Kelly Clan Gathering 2017
Armada Hotel, Spanish Point, Co. Clare, Ireland
Location of 2017 Kelly Clans Gathering.
Report from the 12th biennial Gathering of the Kelly Clan Association, by Ray Kelly
As a youth, I grew up in England, but spent most of my summers in Ireland where I developed a strong sense that this was ‘home’. Some of my earliest memories occurred on the Kelly farm at Clonina on the west coast of Ireland. As I drove closer to these Kelly lands, memories started to flood back of my time there, particularly the complex smells of Gran Kelly’s pea and ham soup cooking in the big black cauldron on top of the turf fire in the old kitchen, the burning of peat, and the fresh hay being readied for the harvest. I recalled with great clarity the bountiful views and the green of the Irish countryside, a green composed of fields, meadows, and ancient trees spun with ivy, mosses, ferns, and the soft light that plays over the peat bogs.
It was May of 2017 and I was driving along the almost deserted roads on the way to the Kelly Clan Gathering being held this year in the beautiful Armada Hotel at Spanish Point on the Wild Atlantic Way in Country Clare. The closer I got to the hotel the more excited I became about attending this 12th biennial gathering of Kellys from dozens of countries across the globe. I also eagerly anticipated meeting up with many of my closer relatives from Clare and England, some of whom had been members of The Kelly Clan Association since its inauguration in 1995. I simply rejoiced in the land of my ancestors, a land that always exceeds my expectations – it simply defies the imagination. Here, warmth and hospitality still rub shoulders with reserve and thoughtfulness. It is this intense individuality and stubborn sense of tradition that brought my ancestors a history full of glory and often much sadness. Fate has condemned this great land to centuries of emigration, although, like me, many of its descendants return from time to time, to stand lost in admiration of the Irish culture and tradition that go back thousands of years.
I am now living in the USA, a country that is very proud of its Irish heritage. This article is my humble attempt to pass on this appreciation of the efforts of so many that have built this organization over the years. Although my primary purpose of attending the Gathering was to continue my quest to develop a deeper understanding of my ancestral history, it was also to enjoy the company of my brother David, uncle Joe and several Kelly cousins along with a wonderful variety of wonderful Irish people. I had travelled for more than 20 hours and over 8,000 kilometers to attend this brief gathering, and as always, after a visit to the Emerald Isle, I left with a better appreciation for the land, its inhabitants and an epiphany of our closeness to Kellys all over the world. For that I want to thank everybody involved in the Kelly Clan Association, including Tainaste uncle Joseph Arthur Kelly, and our excellent host and MC, Tom Mernagh and his wife Mary Kelly who is the current president of the Kelly Clan Association.
The three day event was held from May 19th to May 21st starting on Friday afternoon and finishing midafternoon Sunday, giving us all plenty of time to meet and spend time with our long-distance relatives. Although all three days were very interesting, the highlight for me was the interesting presentation from Paddy Waldron, the renowned genealogist and distant cousin from the Craggaknock line. Paddy’s research is comprehensive and very accessible and is a superb resource for family history experts and neophytes alike. Although the leader of the Kelly DNA study, Aidan Kelly, was unable to attend, he forwarded an entertaining video presentation that provided an excellent overview of the state of the Kelly DNA study. He explained that the current research shows there are many genetically distinct Kelly based families, including several dominant branches that include the Ui Maine Kellys, and my line, the descendants of Brian Boru.
Paddy helped me deliver a supplementary presentation that Aidan had developed, which provided lots of useful technical detail on the DNA studies of the Kelly family. This generated lots of interesting questions and further discussions over the weekend on the DNA research. 5
Saturday afternoon featured a fun bus trip through the Burren, along the cliffs of Moher, and into Doolin and Liscannor where the group paid homage to the inventor of the world’s first submarine, John Holland. Saturday’s events concluded with an outstanding gala dinner and we were all entertained until the wee hours by honorary chieftain, Joe Kelly and some local musicians, dancers, singers and comedians, many of whom were attending the Gathering.
I started “tracing” as a 10-year-old in the late 1960’s primarily as something different to do during my many summer holidays visiting the old country. For more than 45 years I have continued to visit with hundreds of relatives throughout Ireland, painstakingly recording the many family stories, along with years of research of public records, and using as many formal and informal genealogical sources that I could find. At the Clan gathering it was incredible seeing so many people poring over early copies of the genealogy report of this branch of the Kelly family that I first started in the early 1980’s, and one that now lists several thousand descendants of the Kelly family starting in the 17th century.
In all this time, I was never able to find a direct Kelly line to ancestors before Tadhg an Oir Kelly who was born around 1790 in County Clare. Thanks to the amazing modern DNA research of several pioneers, especially Aidan Kelly, I was amazed to discover on this trip that DNA research indicates that my line are direct descendants of the great Irish king, Brian Boru, and are therefore originally from the O’Brien Clan.
The modern records of the Kelly family are comprehensive since the O’Kelly family first settled in County Clare in Ireland in the 17th century. However, the records of our Kelly and O’Brien ancestors date back to a much earlier time. With the punishing wars of the 11th century, the Great Famine of the 17th century, and the tough penal laws in Ireland during the 18th century, it is amazing that we are around to tell the story.
Ray T Kelly has been a student of genealogy for over 45 years, and acquainted with the Kelly Clan Association since 1995. He was born in St. Albans, England, to Irish parents from west Clare. He now lives in Tampa, Florida in the USA with his beautiful wife Tricia. They have four boys and three grandchildren. His family tree traces directly back to Tadhg an Oir O’Kelly and Honora Mahon from Cloughanbeg in County Clare in the 17th century, and is always interested in hearing from relatives. If you are interested in more information, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: Tonii Kelly, who splits her time between Florida and Gort, Co. Galway, spoke to the group on Friday evening, sharing her experiences in tracing Kelly ancestors.
Mary Clancy and the Mary Clancy Set Dancers entertained the group after the Evening Banquet on Saturday. With some prompting, many “audience” members became very active “participants,” joining the dancers, sharing songs and group dances. 6
The Noon AGM (Agenda for General Assembly) was well attended on Sunday. The participation was thoughtful and lively, with many interesting ideas for continuing our organization and growing membership. We’ll keep you posted on follow-up. Thank you to all who took part.
Sunday afternoon, Trisha Kelly of Tucson, AZ gave a presentation on “DNA 101.” Unfortunately, many people were unable to attend this one because of timing. It was especially succinct and well-organized and probably appealed to those who have not delved as deeply into DNA studies in the past. Trisha gives presentations on DNA for the LDS Library (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints “Mormons,”) so is well-suited to explaining the basics for a broad audience.
A special mention to Bridget Kelly, who did a sterling job of helping the whole weekend run smoothly. No issue was too insignificant for her to tackle. THANK YOU! WELL DONE!