One of the most remarkable men to come out of the history of Athy and district was the Reverend Thomas Kelly of Kellyville Ballintubbert. He was born in 1769 the son of Thomas Kelly a one time Catholic Barrister, who had become a member of the Church of England in order to obtain judicial preferment. Thomas Kelly the junior went to London in order to study law but instead changed his mind and took Holy Orders in 1792. Ordained to the Church of England he returned to Dublin where, despite his youth and relative inexperience, he proved a popular preacher. However, he soon fell out of favour with Archbishop Fowler of Dublin who prohibited him from preaching in any church in the Dublin archdiocese. Archbishop Fowler died in 1801 so the prohibition was probably some few years after Kellys ordination and just before the turn of the 19th Century.
Thomas Kelly still attracted a large following and in a period where different groups such as the Walkerites and the Brethern, later the Plymouth Brethern, established themselves outside the mainstream Anglican Church, Kelly founded the Kellyites.
A man of independent means, who had made a good marriage with Ms Tighe, of Rosanna, Co Wicklow, Kelly was able to establish a number of meeting houses in Dublin, Athy, Portarlginton, Wexford and Waterford.
I was reminded of Thomas Kelly when I recently came across a copy of his daughter’s memoirs published for private circulation in August 1902. Caroline Theodosia Kelly’s recollections were recorded during August and Sept. 1901 at No. 2 Eaton Square, Monkstown, just 5 years before she died at an advanced age. They are of interest for the insight they gave into the lives of the people of Ballintubbert around the time of the Great Famine and for that reason I give the following lengthy extract from them:-
“Amongst the poorest, there were several original characters, such as were to be met with only in the old-fashioned Irish country districts, before the day of railways and telegraphs.At the top of the “Quarry” field resided a very old man, Paddy Fennan, and his wife. He remembered as a boy helping when the modern part of Kellyville House was built by my grandfather, Judge Kelly. The wife remembered being a housemaid during his life time, and used to say that the guests always left a shilling for the housemaid between the sheets when they were leaving. They were a very clean and tidy old couple, and Mrs Fennan’s girdle cakes were much appreciated by the younger generation.
There were, the blacksmith’s family, the Murphys, and that of the carpenter, the
Carberys. Old Dan Carbery was an excellent skilled mechanic, and his sons and
grandsons still follow the trade, some of the latter in America. He dressed in the old-
fashioned style, with knee-breeches, knitted stockings, and blue cloth coat with brass
There was a herdsman of the name of John Gorman, who was quite an authority. His
favourite manner of drawing attention to any person or thing was, “Look at that, now”.
He was a most warm-hearted man, but endowed with the coarsest brogue I think I ever
There was a little gamekeeper of the name of Tom Branigan, who was a good rabbit shot,
and had a very dry manner, and was generally more silent than Irishmen of his kind. He
married at an advanced age, and, in consequence, as is the custom in Ireland, had on his
wedding night to go through the ordeal of a great deal of what is called “booing”,
accompanied by the blowing of horns.
There were cottages belonging to families, such as the Whelans, Regans, etc., which,
though constructed with thick walls of stone and clay, and thatched with straw, and
having mud floors, were always clean and tidy, so that no one could object to visit or sit
down in them.
An old man of the name of Tom Cushion lived in a cottage on the road to Athy, whose
conversation we much enjoyed. One day I was improving the occasion, as I thought, by
talking to him on some instructive subject, when he remarked with a straight look, “It’s a
muthering pity”, Miss, that ye weren’t male born.” Once I asked him to let me have a
little gravel from his sand-pit for my garden; his answer, in the fullness of his heart,
when I wanted to pay for it, was “Ye shall have it sponta-a-neous as the leaves grow on
the trees. ”He was one of the very few Roman Catholics of his position who read through
his Bible continually, and talked freely about it.
I must not omit to describe a character that was well known in the whole countryside, and
who rarely passed a week without being seen and given food at our door. I mean Mary
Grady, who was an example of Irish county early life to be met nowhere else. She had
married and had a large family, but the poor thing had a disordered brain, brought on
through illness or disappointment. She lived with her husband, mother and six children,
in a cabin on the Ballyadams bog. The dwelling was of the poorest and most elementary
description; her husband was a day labourer, and, although she was rarely at home and
spent her days wandering over the country far and wide, the children all grew up well and
healthy. On one occasion when talking to Mary Grady she said how fond the poor girls
were of me.”Oh,” I said (in joke), “it was only for the money they get,” to which she
responded: “Die to-morrow, and see what a grand funeral ye’d have.”
Her restlessness of brain forced her from house to house, and from town to town, and her
life, passed in repartee and wild conversation or altercation with those who laughed at
her, or pitied or disliked her, produced a flow of vigorous language, and filled her with a
vast amount of local gossip, upon which she discoursed, or which she retailed, greatly to
the amusement of the young and old of all ranks who would listen to her.
Her genius for quaint saying and for coining quaint words and funny names was
wonderful. For fully 40 years she wandered over parts of Kildare and Queen’s County,
and there were few houses of any kind where she was not pretty sure to get something to
eat, and, if it was a dinner, she especially enjoyed what she called the “top finish”, which
in ordinary language is the “sweet thing”.
Reverend Thomas Kelly died on 15th May 1955 aged 86 years and was buried in the
Kelly family vault in the grounds of Ballintubbert church.
On Thursday I will be leading a history walk of Athy starting in Emily Square at 7pm as
part of the Seachtain na Gaeilge activities. Join me on my journey down the history of
Athy as seen through its buildings and the people who once walked the streets of our town.