with pints and hilarity.

He talked to me from time to time about his own struggles.  He was proud of having been part of the Lost Lives team of authors, and he recognised that this magnificent book was a great achievement.  But wading through that cacophony of murder and violence had left him with what he described as “persistent low level depression.”  He was from working class catholic west Belfast.  His own family had suffered during the conflict and he brought a great deal of empathy to his work.  Had he been at work today he would have been covering the sectarian expulsion of families from a housing complex that was meant to showcase the new integrated Northern Ireland.  He would have done so with his characteristic mix of rigour and compassion.

Seamus respected his profession and had a strong sense of solidarity with fellow workers.  He encouraged and supported hard, diligent craft in pursuit of the truth. He was flintily loyal to those whose work he trusted.  He loathed those within the management level of our industry who were motivated by profit rather than enabling journalistic excellence, who shafted people and pushed them around.  He was disgusted when mediocre people got promoted.  He was a trade unionist through and through, a good man to have on your side. 

Camilla, his wife, kept him steady.  If you got to know Seamus at all, you knew about his great love for Camilla and for their boys.  They moved out of Belfast and he loved the countryside. In recent years there were health problems, including a catastrophic fall which he survived.  He started to write plays, and to take extraordinarily beautiful and accomplished photographs of foxes and wild birds and the sun setting over Lough Neagh, near his home.  He was changing, evolving.  This was a man of soul, a lovely and noble human being.  On his last day he also tweeted Edvard Munch’s painting “Four Ages in Life.”  He did not reach the final one, and that is unspeakably sad for all of us.