Kelleher exists also as Keliher, Kellaher, Kelliher, etc. The modern forms of the name are derived from the Irish name O Ceileachair, from ceileachar, which means "uxorious," or "excessively fond of one's wife."
The Kelleher family, which descends from a nephew of Brian Boru, is originally from Co. Clare, but they eventually migrated to Co. Cork in the 14th century. The surname is most commonly found today in Co. Cork and the neighboring Co. Kerry.
Kelleher business personalities include Denis Kelleher, who is profiled below, Herb Kelleher, an American lawyer, and a co-founder of Southwest Airlines, and real estate mogul Garrett Kelleher, who owns the Irish football club St. Patrick's Athletic FC. Kellehers have also been successful in politics: Billy Kelleher is a Fianna Fáil politician and a TD in Co. Cork, while Jim Kelleher is a former member of the Canadian Senate.
In the realm of film, the Kellehers have Tim Kelleher, an actor who has appeared in movies such as "Independence Day" and "The Negotiator." Byron Kelleher, a half-back for the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, and Robbie Kelleher, an all-Ireland winning Gaelic football player, helped to make a name for the Kelleher clan in the world of sports.
Denis Kelleher, the son of a shoemaker, was born in Rathmore, Co. Kerry, close to the Cork border. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1958. Today, he is the CEO and founder of Wall Street Access, a financial services organization.
One night while living in Ireland, he returned home from a dance, and found a note from his sister telling him there was a ticket to America waiting for him at Shannon Airport.
The next morning he was gone.
At the age of 18 he arrived in New York and settled in the Bronx.
Another Kerryman told him there were jobs at Merrill Lynch, and after a month as a messenger boy, he moved to the accounting department. He obtained an evening degree at St. John’s University. (Today, he is chairman of the university's board.)
He stayed with Merill Lynch for nine years, rising through the ranks. He eventually ended up in the underwriting department and became a member of the New York Stock Exchange.
In 1967 he joined and became president of an investment company, Ruane Cunniff & Co.
In 1980 he started a financial services organization, which became Wall Street Access. He remains chairman and CEO of that investment company, and has handled billions of dollars for private and institutional clients.
Despite his success, Kelleher has never lost sight of his humble roots. He was very active in securing immigration reform in the 1980s for the young Irish living undocumented in the U.S.
Later, he hosted many of the key Northern Ireland peace process players when they visited New York, including Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
He was also chosen as grand marshal of the 2005 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
“I never imagined when I came to America as a very young man that someday I would lead the greatest parade in the world,” he said at the time.
He is deeply involved in funding suicide prevention efforts in rural Ireland, where young male suicide has become a major issue.
In recognition of his achievements, Kelleher was honored by Irish America magazine as one of the Top 100 Irish Americans of the 20th Century. He has also received public awards from the mayor of New York and was recognized with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1995.
Kelleher is married with three children.