On November 14th, 100 ago, a quiet newspaperman and revolutionary from Galway's funeral brought Dublin to a standstill.
Seamus O'Kelly was born James Kelly in Mobhill, Loughrea County Galway in the late 19th century. The youngest of seven children, he was born into a somewhat comfortable middle-class Catholic family. His father ran a newsagents in Loughrea, passing on a love of the printed word to his children.
Seamus was educated in St. Brendan's College, in Loughrea, and went on to attend University College Dublin.
Seamus began his editorial career in 1903 with The Southern Star newspaper based in Skibbereen, making him the youngest newspaper editor in Ireland. Seamus also wrote for newspapers such as the United Irishman and The Saturday Evening Post. Seamus went on to become editor of the Leinster Leader, in Naas, where he flung himself into the nationalist movement in Kildare.
Every summer Seamus got involved in the annual Wolfe Tone commemoration, at Bodenstown, and was instrumental in setting up a branch of Sinn Fein, in Naas, as well as a branch of the Gaelic League.
As nationalist Ireland became more militant, Seamus became one of the first to join the Irish Volunteers at its foundation in the Rotunda, in 1913. His brother Michael also joined the Volunteers and was imprisoned in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising.
Seamus was unable to take part in the physical aspect of the nationalist movement, such as the Easter insurrection, due to his health. In 1911 he suffered from a bad attack of rheumatic fever which left him with health problems such as a weakened heart.
Besides writing for newspapers and editing them too, Seamus also wrote short stories, poems, and plays. Among his works are "The Weavers Grave", "Stories of Connacht", "By The Stream of Kilmeen" and many others. The Abbey Theatre, in Dublin, produced three of his plays.
In 1916, Seamus took over editorship of the Sinn Fein newspaper Nationality after its original editor, Arthur Griffith, was arrested after the Easter Rising.
One hundred years ago, on Armistice Day November 11th, 1918, Seamus was in the Sinn Fein offices at No. 6 Harcourt Street Dublin when a group of drunken British soldiers raided it.
Seamus was sitting at his desk when the loutish soldiers kicked in the door. They proceeded to smash windows, break furniture and assault anyone who stood in their way.
Seamus tried to defend himself with his walking stick, but he was roughed up by the rampaging soldiers. When the soldiers left, Seamus was on the floor clutching his chest. He was brought to Jervis Street hospital where three days later on November 14th he lost his life at the age of 38.
The funeral of Seamus O'Kelly brought Dublin to a standstill as all nationalist organizations turned out to mourn the Galway man. The funeral mass took place at St. Teresa’s Church, on Clarendon Street, before burial at Glasnevin cemetery.
The Leinster Leader, which Seamus held editorship of, reported on his funeral:
"The procession started at noon from the church of St Teresa , Clarendon St., whence the body was removed on Friday night was of imposing proportion while along the route to the cemetery the streets were thronged with spectators." The report from the Leinster Leader goes on to describe the scenes: "Amongst the carriages was that of the Lord Mayor of Dublin who was present. Occupying position in the cortege were Cumann na mBan and other women organizations. Sinn Fein clubs, Fianna and other boys’ organizations....the fife and drum band of the Dublin Builders United Labourer Trade Union, the Ashbourne Irish Pipers and the Sinn Fein pipers."
Today a plaque adorns the wall at The Leinster Leader office in Kildare in honor of its one-time editor Seamus O'Kelly describing him as "a gentle revolutionary."
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