Select Kelly Miscellany

Here are some Kelly stories and accounts over the years:

The O'Kellys of Ui Maine

Their ancestor was Máine Mór, after whom their territory in Connacht was called.  They had migrated west from the north of Ireland to a less populous area straddling the river Suck, a branch of the river Shannon. 

The O'Kellys took their name from Cealach, a descendant of Maine Mor. 
They participated in the great battle of Clontarf in 1014 when Brian Boru defeated the Norsemen.  The O'Kelly, the chief of Ui Maine, was slain in the conflict. 

The O’Kellys remained supreme in their territory for the next six hundred years.  History has recorded one great feast in 1351 given by William Boy O'Kelly (bui here meaning "golden haired") at his castle at Galey on the shores of Lough Ree.  He invited all the poets, storytellers, musicians and entertainers from all over the country to his castle.  This party lasted for a month. 

It was at this gathering that the famous O’Kelly poem of welcome was written.  The English translation reads as follows: 

"A blessed, long living, great, courteous welcome,   
An affectionate, charitable, just, proper, true hearted welcome,   
A welcome and twenty, and I add, hundreds to them,   
Like the surge of the stream is, my welcome to you."  

The decline of the O'Kelly fortunes began in the 17th century.  The failed rising of 1641, the Cromwellian plantation following it, and the Penal Laws of the 18th century all succeeded in making paupers of the previously affluent members of the O'Kelly clan.

The O'Kellys of Breagh

The O’Kellys of Breagh claimed an ancient heritage.  The Annals of Clonmacnois reported that this family was descended from Ciolla-da-Chrioch, a prince of the royal House of Heremon in the 4th century.  They controlled a large part of Meath (later the Meath and Westmeath counties) which stretched from the north of Dublin to the borders of Ulster. 

However, Cromwell’s arrival spelled trouble for these O’Kellys, as it did for other Gaelic septs.  They lost their ancient lands and, under the English penal laws, were prohibited as Catholics from the ownership of good land, livestock, or even a horse of any value. 

From this once mighty clan emerged the so-called O'Kellys O'The Woods.  These O'Kellys settled in woods where they were not easily seen, cleared land for crops and built houses out of the wood, well hidden from view from any road.  They raised cattle along the grassy borders of the woods and then herded their livestock to the fair where they sold them. By keeping a low profile they avoided undo British suspicion. 

During the uprising of 1798, however, many of these O’Kellys were hanged, apparently without much due cause, by the English.

Kelly House in Devon

Kelly House, located in the village of Kelly on the Devon/Cornwall border, is reputed to have been the property of the Kelly family since approximately 1100. Parts of the original medieval manor house and great hall are still standing, although they are obscured from view as this part of the house was significantly remodelled in Tudor and Georgian times. 

Today, Kelly House continues to be inhabited by members of the Kelly family

Manx Kellys at Ballabrew

John McKelly was recorded as a tenant at Ballabrew in Braddanin the Isle of Man as early as 1511.  The spelling soon became Kelly and various Kellys were reported as farmers there in the next century.  John Kelly owned Ballabrew for over 60 years until his death in 1723.  Thefamily land ownership extended to Lonan in 1761 when a later John Kelly married the heiress Isabel Brew.  The Ballabrew lands left the family when they were sold by William Kelly in 1834.

In 1843 John Kelly of this family joined the Mormon Church, sold his farm the next year, and left with his wife and family for America where he now has numerous descendants.

The O'Kelleys in America

The forebear of one O’Kelley line in America is believed to have been an Irish Protestant named William Kelly who came to Virginia in 1746 and shortly afterwards married Elizabeth Dean from the Tidewater area. 

Their son Thomas O’Kelley appeared as Thomas Killey in the 1771 militia tolls for Granville county, North Carolina.  After the War he and his descendants moved to Georgia and Arkansas.  His brother Charles died in Virginia.  But Charles’s descendants also ended up in Arkansas.  William O'Kelley was one of the original founders of the First Christian Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  There were also five other O’Kelley brothers who were to be found at various points in the South.

Jack Kelly, Sculler and Businessman

Jack Kelly (christened John) was one of 10 children born to John Henry Kelly, an Irish immigrant from county Mayo who had come to the United States in 1869. 

In 1908 Jack began bricklaying in Philadelphia and he also learned to row on the Schuykill river.  By 1916 Kelly was a national champion and the best sculler in the United States.  Between then and his competitive retirement in 1924 he won every sculling title available to him, including the World Championship in both singles and doubles, the Olympics in singles and doubles, and many national titles in both boats.  He was probably the best sculler America ever produced.

In addition to his sculling, he started a brickwork contracting company in Philadelphia which was to make him a fortune.  A self-promoter, Kelly coined the slogan, "Kelly for Brickwork," which was often seen at local construction sites.

Kelly fathered two very famous children – John Kelly Jr, another Olympic rower who became President of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and Grace Kelly, the American movie star who became Princess Grace of Monaco.

Philadelphia erected a prominent statue of Jack Kelly near the finish line of the Schuyler river course that Kelly had rowed.   It is located just off of the scenic Kelly Drive which was named for Kelly's son Jack Jr. Every year, US Rowing bestows the Jack Kelly Award on an individual who represents the ideals that Jack Kelly exemplified, including superior achievement in rowing, service to amateur athletics and success in their chosen profession.

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