Born in Kinsale, County Cork, this Irish Republican's incredible life brought him from Novia Scotia to Boston and New York before he served time in the Australian Penal Colonies and then returned to his Irish Fenian roots.
John Edward Kelly was born into a Protestant family in Kinsale, County Cork, on July 6, 1840. By the time he reached two years of age, he was on an emigrant ship with his family sailing across the broad Atlantic. They arrived in Novia Scotia and settled in Halifax where the young John Edward Kelly went to school.
When his school days ended, Kelly left Canada and went to the United States where he served an apprenticeship in the printing business in that most Irish of American cities - Boston.
After completing his apprenticeship, Kelly went to New York where he worked in the print business. It was in the Big Apple that Kelly became a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). He also joined a Union Army volunteer regiment which would provide him with military skills. Kelly then returned to Boston where he took on the role of military instructor for the Fenian Emmet Guard.
In 1861, Kelly traveled back to the land of his birth to help train the IRB to organize for a revolt against British rule. He based himself in his native Cork and worked on the Irish People newspaper before the ruling authorities suppressed it.
In 1867, the Fenian Rising took place but only in pockets of the country and it proved disastrous. Kelly joined Captain John McClure and Peter O'Neill Crowley on March 5, in Kilclooney Woods, in North Cork. There they fought against the British but, the battle would result in the death of O'Neill Crowley and the capture of McClure and Kelly.
Kelly was tried for treason and sentenced to penal servitude for life. Along with 62 other Fenians. He was sent to Western Australia in October 1867 onboard The Hougoumont, the last convict ship that sailed to Australia. It reached its destination, Fremantle, in January 1868 and Kelly would spend three years in the penal colony until he was released as part of a Fenian prisoner amnesty.
Kelly spent the next four years in Australia where he worked in the gold mines but, he remained true to his Fenian ideals and he formed a Fenian group in Sydney which if the authorities found out, it would have certainly seen him back in chains in Fremantle!
In 1876 Kelly returned to the United States where he reacquainted with the Fenian movement in Boston. John Edward Kelly died from TB at the young age of 35 in 1884 and a year later the Fenian Brotherhood erected a fine granite headstone over his final resting place in Mount Hope Cemetery which is modeled on an ancient Irish round tower.
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