Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Remembering Dan Kelly of Tir Chonaill

About Ben Burb: Between 1641 and 1649, for the first time since the Norman conquest, and before the 20th century, Ireland was recognized by major powers in Europe as an independent nation. Even though the Cromwellian conquest of 1649-1650 put an end to Catholic Ireland's revolution, it nevertheless ranks as one of the most successful revolts of early modern history. The brightest star in the Gaelic firmament then, and among the greatest still, was Eoghan Ruadh O’Neill (Owen Roe). Toward that sovereign republic, his crowning achievement was the Battle of Benburb, fought June 5, 1646, whence the name for this column, "Ben Burb," which will explore the military history and heritage of the Irish and related topics.

Scarsdale, N.Y. -- If there was ever a man who demonstrated that one need not raise one's voice to shrillness to be heard, it was Donegal native Dan Kelly, a successful entrepreneur who spent a good part of his last few decades furthering the heritage of his people, on both sides of the Atlantic. For those efforts, and with great personal regard, we salute Dan, who died Oct. 14, aged 82.

A visit with Dan was always most pleasant, and one walked away with a bit more knowledge or appreciation of a subject or subjects that may not even have occasioned the visit. If it wasn't because of Dan alone, it was an unanticipated conversation with another visitor. Always the gentleman, he did not let his good manners impede his work, or getting others to work, on any project dear to his heart. His projects were many and varied, and earned for him Papal Knighthoods, the friendship of patriots, Irish and American alike, and the gratitude of many. For several years he sponsored road races, and other activities beneficial to the community.

Dan (right) was one of seven children born to Patrick and Mary Furey Kelly. While he was born in Brooklyn, he was raised in a part of Ireland's northern province of Ulster, not under English occupation, in Frosses in County Donegal, and always considered himself a Christian Brothers “boy,” having graduated from the order’s academy there. Once, over a cup of tea in his kitchen, he told me that Frosses was the unfriendliest town in all Ireland.

"How in ever could that be!" said I in surprised disbelief. "Well, the people on one side of the street don't even speak to the people on the other side of the street," he continued. He added, "Here, this picture will help you to understand." It was a post-card photo of Frosses. There was only the one road leading into the town. Dan went on to explain what was obviously a localism. On the right-hand side of the road were all of the houses, on the left side was the cemetery. He then handed me the post card, to keep as a reminder of our conversation about the town that he really did love so well. Dan had a warm sense of humor, and a winning smile to go with it.

Although he was not old enough to have seen combat in the Second World War, Dan enlisted in the U.S. Army after his return to New York, and was assigned to the Army of Occupation in Germany. Soldiers like Dan were there to keep the peace; they took the places of older men, who had borne the battle and earned the right to return home. Dan developed a deep appreciation for the American military, which would remain with him throughout his life. After his release from active duty, Dan would spend most of the rest of his life living in Westchester County, in the upscale suburb of Scarsdale, north of New York City, and working and doing business both in Westchester and in The Bronx.

In 1959, Dan Kelly and his brothers founded Kelly Furniture, which became one of the leading furniture retailers in the greater New York Metro Area. Its success was due to the imagination and hard work both of Dan and of his brother Clyde. Dan would roam the globe looking for good deals in furniture, from Peru, to Taiwan, to Indonesia, and to any number of equally exotic venues. He always came back, not only with quality furniture, at a good price, but also with tales of his adventures; in his own quiet way, he was nearly another Lowell Thomas.

Dan took his religion seriously, and took Our Lord at his word in the matter of charity, and in the “Sermon on the Mount." A successful businessman, he supported a number of worthy charities, also believing in sweat equity; Dan could be found, on Thanksgiving or on Christmas, working in the soup kitchen of Catholic Charities. His many good works were eventually recognized by His Holiness John Paul II, who conferred a number of knighthoods on him. Among these were Knight Commander of the Hospitallers of Saint John of Malta, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher and the Order of Saint Sylvester. He also received the Royal Savoy Orders of Maurice and of Lazarus. From time to time, one could notice another photo on the shelf of Dan with the Holy Father, or with an archbishop somewhere in the Levant. Dan was also a Chevalier Commandeur of the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, Priory of Saint Patrick.

Dan Kelly was a New Yorker through and through, but he never forgot where he came from; he had one foot planted firmly in each culture, and believed that Irish immigrants should not only contribute to the material prosperity of their new American home, but that they should offer what was best in Irish culture for the enrichment of American life. In his activity, primarily with the County Donegal Association, but also with the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, and with the New York Saint Patrick's Day Parade and Celebration Committee, he practiced what he preached.

A man with a great sense of history, among his several Irish-American military history activities, Dan spearheaded (and underwrote, although he never claimed credit for his financing of it) a 1992 joint project of the Donegal Association and the Irish Brigade Association that resulted in the erection of a six-foot granite, Celtic Cross on the grave, in First Calvary Cemetery, of Captain (Acting Lieutenant Colonel) James Haggerty of the 69th New York State Militia. A native of Glenswilly, County Donegal, Haggerty was killed in the first major battle of the American Civil War, at Bull Run (also known as the Battle of 1st Manassas), which occurred July 21, 1861. Haggerty was a Fenian, and the first officer of the 69th to be killed in battle. The organizations also published a brilliant historical monograph on Haggerty, by James F. McLoughlin of the County Donegal Association.

The last few time I stopped by, Dan was not at home, and I assumed that he was still globetrotting. Dan is survived by his brother and business partner Clyde Kelly; his sister-in-law Mira Kelly; his three nieces, Stephanie, Desiree and Athena, whom he adored and treated alike they were his own children, as well as four grand-nieces, Reilly, Phoebe, Leila and Alexa, whom he absolutely cherished. Mass of Christian Burial for Dan Kelly was celebrated in Our Lady's Chapel in Manhattan’s famed Saint Patrick's Cathedral, on Oct. 19, his body borne along Fifth Avenue, which Dan proudly strode down each March 17. In the end he was found faithful, do chum Gloire De, agus onora na hEireann.

Tá fear breá agus mac fíor Dhún na nGall.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

More Resources:

'James Haggerty of Tír Ċonaill': A monograph published by Irish Brigade Association (c) 1992

EDITOR'S NOTE: Our new columnist, Liam Murphy, is Heritage Editor of TheWildGeese.com, and also serves as military liaison for The New York Saint Patrick's Day Parade and Celebration Committee. A native of Irvington, N.Y., Liam is a former editor of the National Hibernian Digest, and a member of AOH Division 11, in Tarrytown, N.Y. He was a co-founder of the Irish Brigade Association, served as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and as vice president of the Civil War Round Table at Virginia Miitary Institute, where he earned his undergraduate degree. He holds a Masters degree in American history from Fordham University. Liam can be reached via e-mail at liam@TheWildGeese.com.


desiree said...

My Uncle Dan was a great man. The best of the best. He was my godfather and my absolute favorite uncle. He was a part of my everyday- since i was a little girl. He was my biggest fan. And I was his. I miss him everyday. Thank you for acknowledging him. I MISS HIM DEARLY!! I LOVED HIM SO MUCH!!

desiree said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
desiree said...

I really do thank you for acknowledging him. He was a proud man. An accomplished man. The best man. I miss his humor. I miss his smile. I miss his spirit. God Bless His Soul.

Sunday Dander in Donegal said...

Thank you for writing such a nice tribute to Dan. He was a cousin of mine and he really liked nothing better than to visit his home village of Frosses in County Donegal. He certainly was a true Gael. I hope you don't mind I shared your piece on My blog Sunday Dander in Donegal.
Colm Kelly

Gerry Regan said...

Sunday Dander, go raibh maith agat for reaching out to use here at The Wild Geese. What is the URL for Sunday Dander, so we can share it on our newly designed platform, at www.TheNewWildGeese.com. And please join us there -- your active posting on this site, devoted, as was Dan, to exploring and celebrating the heritage of the Irish worldwide.