COLONEL THOMAS J. KELLY. 163
THOMAS J. KELLY.
Birth and Youth—A Printer—Famous Printers—Starts the Nashville Democrat —Flies from Tennessee for his Union Faith—Joins the Army in Cincinnati—Wounded—Promoted—Signal Officer on General Thomas' Staff—Health Broken—Enters the Fenian Cause—First Military Envoy to Ireland—On Tour of Inspection—Supervises Stephens' Escape—Labors in America—Difference with Stephens—Returns for the Fight in Ireland—Letter on the Aims of the " Provisional Government."
COLONEL THOMAS JAMES* KELLY, whose name is so frequently alluded to in the evidence of Massey, and who became Chief Organizer after the retirement of Stephens is a man of marked ability, various resources and untiring energy ; a clear thinker, and a sagacious worker, he has also displayed a very remarkable adroitness in his movements in England and Ireland. While managing the details of the organization, he has baffled the watchfulness of the authorities, and even when his residence was betrayed to the Government, he managed by that restless foresight which amounts to intuition, to change his whereabouts and to evade up to the present the attentions of the police. The dangers through which he passed in America, as an officer in the signal service during the war, concentrated the self-reliance which has been of such use to him in the service of Ireland. A follower of the art preservative of all arts, the knowledge gained as a
*NOTE: Erica Veil, a descendant of Thomas Kelly is
writing a biography of him and informed me that his middle name is Joseph not
James based on family documentation.
HEROES AND MARTYRS.
and journalist has stood him in good need on the emergencies into which his
patriotic duties led him.
J. Kelly was born in Mount Bellew, comity Galway, in 1833. His father belonged
to the farming class and brought up his son for the Church. On this account he
received a better education than is generally the lot of young men in similar
circumstances. Not Laving a vocation for the clerical profession, his father
wisely bound him to the printing business in Loughrea. Finding the prospects
before him too circumscribed for his aspiring mind, young Kelly started for
America, and arrived in New York when but eighteen years of age. Like most young
men on their first arrival here, he had to encounter those buffetings which
almost invariably fall to the lot of the inexperienced in a new country ; but
with his usual persevering industry, he overcame them, and got good employment
at his profession as printer. He soon rose in the estimation of his employers
and in the good opinion of his brother craftsmen, among whom he was quickly
distinguished for his integrity and ability. He was a prominent and active
member of the Printer's Union, and members of the craft now refer to him as
another evidence of the ability which distinguish Printers when they enter
public life. The eminence to which the followers of Guttenberg and Faust, of
Etienne, and Caxton, have arisen, is a favorite and prolific theme with the
crafts-brethren. This is not to be wondered at, or checked, when we consider the
philosophers, poets and historians, on the muster
THOMAS J. KELLY.
Franklins,, Berangers, Michelets, and in our own days, the Greeleys, Colfaxes,
and others, not to mention those of a military turn, like Marechal Brune, who,
graduating from the composing stick to the baton of France, distinguished
himself by driving the English and Russians
from Holland, and against the Austrians on the plains of Italy. Truly may
the printers be proud of the men who have done honor to the profession, and it
was extremely pleasing in this connection to hear some of the craft refer to
Kelly, as one who illustrated the force of character,
ready resources, sagacity and honesty, which are claimed as characteristic of
its best representatives.
On his arrival in New York, young Kelly, having a predisposition for
military matters from boyhood, was delighted with the advantages offered by the
National Guard, and companies of citizen soldiery. He of course joined a
military organization, and in time identified himself with every movement
tending to exalt his countrymen in the social and moral scale. The moment a true
young Irishman gets a weapon into his hand, his first thought is for Ireland,
and the more he learns the use of it, the more intense is his desire to use it
against England. Kelly had this natural feeling, and became an active member of
the Irish Society which had produced the Fenian Brotherhood-. that known by the
significant title of " The Emmet Monument Association."
In 1857, at the recommendation of some friends,. 'Mr. Kelly went to
Nashville, Tennessee, where he soon afterwards started the Nashville Democrat,
HEROES AND MARTYRS.
supported the Presidential claims of that noble patriot, Stephen A. Douglas,
during the exciting political campaign of 1860.
Mr. Kelly continued to be a warm and fearless supporter of the Union
cause, and when the rebellion broke out he was obliged to leave. These were the
terrible days when terrorism ruled in Tennessee, and when the Legislature in
secret session, and without waiting for the people to vote on the question of
secession, placed the power of the State at the disposal of the "Southern
Confederacy." By the machinery of mobs and vigilance committees dextrously
worked, night and day, thousands of Union men were forced to fly
from the State. " We have seen scores of the best men of
Tennessee," said a competent authority, writing at the time, "within
the last few days, and they all bear witness that in their belief, the reign of
terror now raging and maddening in that State, has had no parallel in modern
history. There is less of personal freedom, there is more of atrocious and horrible
tyranny in Tennessee at this time, than would be found under the worst and most
wretched government of Asia, or the savage islands of the sea." At this
time, Kelly was the last man to fly the starry flag in Nashville, over his
printing office, and he had to fly so
precipitately that he was unable to save his property, and therefore was again
thrown on the world with nothing but his own strong will and industrious
perseverance to rely upon. But he was not disheartened. He saw that a great
war was in its inception, and that patriotism should meet its just reward. His
THOMAS J. KELLY.
spirit added to the feelings engendered by his
treatment as a Union man. The declaration of Colonel Corcoran in New York,
tendering the 69th Regiment for the defence
of the Union, and calling for recruits, reached him, and he started with
the intention of going to New York and joining it. When he arrived at
Cincinnati, he heard of the enrollment of the 10th Ohio, an Irish regiment, and
immediately joined its ranks as a private, and at the expiration of the three
months' service, he re-enlisted for the war.
had seen some active service in Western Virginia
in his first campaign, and was severely wounded in one of the battles that
followed. He was immediately promoted to a Second Lieutenancy for gallant and meritorious
conduct, but his wound rendered him unfit for service for some time. When
able to return to his regiment he was
selected for duty as Signal Officer on General Thomas' staff, with rank
of Captain, a distinction which speaks for
itself, especially when conferred by so able and discerning a commander.
signal service was one of great importance, and imminent danger. From the nature
of its proceedings little publicity was given to them. Tact, sagacity, quick
perception, and persistency under all obstacles, were the requisites to make or
distinguish an officer in this service. Oftentimes the signal officers, accompanied
only by a few men, had to occupy a prominent isolated position on a mountain or
hill, to telegraph their signals or respond to others. These positions were frequently exposed to rebel raids, and the officers were
often overpowered or killed.
HEROES AND MARTYRS.
Kelly discharged the duties of his position to the entire satisfaction of
General Thomas, who complimented him for his ability and zeal. In camp he was a
great favorite with his brother officers, on account of his agreeable manner, in
their social hours, and his daring disposition in times of danger, made him
relied on by the men. His regiment was finally mustered out of the service,
having served its time honorably.
broken down by hardships and exposure, Captain Kelly was unfit for active duty,
and he retired with his regiment to recuperate.
this time when he had helped to save the Republic of his adoption, circumstances
led him to place his experience in the cause which designed to make a republic
in his native land. By so doing he doubtless interfered materially with his
future prospects, as he was offered promotion in the American service, and
declined it to further the cause of Irish liberty. Being present at the Chicago
Fair, to raise funds in aid of the Irish movement, he received much information
concerning the progress of republican ideas in Ireland, and the desire of the
Fenian Brotherhood there to take the field. He was so much impressed
with what he heard, and believing he would be of positive benefit from
the training he had under-gone, he made up
his mind to join the struggling band, came to New York, and placed
himself and his experience at the disposal of the Brotherhood.
The result was, Captain Kelly was dispatched to Ireland as an envoy, the
first who was sent in a mili
Accredited to Mr. Stephens, the inter-view had a special influence on the future
of both. They were immediately struck with each other. Kelly beheld an untiring,
restless conspirator, with capacity to sway men's minds, in Stephens; Stephens acknowledged
the blunt, honest and capable soldier, in Kelly. Becoming convinced of
the power and influence of James Stephens, and finding him master of the
occasion, Kelly became his devoted adherent. He was at once set to work, and
deputed to make an inspection of the state of things in Ireland, and report on
them on his return. His report was fully satisfactory. He stated that he was
amazed at the ramifications of the Brotherhood in Ireland, and could not
have believed it, only he had convinced himself by actual observation.
all his transactions Kelly exhibited such a clearness
of perception, and vigor of thought, such integrity of purpose and
energy, that Stephens quickly recognized him as an invaluable agent in
carrying on his organization scheme. He was employed in various offices,
sometimes in visiting circles in different sections of the country, at
other times in assisting Stephens in the executive management of affairs at
these trying and dangerous missions the coolness
and courage of the signal officer, were constantly brought into play, and he
labored with a secrecy and caution that baffled the most vigilant detectives.
On the arrest of James Stephens, Capt. Kelly had to exert himself with
unceasing ability. He had to meet the different centres who were impatient to
THOMAS J. KELLY
the occasion, and to calm or make
controlable the excitement that existed. The promises of support from America
were so flattering that he did not think it prudent to give his consent to a rising
then. Stephens, too, was opposed to an out-break under the circumstances.
Kelly supervised, if he did not originate the plans for Stephens' escape, which
were so successful. The arrangements were admirably prepared, and Kelly, with
a few friends, received the liberated prisoner
outside of the jail walls, and conducted him to a place of safety, and
baffled all search for him.
of the leaders were now in prison or sentenced to penal servitude. Kelly's
activity bordered on the marvelous. He had to meet the different centres from
the country to make their reports for it would create suspicion if too many were
seen to visit the retreat of the Chief.
course, the particulars of the transactions of this period, or of Captain
Kelly's important services cannot now be published. Suffice it to say, that he
did good work which fully met the approval of the leading minds of the
Brotherhood. When it became necessary for Stephens to visit this country to try
and heal dissensions and unite all lovers of Ireland, all the preliminary
arrangements were made by Captain Kelly. How he effected his object is fully
stated in the following interesting letters :
My Dear —, When I parted from you on Tuesday night, you had'nt much idea of the heavy task before me. Yet now that all
FENIAN HEROES AND MARTYRS
is over it appears only to be a dream. Although you thought Mr. Stephens had left the country, he was in Dublin until that night, and, spite of all the vigilance of British spies, he left his lodgings on an outside car, got on board a vessel in the Liffey, and sailed for an English port.
It was amusing to me to see him pass several policemen on the quays, and walk deliberately on board. We were three days in the Channel owing to bad winds. We ultimately reached a port in Scotland, slept all night in Kilmarnock, rode in the mail train next day from there to London, slept in London, and (in the morning, in the heart of the enemy's city), after sleeping all night in a hotel across the street from Buckingham Palace (in the Palace Hotel), started by the morning train from the Victoria Station for Dover.
We got on board the French mail steamer there about eleven o'clock on Sunday, and started for Calais, which we reached in safety. Wasn't my mind happy when I touched French soil, and saw the Chief Organizer of the Irish Republic in a position to laugh at the blindly-mad, childlike efforts of the British to capture him.
After all the searches of ships and steamers outside of the Irish coast, so well were we informed of their every movement, that the affair was comparatively easy. The next time that James Stephens touches the Irish soil, he will show the British that their barbarous treatment of Irish patriots but added fuel to the national flame already kindled all over the island, instead of "stamping it out," as they propose to do. Sir Hugh Rose will find when he attempts to commit such devilish barbarities as those of which he was guilty in India, that he has not Sepoys to deal with. Let him order his soldiers to butcher women and children and gray-haired old men (as he threatened to do), and blow our soldiers from the cannon's mouth—let him dare carry out his black-hearted intentions towards the women of Ireland, and there will be such a retribution, not alone in Ireland, but in the heart of the British empire, as will not be paralleled in history. The enemy left no stone unturned to make us fight before we were ready ; they played a desperate card and lost. Just wait and see the effect of the arrival of Mr. Stephens
THOMAS J. KELLY.
America, and you will see I speak correctly. All is well for Ireland yet. Next
Christmas I have confidence I will dine with you as a free and independent
citizen of the Irish Republic. Kind remembrance. Yours, etc.
--- I have been remiss in not writing to you before this. Mr. Stephens and
myself arrived here on Sunday last. We were enabled to make our trip with great
ease. Just think how horribly stupid the enemy's agents are, when we were
enabled to travel in the open day through Scotland and England—to embark at
eleven in the day from the harbor of Dover.
After all the ship-searching, we started from the quays in
the city of Dublin. Mr. Stephens left his lodgings on an open car, and, on
my honor, undisguised. We
had no easy time in the Channel, as we were kept there three days owing to
adverse winds. We were driven to Carrickfergus Bay by stress of weather, and it
was amusing to think how much the Mayor of Belfast would give to know what a
distinguished guest he had. However, as the wind changed after being anchored
all night, we did not make a call or leave our cards.
Yours, Very Sincerely,
in America, Colonel Kelly was the right hand man of his chosen chief. On the
transfer of the management of Fenian affairs, Kelly, by circular of the 18th
June, 1866, took charge of the Central Office. Towards
the close of the year, the most intense anxiety permeated the Fenian
body. Arrests continued to be made in Ireland, the hopes of an outbreak were
rife. Its necessity was argued by the great majority, especially of the military
men. Among them Colonel Kelly was prominent, and when Stephens did not
FENIAN HEROES AND MARTYRS. 173
think the time auspicious, the former called a meeting
on the 4th January, 1867, the facts of which being deemed official, are here
None but Centres and Delegates were admitted, and Colonel Kelly laid
before the members a statement of the affairs of the organization, giving an
account of James Stephens' conduct at the critical period when action was
expected, pledging at the same time that the work was progressing favorably, and
that the prospects of final success were promising.
The details of the plans and measures adopted were
not made public, but the statement that all moneys received, were employed in
carrying out the great work of Ireland's redemption, and that true and efficient
men were ready at their posts for the work assigned, gave heart and purpose to
the members present. Members of the Irish organization were present who stated
that the men of the old land were willing and prepared for the final struggle ;
that now and hereafter, they would place no confidence in the words of this
leader or that ; that they at home, come what may, were determined to fight for
their homes and nationality ; that there was nothing left for the manhood of
Ireland save paupers' graves or the emigrant ship ; that their hopes, their
honors and their lives were doomed forever, unless they succeeded in driving
the English garrison from Ireland; and that the attempt would be made, come weal
or woe. Nothing, they said, could be worse than the present condition of
Ireland, and they are determined, and so are the MEN
of Ireland, to put an end to it.
174 COLONEL THOMAS J. KELLY.
of action on the part of Stephens, in the face of his " uncalled-for
promises" was the subject of severe criticism and condemnation, though his
past services and great labors in the cause of Ireland were not forgotten or
ignored in the disappointment and irritation of the moment.
meeting of Centres and officers of New York and vicinity, to the number of five
hundred, v as held on Sunday, the 6th, at which Kelly's action was sustained.
The report says :
"When the defection of James Stephens was made known, and
the action of Colonel Kelly to sustain the men who had already
gone to maintain the national honor was ascertained, a vote of confidence in
Colonel Kelly, as well as a determination to sustain the fighting men at home,
was unanimously adopted."
Kelly was soon on the other side of the Atlantic. An outline of his action is
given in the informer's evidence on Colonel Bourke's trial. It only remains to
give the following translation of a letter which appeared in the Paris Liberte, after the result of the rising in Ireland, on the 5th March.
SIR: Permit me to say a few words in reply to an article entitled " The Insurrection of the Fenians," published by you in the Liberte of the 17th of March, 1867. M. W. de Foneville, the writer of the article in question, is certainly ignorant of our plans, our resources, and our principles, affirmed in a proclamation rendered public by the English, Belgian, and German papers. We have wished to efface from the opinion of the peoples the reproach of Castelfidardo, and give to the world a gauge of our Republican principles and our social aspirations. That is why we have inscribed in capital letters upon our proclamation the sentence—" We aim at founding a Republic based on universal suffrage,
HEROES AND MARTYRS. 175
which shall secure to all the
intrinsic value of their labor." The national soil, the abolition of
salaries, and the Republican form based on universal suffrage, such is what is
desired by the Ireland of 1867, regenerated by the stay of its exiles in America.
What has that in common with the programme of John Bright? Not even universal
suffrage, which he is against. Why then, should you fasten us to the
skirts of one man? We are a people and a principle—that is to say, the eternal
and the absolute. Can a principle be vanquished? Why, therefore do you say we
are vanquished? Did not Christianity commence by defeats ? Did it not, like us,
water the ground with the blood of its martyrs. Ours yield in nothing to those
of the primitive ages, and if their voices, stifled in the dungeons of England,
could come here to protest against your strange advice, and your still stranger
criticisms, not one would use any other language than that which I use to you at
this moment in their name and in the name of all proletarian Ireland. Our
movement is only commencing, and is not about to finish. As
battles, we shall avoid instead of seeking
them until we are strong enough to gain them. As for
our alliance with the English Reformers, it is a fait accompli; if
you doubt it, you have only to read the resolutions adopted at the last
meeting. But by Reformers we under-stand those who mean to go radically to the
bottom of the movement, and not those who officially assume the direction of
it. I add that a nation and a principle are strong enough to await all from time
without ever claiming extenuating circumstances, even from the generosity of
another nation. The insurrection, or rather the revolution, follows the course
it ought to follow. Compromised for an instant by the unskilful
zeal of some leaders, who, like us, love to give battle, it has resumed its
tranquil course ; men no more die of hunger and cold than fear the English
flying columns; and the reform of Mr. J. Bright will not prevent any member of
the organization from being at his post, or from doing his duty in conformity
with the orders of the provisional government. I avail myself of this
circumstance to appeal to the sympathy of the generous people of France in favor
of our cause. I am, &c.,
THOMAS J. KELLY.
FENIAN HEROES AND MARTYRS 176
Many details of Colonel Kelly's devotion to the cause of Irish Liberty cannot be given, as he is fortunately "at large" yet, and their relation might compromise others as well, whose services in the future will doubtless be needed.