Stone replaced  at grave of Colonel Thomas J. Kelly, Fenian and US  Civil War  leader in Woodlawn Cemetery

On Saturday, 31st May 2008, which was forecast to be a rainy afternoon, a large number of intrepid souls braved the sometimes heavy rain to hear Martin Lyons, lifelong Irish Republican activist, open the ceremonies to dedicate the new stone marker on the grave of his kinsman and fellow Galway man, the Fenian leader, Colonel Thomas J. Kelly, in The Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.  Among those in attendance were a 91-year old native of Mountbellew, and a collateral descendant of Kelly.

 Participating in the program were all well known  supporters of the cause of Irish Freedom including: the main speaker, Liam Ó Murchú, former Editor of the National Hibernian Digest; Martin Galvin, who read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic; Tommy Enright who explained his choice of music for the occasion; Charlie Laverty, President Emeritus of the New York Irish History Round Table and  historian for the Fenian Graves Project; Éamonn Griffin of the National Graves Association, who traveled from County Wexford for the occasion; and, Kevin Kennedy, who laid a wreath at the new headstone that was unveiled by Martin Lyons.

 American Civil War re-enactors in full 1863 uniform from a variety of regiments including 150th New York, 11th Connecticut and 27th New York, under the command of Peter Bedrosian, mustered behind the colors of the 150th New York to perform the very stirring graveside ritual of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) for their fallen comrade, Thomas Kelly.  Kelly was a member of a New York City GAR Post, which had placed a marker on his grave.  The GAR ritual included the firing of three volleys (blanks) from some 21 muskets.

 The stone was also blessed by a priest, arranged by Kevin Kennedy.

 The 16 yr old Eugene Hogan Bender, winner of the 2007, North American (under 16) Fiddle Championship of the Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann, closed the ritual with a most memorable rendition of “The Bold Fenian Men”, followed by a verse of “God Save Ireland!”

Officer S Hogan from the New York Police Emerald Society Pipe Band then played “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” as a lament for Kelly.

 Martin Galvin, one time Editor of The Irish People, gave a brief, but stirring, oration, in which he cited John Devoy’s comments, in Recollections of an Irish Rebel, regarding the death of Thomas Kelly, who had been in declining health in his last years and died in relative obscurity.  Devoy pointed out that one of Ireland’s greatest heroes deserved better, and Galvin said that Devoy should be glad that Kelly finally got the honors he deserved, albeit a century later.

Special thanks are due to Mike Bennett and the Admiral Worden Camp 150 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil war for procuring the new, polished granite stone for Kelly, and to Ed Dunn of the Board of Directors of the Veteran Corps of the 69th Regiment of New York and to Jim Stagnitta of All Faiths Monuments of Glendale, New York for arranging for the inscription to be cut into the stone.

 The event was declared closed by chairman Martin Lyons after the Last Post was played.

 The Bold Fenian Men, Thomas Kelly, the IRB and 1916

Dedication of Stone, Woodlawn, 31st May 2008


 Is iad a do an tine beo - it is they who lit the everlasting fire.  So it was said of the men and women of Easter Week, 1916, inspiring an orchestral piece by Seán Ó Riada in 1966.  But the Easter Rising was not exclusively the result of the rising of dragons’ teeth sewn by Tom Clarke, Pádraig Pearse, James Connolly and the others of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.  “1916” was brought to you by Ireland’s conspiratorial élite, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (the IRB).  But whence the IRB? 

Thomas Cahill, author of How the Irish Saved Civilization, contends that history is learned in pieces, because pieces is all we have of the past, letters, photographs, contemporary accounts, etc.  Nollaig Ó Gadhra points out that these pieces can be assembled to reveal patterns, which can demonstrate a continuity of ideas; one of these constants is that, so long as there has been an Irish diaspora, there have been Irish exiles who have made it their business to support the cause of Irish freedom at home, and to do what they could to further it abroad.  After the defeat at Kinsale (3rd/4th January 1602), Hugh O’Neill was writing to the King of Spain, requesting to be landed in the North with the Irish regiment then stationed in Flanders.  In the aftermath of the (later broken) Treaty of Limerick, most of Patrick Sarsfield’s Irish Army became the Irish Brigade in the service of France – “The Flight of the Wild Geese” (22nd December 1691).  The numerous Irish Brigade regiments left their mark, one notable deed being the decisive charge by the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745, where the Irish battle cry was “Cuimnidh ar Luimneach agus ar Feall na Sasanach” (Remember Limerick and the English treachery).  Since that time, Irishmen who leave Ireland to seek military experience in the armies of England’s enemies or potential enemies, have  been  known  as  “Wild Geese.”  Much to England’s sorrow, America, as well as France, Austria, Spain, and others, welcomed the Wild Geese.  

An Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger of mid-19th century Ireland, which saw the population reduced by a half, was proof positive of the necessity, as Wolfe Tone had said in the 18th century, to break the connection with England (the “evil empire” to most 19th century Americans).  John Mitchell, in An Apology for the British Government in Ireland, as well as in the pages of his newspaper, The United Irishman, would make the case in a most compelling manner that England had encouraged and aggravated the famine for the purpose of thinning the Irish population.  Archbishop “Dagger John” Hughes of New York stated that the food, which could have fed the Irish, was “exported to a better market, and left the people to die of famine…” [See Thomas Gallagher, Paddy’s Lament]  The “Famine” period would take on, for the Irish of the 19th and 20th centuries, the same psychological significance as the Nazi period has for the Jews of the 20th and 21st centuries. 

After the failure of the Rising in 1848, the locus of Irish revolutionary activity had shifted from Dublin to New York.  A conspiratorial élite of Irish exiles sought to create an Irish Republican military force.  Seven men, Michael Doheny, John O’Mahony, Michael Corcoran, Thomas J. Kelly, James Roche, Oliver Byrne and Patrick O’Rourke, gathered in the law office of Michael Doheny of Tipperary (Chairman, Emmet Monument Association), to play their part in the future liberation of Ireland.  As it would later be articulated by Brian O’Higgins in the Wolfe Tone Annual, the lesson of history was clear to these men: Ireland had made progress toward freedom only through physical force, or the threat of physical force.  This was the cornerstone of the belief and purpose of The Bold Fenian Men –  The Fenian Faith.   

In part through the agency of the Emmet Monument Association, the 69th Regiment of New York had been brought into existence on 12th October 1851 (Michael Doheny its first Lieutenant Colonel).  Nor was the 69th the only such Irish revolutionary unit in the organized militias of the several States.  Realizing that activity in America would be futile without cooperation in Ireland, these exiles, meeting in New York, reached out to their former comrades-in-arms at home, with the result that Joseph Denieffe, Thomas Clark Luby and James Stephens brought into existence the Irish Revolutionary / Republican Brotherhood (the IRB) in Dublin, Saint Patrick's Day 1858.   

The IRB, which brought about the Rising in Dublin and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic during Easter Week 1916, can trace its origin to this band of 1848 exiles, meeting first at 6 Centre Street, and then often in the Hibernian Hall managed by Michael Corcoran (of the 69th New York State Militia), near Saint Patrick's old Cathedral on Prince Street in New York City.   

“The Wandering Hawk” Stephens became the Head Center of the IRB in Ireland, and the scholar O’Mahony was Head Center of the organization in America.  O’Mahony, would later command the 99th New York State Militia “Phoenix Brigade” in the American Civil War.  It was another “Fenian” regiment, but of brigade strength, consisting of some forty (40) independent companies.  O’Mahony, in 1858, was already a scholar of international repute, thanks in part to the wide acclaim for his translation of Geoffrey Keating’s History of Ireland from early classical modern Irish into English.  He was inspired by the example of na fianna, the élite national guard of third century Ireland.  He coined the word Fenian for the brotherhood in America.  Soon the terms Fenian and IRB became interchangeable.  The Fenian Brotherhood grew exponentially after the refusal of Colonel Michael Corcoran to parade the 69th for the visiting (so-called) “Prince of Wales,” 11th October 1860, and the many ceremonies en route of the ’48 man, Terrence Bellew M’Manus, who died in San Francisco in 1861, and was eventually buried in Ireland.  This growth was compounded in both armies during the American Civil War, as well as, thanks in large part to the exertions of John Devoy, among Irish in the British Army.       

Thomas J. Kelly was part of the founding leadership of what would become known in song and story as “The Bold Fenian Men,” and has the distinction of being a hero of two countries.  A native of Mountbellew, County Galway, and, like Ken Tierney, educated in Saint Jarlath’s College, Tuam, where among his teachers was Michael J. McCann, a regular contributor to the Nation (edited originally by the great nationalist poet Thomas Davis).  McCann wrote “O’Donnell Abú”, the stirring war song set in 16th century Ireland, which was so popular among Irish throughout the world, that it was regarded, for a time, as a virtual Irish national anthem.  Thomas Kelly had seen the Repeal Movement (attending, with some 40,000 others, a “Monster Meeting” at Caltra, on 21st May 1843), the Great Hunger and the Rising of 1848 (with trails, speeches from the dock, and exile of many leaders) first hand, but, like Robert Emmet in 1798, was apparently too young, and too careful, to attract the attention of the Constabulary in 1848.   

After his classical, theological and nationalist education at Saint Jarlath’s, where he mastered not only the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but also the Gospel of Tone, Thomas Kelly apprenticed to the printer’s trade in Kelly’s, the business of a relation in Loughrea.  His apprenticeship complete, he emigrated to America, the land of opportunity, in 1851.  Directly, he fell in with 1848 exiles in New York; his rapid acceptance into the leadership of the Republican movement is testimony not only to his ability and dedication, but also to the credentials/recommendations which must have accompanied him from ’48 men at home.   

Thomas Kelly participated both in the Emmet Monument Association and in the New York State Militia (1851-57).  Although he was in the New York State Militia, and associated with Doheny and Corcoran, both officers of the 69th, we cannot say for certain that Kelly was in the 69th, rather than being assigned to organize in one of the other Irish regiments in New York.  The problem is that enlisted rosters from the 1850s have not survived, not in the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, nor in the archives of the New York Historical Society, nor in the records of the 69th Regiment of New York.  So, while all the circumstantial evidence all points to the 69th, it cannot be claimed as a certainty; what is certain, however, is that, thanks to the opportunity presented by the New York State Militia, Thomas Kelly was both a student and a practitioner of the military art. 

A co-founder of the Fenian Brotherhood, Thomas Kelly later moved to Tennessee to start/edit the Nashville Democrat.  [The large number of Fenians found in Nashville after the war suggests that he busied himself with more than journalism.]  It is said that the flag on his newspaper office was the last “Stars and Stripes” in Nashville to come down after the secession of Tennessee. 

Like many other Fenians, Thomas Kelly answered Lincoln’s call for volunteers to fight to preserve the United States.  A personal friend and political/conspiratorial associate of Michael Corcoran, Thomas Kelly was preparing to return to New York to the 69th, when he was introduced to a new Irish regiment, the 10th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and threw in his lot with them.  The 10th Ohio was originally enlisted for three months, and then re-enlisted for an additional three years.  A member of Company “C”, his military knowledge and ability having been recognized, Kelly was promoted to Sergeant upon this reorganization.  By the end of the summer he was functioning as First Sergeant of Company “C”.  Although receiving what should have been a “million dollar wound” in the Battle of Carnifex Ferry in Western Virginia, 10th September 1861, he volunteered to return to duty before the end of the year.  Kelly had been shot in the jaw by a bullet that destroyed part of his jaw and three teeth and then lodged in the muscles of the left side of his neck, from which it was removed surgically.  It is possible that the goatee, which appears in all of his pictures was not only in fashion in the 1860s, but also hid what could have been a disfiguring scar.   

Kelly was commissioned in January 1862, and later secunded to the staff of Major General George Thomas (later “The Rock of Chickamauga”) of the XIV Corps, United States Army of the Cumberland, as a Signal Officer.  He was promoted to Captain on 17th March 1863, becoming Chief Signal Officer.  During this period his regimental commander requested his reassignment back to the 10th Ohio, in order that he might take command of one of the regiment’s manoeuvre battalions (which would probably have entailed a at least a temporary promotion to major or lieutenant colonel).  General Thomas refused the request, writing that he could not spare Kelly from his duties.  [The Army of the United States had a “regimental” system, whereby personnel secunded to other units are still carried on the rolls, on 30th April 1863, Kelly was administratively transferred, on the books of the 10th Ohio, from Company “C” to Company “I”, while continuing to serve at XIV Corps Headquarters.  It should also be noted that, as Chief Signal Officer, Kelly was well situated to maintain communications with Fenians in the Army of the Cumberland.]  Unfortunately, General Thomas’ need for Kelly’s services was trumped by a new Army regulation requiring that all officers of the Signal Corps have university degrees by the following February (and a war on!).  This being the case (too late for battalion command), Kelly again requested transfer back to his regiment.  On 19th August 1863 he was ordered to return to the "Bloody Tinth" as Captain, Company “I”, from which he was later mustered out with the rest of the 10th Ohio.  His military service continued with the Fenians, the Irish Republican Army.  American Fenian uniform buttons bore the letters “IRA”. 

With the end of the American Civil War in 1865, the Fenian Brotherhood in America sent its most trusted military officer, Captain Thomas Kelly, home to Ireland to assess the prospects for a Rising, and to advise on military matters.  By summer 1865, John Devoy was convinced that the time was ripe for a rising.  The Fenian Chief, James Stephens, was captured in Dublin; Kelly, with John Devoy and others, rescued Stephens from Richmond Gaol – much to the consternation of Dublin Castle.  Kelly then arranged their harrowing escape from Ireland, via a collier to Kilmarnock in Scotland, thence by rail to London, whence to Paris and ultimately to America.  In May 1866 Stephens, then in New York, appointed Thomas Kelly his deputy.  After the visionary organizer Stephens stepped down, 29th December 1866, now Colonel Kelly, the pragmatic military man, became Chief Organizer of the Irish Republic (Virtually Established) and leader of the Fenian Brotherhood / Irish Revolutionary/Republican Brotherhood (IRB).  Kelly promptly sailed for England and Ireland in January 1867, to assess the situation, organize, and plan for a Rising.   

Colonel Kelly and Captain Timothy Deasy were arrested in Manchester.  On 18th September 1867, they were rescued from a prison van by a group of bold Fenian men in what has become know to history as “the smashing of the van.”  During the rescue a policeman, Sergeant Brett, was accidentally killed.  Kelly and Deasy escaped to America.  There were nearly eighty arrests, and twenty-seven charged.  Five Irishmen, none of whom had fired the shot, were condemned to death in a hasty show trial.  One turned out to be an uninvolved Royal Marine, who, after a campaign by journalists who had attended the trial, was released.  Another, Captain Edward O’Meagher Condon (US citizen and veteran of Corcoran’s Irish Legion), at the request of the American Consul, had his sentence commuted to life at hard labor – Condon would be released eleven years later at the request of US President Hayes - who acted on a unanimous resolution of Congress.  Later author of The Irish Race in America, he now lies in Calvary Cemetery.  At the trial in Manchester, Condon was asked if he had anything to say, he replied, “I have nothing to retract – nothing to take back.  I can only say ‘God Save Ireland.’”    

“God Save Ireland!” repeated the three men beside him.  Those men, William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin and Captain Michael O’Brien (American citizen and Civil War veteran) were hanged on the cold damp, foggy morning of 23rd November 1867 – the Manchester Martyrs.  T.D. Sullivan would be inspired to write “God Save Ireland”, which became a virtual Irish national anthem Ireland until superseded by Peader Kearney’s “Amhrán na bFian” during Easter Week 1916. 

Patriot Graves are the hallowed resting places of heroes, and as such due all respect.  The proper keeping of such graves is an obligation of the living, not only to the occupants of such graves, but also to our posterity, who might better remember and learn from the example of our heroes, and of those who keep their memory green. 

The original headstone on the grave of Colonel Thomas J. Kelly of the Fenian Brotherhood (6th January 1833 – 5th February 1908), was found, after the 2007 Friends of Irish Freedom / Sean Oglaigh na hÉireann 1916 Commemoration, to be melting under the impact of a century of acid rain; action was needed lest the only remaining locator of the grave of Thomas Kelly would be in a cemetery computer data base.  Under the leadership of Martin Lyons of Glenamaddy, a group of kindred spirits (including Kevin Kennedy of Galway, Martin Galvin, Esq. of the Bronx, Liam Murphy of the Irish Brigade Association, and Charlie Laverty of The Moy in Tyrone, President Emeritus, New York Irish History Roundtable – assisted by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and by Susan Olsen and the staff of Woodlawn Cemetery) decided to replace Thomas Kelly’s stone with a more durable polished granite stone befitting an American soldier and Irish hero, in order that Kelly might better be remembered on both sides of the Atlantic, and wherever green is worn. 

Their research was aided by a number of people, most notably: Anne Tierney and Tommy Gavin in Galway; Lieutenant Colonel Bob Bateman, Deputy Commander, 88th Brigade, New York Guard (lineal descendant of the 88th New York Volunteer Infantry of the Irish Brigade of the United States Army of the Potomac); Colonel James Tierney, Regimental Historian, 69th Regiment of New York; Mickey McPhillips in Fermanagh; and, Robert McLernan of Virginia (researching at the US National Archives in Washington, DC).   

The families of Martin Lyons and of Thomas Kelly go back for generations, and are related by marriage.  Martin’s grandfather, Michael Lyons, a Fenian, knew Thomas Kelly, which fact was related by his own grandmother, Catherine Moore Lyons, who told him how Kelly had escaped to America, smuggled in the hay of a wagon driven to Galway by the mother.  In 1967, a commemorative plaque was placed on Kelly’s house (now a pub) on the square in Mount Bellew by Kitty O’Grady, a relation of Thomas Kelly. 

Of the Fenian Brotherhood / IRB, co-founded, and, for a time, led by Thomas Kelly, American soldier and Irish revolutionary, it can truly be said, “Is iad a do an tine beo.”  It is the fire they lit which continues to inspire.  Professor Eoin McKiernan, former Editor of J.J. McGarrity’s newspaper The Irish Republic, and later founder of the Irish American Cultural Institute, felt that Ireland’s best chance for freedom was probably the Fenians – The Bold Fenian Men.   

By 20 June 1867, a new organization, Clan na Gael, was founded in New York by a New York Herald journalist, Arctic explorer and the world’s first weather forecaster, Jerome J. Collins of Cork City, for the purpose of bringing together the disparate factions within the Fenian Brotherhood.  [Devoy’s Post Bag, Vol. I, p. 5] Shortly, the future leader of the Clan, John Devoy, came from Ireland with a reputation for decisive action and impressive organizational skills.  He joined Clan na Gael in 1870, and soon electrified the world by raising funds and organizing the rescue if the Fenian prisoners in Australia, using the whaler CATALPA.  In later years Thomas Kelly participated in “Manchester Martyrs” commemorations organized by Clan na Gael in New York City.  Devoy and Clan na Gael later supported the Irish War for Independence.  John Devoy, throughout his life, remained a great admirer of Thomas Kelly. 

Captain Timothy Deasy (of Clonakilty, Co. Cork, and Company “I”, “Irish 9th” Regiment of Massachusetts), received a new granite stone on his grave in Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Lawrence, Massachusetts on 23rd November 1992, the dedication organized by Bob Bateman, great-grandson of Timothy’s brother Cornelius – also a Fenian; the principal speaker was Derek Warfield of the Wolfe Tones, himself the grandson of a Fenian. 

[Thanks to Mike and Tom Costello and the Fenian Graves Association, and to Cumann na Saoirse Náisiunta, a more complete story of Thomas Kelly, and of the dedication of his stone on 31st May 2008, will appear later on the website.  This event will also be featured in a video documentary about the Irish in the American Civil War, produced by Michael McPhillips.  A complete report will be sent to Éamonn Griffin in Ireland, who attended the event on behalf of the National Graves Association in Ireland.]

 At Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, at the grave of O’Donovan Rossa in 1915, Pádraig Pearse would say,

“They have left us our Fenian dead, ...” 

Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men

Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a n-anama uasaile 

Go saoradh Dia Éire!


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