Three Kelly brothers, who shaped modern day Kilrush

In the 1820s two brothers, Matt Kelly (1799- 1880) and John Kelly (1798-1865), moved to Kilrush from Cragaknock and became merchants there. Kilrush developed from the early 1800s into a shipping port and market town for local produce including corn, bacon and butter. 

John Kelly was a bacon, corn and butter (retail and wholesale) merchant and shipowner who built a large six story stores (later purchased over by Glynns merchangs) and a large bacon processing store.  He also leased land locally which he sublet.  

John Kelly, 1840 – taken from a Limerick Reporter article on a Repeal meeting in Kilrush. 

Kilrush is one of the most rising towns in Ireland- within the period of a very few years it has started forth into considerable importance as a busy commercial depot. Several very fine stores have been built and a distillery….” “At the stores considerable quantities of oats, beans etc are constantly purchased for exportation and much business is transacted in the bacon trade, particularly by Mr John Kelly. This gentleman has built a store, with some very fine concerns for genera(l) mercantile purposes, and gives employment to a considerable number of the labouring classes. It is cheering news for lovers of temperance to learn that nearly every one of Mr Kelly’s family have taken the pledge in order to set an example for his workmen who are teetotallers to a man. Mr Patterson and Mr Foley are likewise large employers and by giving constant and extensive employment do an immensity of good. The public buildings now being erected – the beautiful new Catholic church under the superintendance of the Very Rev Doctor Kenny,- the workhouse – the new courthouse etc etc will render this excellent town an object of interest to the traveller as well as of pride to the men of spirit and enterprise under whose immediate auspices the improvements are taking place. Most certainly, the natural situation of Kilrush – had there been a short ship canal from the estuary of the Shannon up to the town – could not be exceeded. The town commands a broad view of the Atlantic ””- the almost innumerable vessels that with this season of the year are passing and repassing on these coastwise trips” “tend to make Kilrush remarkable for its scenic beauty as well as its rising commercial importance (Limerick Reporter, 1840)”.  

Matt Kelly was originally in business with his brother John, but later became manager of the National Bank Kilrush.  Having a bank that Catholics and smaller farmers could frequent was key for increasing business in Kilrush and surrounds. Matt was father of General Sir Thomas Kelly Kenny of Boer War fame. Matt was also a local landlord and  was a land agent for his brother in law, Dr Mathias Kenny. Matt Kelly built Doolough Lodge in the 1850s (recently sold as of February 2021) at Tiermanagh (Treanmanagh), on land he bought from James Kenny, his brother in law.  Matthew Kelly was a JP (Justice of the Peace/magistrate) for Clare and also was Deputy Lieutenant for Clare. One of his descendants is the Tipperary filmmaker Risteard O’Domhnaill

Father Tim Kelly was parish priest firstly of Kilmihill  where he built Kilmihil church and later moved in 1848 to Kilrush where he is remembered with a memorial in the church He is remembered well locally for his advocacy for the poor and starving. Father Timothy worked tirelessly for the welfare of his parishioners and also finished the church at Kilrush started by his cousin Dean Kenny and built the convent at Kilrush. 

The three brothers were sons of John Kelly of Cragaknock and Anne Butler. Their brother Patrick remained on the farm at Craggaknock.