Do You Remember

The new monument to Civil War Veteran Thomas J. Kelly was unveiled on May 31 at Woodlawn Cemetery before a crowd of about one hundred. - Photo by Bill Twomey

I attended another unveiling this past Saturday.  This time it wasn’t for a work of art or a street sign, but rather a monument to a fascinating personality.  His name is Tom Kelly and he passed away on February 5, 1908.  Just one hundred years later, this monument was unveiled in Woodlawn Cemetery but it is primarily just a replacement.  The etching on his former gravestone had eroded over the past century and his many admirers rallied for fitting reminder of this Civil War veteran and Fenian leader of old.  Thus the federal government provided a new granite memorial to mark his final resting spot. 

There are, of course, other reminders of his bravery but his gravesite could not be left in an unrecognizable state.  Kelly was born on January 6, 1833 in Mountbellew, County Galway.  He was apprenticed to the printing trade and then at age eighteen he immigrated to the United States where he found work in New York as a printer.  Six years later, in 1857, he moved south to Nashville where he established the Nashville Democrat supporting the presidential campaign of Stephen Douglas.  When the Civil War broke out, he quickly returned north and enlisted in the Union Army on June 3, 1861 as a captain in the 10th Ohio Infantry.  Later he would become the Chief Signal Officer of the XII Corps in Sherman’s Army.  He mustered out of the army on June 17, 1864 and got involved in the Fenian Brotherhood. 

This work caused him to return to Ireland where he was arrested on September 11, 1867 along with Timothy Deasy.  Both were known to British authorities and, although they gave false names, they were soon identified.  Seven days after being arrested, the two were being transferred under a heavy guard from the courthouse to the jail on Hyde Road in Manchester.  The wagon transporting them was intercepted by a band of Fenians and the police guard simply dispersed.  The door to the wagon was locked shut and Police Sergeant Brett, who was inside with the prisoners, refused to give up the key.  One of the Fenians, Rice by name, put a gun to the area where the lock was to blow it off and just then the sergeant put his eye up to the peephole and received a bullet through the head.  Kelly and Deasy were accompanied by three other prisoners and one took the keys from Brett’s pocket and passed them to the Fenians who freed the lot of them.  Kelly and Deasy escaped but many of their emancipators were captured, and five were tried for the murder of Sergeant Brett and three were hanged.  They were William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin and William O’Brien and they would go down in history as the Manchester Martyrs.  Two others who were captured and tried managed to escape death, O’Meagher Condon, by having his sentence commuted and Thomas Maguire by being pardoned and discharged.  Kelly made his way back to New York and later found employment at the Custom House and became associated with the Irish Republican Brotherhood. 

That he was never forgotten was quite obvious by the crowd that gathered in the rain to celebrate the unveiling of his stone on Memorial Day.  Martin Lyons, who was born in Glenamaddy, only five miles from Kelly’s birthplace, was the Master of Ceremonies.   Liam Murphy was the main speaker and others paying tribute to Kelly included Chuck Laverty, Kevin Kennedy and Martin Galvin.  The ever-popular former Congressman Mario Biaggi was unable to attend but was thanked for his help through the years.  Civil War re-enactors, a bagpiper, fiddler and a host of others added to the fine tribute paid to the patriot who fought so hard for both America and Ireland. 

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