The Diary of Robert O’Kelly

A Diary of Items of Interest


A copy of The Diary of Robert O’Kelly is held in the collection.1   Robert O’Kelly was born in Castleisland on the 18th June 1835. He described himself as ‘no sort of scholar’ and acknowledged that his memoir was ‘imperfectly written’:



If I was or had any sort of education but unfortunately for myself I scarcely got any education … only taken away from school before I was ten years of age and put to the block at one of the most laborious trades in existence.



‘To and for my dearest child Robert’ – from the original manuscript



O’Kelly, who recalled ‘the great and big storm of wind what blew on the little Christmas day and night in the year 1839’, encountered Father Matthew in the summer of 1840:



I was carried to a great meeting where the great Father Matthew, then on his rounds throughout Ireland, was administering the pledge  … In his passing through the people I well remember I had the great privilege of his putting his hand on my head and blessing me amongst the thousands.



Fr Matthew memorial in St Joseph’s cemetery, Cork



O’Kelly recalled seeing Daniel O’Connell in his ‘repeal Cap’:



I well remember seeing the great Daniel O’Connell three or four times in 1843 and 1844 and hear him speak from his Carriage on the Repeal  … wearing his repeal Cap he was.  



Open to the public: O’Connell’s Derrynane at Caherdaniel



The Great Famine


The Diary follows the political trials of the nineteenth century including the Fenian movement, the Land War and Home Rule.  It also records the Famine:


There was no man saw more of the hunger, misery and starvation in families than I did in those years.  It was the same all over the country in every place, in town, village and the country around.  Everywhere you turned in those years you met death, death … there was nothing talked of those days but death.  



O’Kelly’s parents, who had two out-houses, ‘never refused a night’s shelter to anyone who came the way looking for it’:


They kept a splendid turf fire in each to warm those poor starving of God’s creatures after the hardships of the day with plenty of clean straw to make a kind of a bed for them … Oh what scenes I witnessed at night carrying the turf to keep the fire for them … Those scenes are as plain to me today as when I went amongst them.  They could never be forgotten by any person who witnessed them.  



O’Kelly’s personal achievements, notably his fund-raising efforts for the Dominican church in Tralee and his fortitude in seeing two monuments raised in Kerry, are also set down.2



’98 Monument in Tralee. The monument erected in O’Kelly’s time was destroyed in 1916



O’Kelly – a ‘pure-souled’ patriot


The name of Robert O’Kelly is not widely recognised but from genealogical research carried out by Michael O’Donohoe and from material contained within the Diary, it is learned that Robert O’Kelly married Mary Dunn and had 12 children.  It was one of his six sons who sent him ‘a patriotic souvenir’ – a piece of stone from the grave of Michael O’Dwyer.

Robert O’Kelly died in Tralee on 29 January 1919 at the age of 84 at which time he was described as ‘one of the most pure-souled, sincere, consistent patriots in the bead roll of Irish Nationality’.



Booklet produced by the Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project in 2015


1 IE MOD/20. The Diary, an 11-pg typewritten document, was reproduced with notes, genealogical material and illustrations and published in booklet form by the Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project during National Heritage Week, 22–29 August 2015, to celebrate ‘From Mind to Hand’ – the first exhibition of the O’Donohoe archive in Castleisland.  It was subsequently established that the document in the collection was transcribed from a 75-page handwritten manuscript dated 15th September 1914 composed by Robert O'Kelly and inscribed, 'To and for my dearest child Robert'.  A photocopy of the original is now held in the collection, reference IE MOD/A3.  The location of the original is unclear (see notes on correspondence with J J Barrett in IE MOD/A3).  A revised edition of The Diary of Robert O’Kelly has been prepared for print.
2 Monuments to the Manchester Martyrs and the Rebellion of 1798.