Kelly The Boy From Killane

Kelly is second only to Murphy as the most populous Irish name, and it is therefore logical to find it often in Ireland’s songs. According to Father Woulfe’s Irish Names and Surnames, Kelly derives from Ceallac meaning Warlike, and it seems that Kelly’s lived up to that meaning not only in Ireland, but wherever they went.  In the wars of the United States, the name Kelly appears frequently among those decorated for bravery.  The first American hero of WWI was Colin Kelly who received the Medal of Honor; and Joseph Clarke wrote a famous poem about a trio of Irish American Heros in the Spanish American war named Kelly, Burke and Shea.  Even in America’s War of Independence, the roster of Irish soldiers serving in Washington’s army was headed by Kellys – 695 of them.

The Kellys were Chiefs of Connaught where they ruled over Galway and Roscommon until the scattering of the clans from Cromwell’s time to the reign of Elizabeth I.  Today, there are Kellys in every County, and one who is dear to the hearts of every Irishman is John Kelly of Killane in Co Wexford.  He emerged as one of the leaders of the Rising of 1798 when, with only a small body of poorly armed men, he captured a contingent of British Militia on their way to fortify Wexford.  By May 29, rebel victories had spread the rebellion throughout Co. Wexford confining British troops to a few towns now vulnerable to attack.  General Fawcett, Commander of the garrison at Duncannon fort led 300 soldiers and supporting artillery to bolster the garrison at Wexford town.  Making good time with no opposition, Fawcett free-quartered his troops for the night among the unhappy inhabitants of Taghmon village.  At 2 AM, the slower artillery column arrived, but pressed on toward Wexford since villagers had duped the Brits with false reports of a clear road to Wexford and of the urgency of their pressing ahead.  Meanwhile, Kelly and his men were waiting in ambush at a place called Three Rocks.  A few rebel musket men were concealed behind the rock outcrops while hundreds of pikemen waited out of sight. Rebel spotters with flags signaled the approach of the Brits at dawn, as they marched unsuspectingly into the killing ground and met a close range volley of musket fire.  That was followed by a massed pike charge into the line, giving the soldiers no chance of regrouping.  The fighting left around 70 Brits dead, most of the gunners captured and two howitzers in the hands of the rebels.  A few survivors fled back to Taghmon with news of the disaster.  Unnerved by the annihilation of his artillery column and the prospect of attack from rebels armed with canon, Fawcett ordered a retreat.  Meanwhile, General Maxwell, Commander of the Wexford garrison, led a troop of cavalry to meet the expected reinforcements.  They soon met Kelly and his men bringing the captured artillery to use against Wexford and fled back to the town.  The prospect of facing rebels with artillery unnerved the Brits and envoys were sent to seek terms for peace.  While the rebels were involved with the peace envoys, the garrison snuck away, wreaking revenge by indiscriminately burning, raping and murdering as they fled all the way to Duncannon.  The rebels took Wexford town and freed their imprisoned Commander-in-Chief, Bagenal Harvey.  The rebels now were in a position to launch offensives against the few remaining British garrisons in the county.

Kelly was made a Lieutenant and was detailed by Bagenal Harvey, to bring in all available men from the barony of Bantry for an attack on New Ross.  Most of the county was in Irish hands but the key to ultimate success was the town of New Ross at the vital junction of the rivers Barrow and Nore which would open the way to the western counties.  The Battle for New Ross became one of the bitterest contests of the insurrection.  Although superior in number, the rebel forces had no trained men to fire their captured cannon, no experienced infantry leaders, and very little expertise or ammunition for the few firearms they did possess.  The fight for New Ross would be remembered as a story of pitchforks and pikes against artillery; of desperate courage against overwhelming firepower; and it all happened in the month of June.

On June 5, Lieutenant Kelly led a group of about 600 Bantrymen in the initial assault on New Ross.  They stormed one of the town’s main Gates.  The gate was originally known as Aldgate (old gate), but was later changed to Bewley for a local Norman family and then to Three Bullet Gate after Cromwell had fired three canon shots from there during his taking of the town in 1649.  On June 5, 1798, the gate became the scene of such prolonged and fierce fighting that it received yet another name.  It was ever after referred to as the Bearna Bhaiol – the Gap of Danger – by which it is still remembered to this day in the words of the modern Irish National Anthem.  Repelling a cavalry charge by the Fifth Dragoons, Kelly’s pikemen breeched the gate and  spilled into the town.  Kelly, a massive figure of a man, became the central figure in the house-to-house fighting that raged murderously throughout the day.  Then, as Crown forces were in full retreat, Kelly fell, seriously wounded, in Michael Street; he was taken to Wexford town to be treated.  Without their leader, the rebel attack slackened giving the English officers the needed time to rally their fleeing troops.  The fury of battle continued into evening, when the courageous but now leaderless insurgents broke off the action after 15 hours of fighting.

It was then that the slaughter began, as angry Crown troops ran down rebel stragglers without mercy.  Major Vesey, commanding in place of the fallen Lord Mountjoy, wrote: No quarter was given. The soldiers were too much exasperated and could not be stopped.  Dr Jordan Roche, a medical officer filed a report on the night’s activities which read: The remaining part of the evening was spent searching for and shooting the insurgents whose loss in killed was estimated at 2,806 men.

After the failure of New Ross, the Irish were forced back by English reinforcements to Wexford town and the final battle at Vinegar Hill.  When Wexford town was recaptured by the British, a yeoman sergeant, whose life Kelly had spared some days before, identified the wounded patriot.  Kelly was taken, brutally mistreated, and hanged on June 22 on Wexford Bridge.  His body was conveyed to the river and his head trailed and kicked along the streets before being spiked.  Friends recovered the head and returned it to Killane for burial.  A monument was later erected on the spot.  Had this courageous patriot’s name never been recorded in history’s pages, we would still  know of his exploits to this day because of the rousing 19th century ballad by Patrick Joseph McCall which is still among the most popular of all our rebel songs – Kelly, the Boy From Killane.

A Great Day For The Irish

Welcome to the month of Saint Patrick, a time of joyous celebration among the Irish around the world. And why do we celebrate? Because we’re Irish. It’s been said that the Irish passion for their heritage gets stronger, the further they are from the Emerald Isle, and that may partially explain the popularity of this day, for whether or not they were poor in material possessions, the Irish always managed to carry with them, their unique culture, traditions, and religion. And Saint Patrick is part of all three. As a result of the diaspora of the Irish throughout the world, no one in the entire litany of saints is better known, more loved, or greater celebrated than our patron.

It should be no surprise then that the tradition of parading in St Patrick’s honor started thousands of miles from the Emerald Isle, among Irish soldiers serving in the British army right here in America. St Patrick’s Day had previously been celebrated with a dinner, like the one recorded in 1737 hosted by the Charitable Irish Societies of Boston, or in 1762 hosted by John Marshall near St Peter’s Church in New York City. However, when local Irish regiments were invited to attend, they marched in military manner to the banquet. The first march we’ve found reference to was held in 1766, with fifes and drums and all, and a
tradition was born. Years later, when many Irish marched away under Washington’s banner to help establish this new nation, civilians still paraded in the cities on March 17. General Washington even observed the feast in the field by making the password on March 17: St Patrick. As a result, it can be said that honoring the memory of our patron saint became
one of America’s first traditions.

In the years that followed, this Irish American tradition was ex-ported around the world with the result that today, there are at least 250 annual parades in honor of our patron saint across 44 states, in addition to countless parades in Ire-land, Canada, Australia, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Buenos Ai-res, and every country to which the children of Erin have
been scattered. But it all started in New York when the informal parades became formal right after the American Revolution. In 1784, the Friendly Sons of St Patrick were formed, and soon took over organizing the parade in lower Manhattan. In 1790, a Brooklyn parade was organized, and another – organized by a convention of Irish Societies – soon followed.

By 1843, and for some years thereafter, there were two major parades in Manhattan as well as the one in Brooklyn with the parade organized by the Convention of Irish Societies gradually emerging as the main one. In 1853, the Ancient Order of Hibernians first marched, and thus began an association that led to their assuming responsibility for that event. Today the
Parade Committee is a separate corporation though the committee are AOH members who still plan, organize, and manage the largest ethnic demonstration in the world.

In the early days, the route of the parade required a great deal of stamina to complete. As the city grew, the parades got longer. The 1899 parade started at Washington Square and marched to Brommans Union Park for the traditional banquet. Brommans was located at 133 St and Willis Ave in the Bronx – a distance of about six miles from the starting point. It was
the only time the parade entered that borough, although the Bronx was not the only borough to have been visited by the Manhattan parade, for the Brooklyn Hibernians took the parade over the Brooklyn Bridge to march in their streets several times. In 1909, another borough entered the picture as the Queens AOH – 1,000 strong – were given the honor of becoming the
first to cross the recently completed, but as yet unopened, Queens borough Bridge. That honor was accorded in recognition of the Irish laborers who constructed the span. After parading through Queens, they proudly marched over the new bridge to join the New York parade, led by a unit of Silver Greys – AOH members over 70 years in age – in horse-drawn carriages. The record for the longest parade however, was established in 1904 when the annual march started at 26th street and Fifth Ave, marched to 126 St, turned west to Seventh Ave, then north again to 155th St, and proceeded west again to the Manhattan Casino at 155th St and Eighth Ave – a distance of 8 miles.

Today, there are parades in many local communities on dates surrounding March 17. As in the beginning, there is still a common link between them all. On the one hand, that link is the common reverence for St Patrick which all true Irishmen cherish.

On the opposite extreme they are all subject to the terrible Paddy-bashing of the media prompted by misbehaving Amadans* in green plastic derbies, drinking green beer! Each year on March 17th, there are those who drag our heritage through the streets, and those who parade it. St. Patrick’s Day is not an excuse for a party, but a reason for pride – pride in an Irish Christian heritage that is second to none. Those who debase themselves on that day are either not Irish or are Irish in name only, and their condition at the end of the day is a direct reflection of their appreciation for, or ignorance of, their own heritage. Further, those who respect that heritage don’t call their patron saint by a nickname; the difference between Paddy’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day is the difference between the office Christmas party and Midnight Mass – the only thing they have in common is the date. *Amadan – Village Idiot

The Battle of Benburb

The 17th century dawned in Ire-land during the 9-years war of the northern Chieftains against the Crown. By 1602 that conflict was over; Red Hugh O’Donnell had been poisoned, the Irish had capitulated, and Queen Elizabeth was dead. Against the treachery that threatened their heirs and families, the noblest Chieftains of the north – The O’Neill, the O’Donnell, and the Maguire – left Ireland forever in what be-came known as the Flight of the Earls.

The Irish were leaderless, the Clan system had been broken, the great Gaelic Houses destroyed, and a foreign power had been established in possession of the land. The conquest of Ireland was finally complete; or so it appeared. Beneath it all, the bards kept the heritage alive. Outlawed poets started hedge schools; Priests said Mass at stone altars in the glens; the music, the language, and the learning survived – but the British were determined to stop even that limited existence of Celtic culture. After the flight of the earls, James I of England, declared that the recently de-parted northern Chieftains had been conspiring to rebel, and their estates were forfeit to the Crown.

Four million acres of Ulster were given to men called Undertakers – that is, any loyal Englishman who agreed to undertake the dispossession of the Irish. Soldiers, drapers, fish-mongers, vintners, haberdashers, anyone seeking free land became the new owners of Ulster. A contemporary writer named Stewart, son of a Presbyterian minister, wrote that they were “for the most part the scum of both nations, who from debt or fleeing justice came hither hoping to be without fear of man’s laws.” They hunted the Irish like animals, drove them into the woods, mountains, and moors where thousands perished of starvation within sight of lands that their clans had owned from time immemorial. Before their eyes, an alien nation was planted on the fair face of Ireland’s proudest province.

But the Irish would not starve and die in their own fertile land. Their rage grew daily until a leader emerged in the person of Rory Og O’Moore. He had patiently worked for years among the leading Irish families, Irish Generals in the Continental armies, and other Irish exiles to oust the British. Then, on the night of October 21, 1641, the remnants of the northern clans burst forth sweeping the terrified Undertakers before them. Descendants of the old Clans O’Neill, Magennis, O’Hanlon, O’Hagan, MacMahon, Maguire, O’Quinn, O’Farrell, and O’Reilly burst forth from the hills and, in a few hours, made Ulster their own again. A few days later, Phelim O’Neill was proclaimed head of an Ulster army, and by early 1642, Leinster and Munster joined the fight for freedom; still later, Connaught joined. The Crown, poured men and arms into Ire-land to fight the rebels. The Irish gentry formed the Confederation of Kilkenny to direct the resistance, and, believing that the new King, Catholic-born Charles I, was a friend of Ire-land, they confirmed their stand for ‘faith, country, and King’. The Irish Chieftains yielded for the sake of unity.

In England, a struggle between King Charles and his Puritan Parliament developed into a civil war. As his situation grew worse, King Charles began to court the Confederation. Futile negotiations frustrated the fighting spirit of the Irish, and they began to suffer defeat after de-feat until, in despair, they considered coming to terms with the English. Suddenly, from the Boyne to the sea, Ulster shook with the news: Owen Roe is come!

On July 6, 1642, with 100 officers in his company, Owen Roe O’Neill, landed in Donegal. A mere boy when he had left Ire-land with his uncle, Hugh O’Neill, during the Flight of the Earls, he had won distinction as a military commander in the Irish Brigade of the Spanish Army. A trained soldier and military leader, he had returned to lead the fight for Ireland’s freedom. He was given command of the northern army which he rebuilt, and began to challenge the English on the field of battle. In short order, he regained all that had been lost due to the procrastination of the Confederation, but jealous of his growing power, they hampered his efforts at every turn.

Then, on June 5, 1646, England sent their best field commander, General Monroe, against Owen Roe. This would silence the young upstart forever. Monroe had 6,000 men and a full compliment of field artillery. O’Neill had only 5,000 men and no artillery. The two armies met at the junction of the river Oonah and the Blackwater adjacent to the village of Benburb – a place that would live forever on the lips of the storytellers, for it was here, in one masterful battle, that Owen Roe proved his superiority and the superiority of his army. Monroe’s men were fresh, and he set them up so that he would have the ad-vantage of the sun at his back. O’Neill kept Monroe’s nerves and the nerves of his men on edge for several hours in that hot sun while his men harassed them with hit and run skirmishing raids. Finally, when the sun had shifted to behind his back, O’Neill gave the word “Sancta Maria,” and launched a whirl-wind attack. His cavalry captured Monroe’s guns, and his infantry overwhelmed the English legions driving them into the river. In one short hour, O’Neill had wiped out the pride of the British army; 32 standards were taken; Lord Ardes and 32 officers were captured; cannon, baggage, and 2-months provisions were taken; and 1,500 horses were now in Irish possession. 3,300 of Monroe’s army lay dead on the field, while Owen Roe lost but 70. Ulster had been won by Owen Roe O’Neill. The Confederation, fearing his growing power, would eventually turn on O’Neill, and everything would be lost in the end. But for a brief while, all of Ireland was talking about Owen Roe O’Neill and the Battle of Benburb on June 5, 1646.