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COLONEL THOMAS J. KELLY.   163

 COLONEL THOMAS J. KELLY.

 

Birth and Youth—A Printer—Famous Printers—Starts the Nashville Democrat —Flies from Tennessee for his Union Faith—Joins the Army in Cincinnati—Wounded—Promoted—Signal Officer on General Thomas' Staff—Health Broken—Enters the Fenian Cause—First Military Envoy to Ireland—On Tour of Inspection—Supervises Stephens' Escape—Labors in America—Difference with Stephens—Returns for the Fight in Ireland—Letter on the Aims of the " Provisional Government."

 COLONEL THOMAS JAMES* KELLY, whose name is so frequently alluded to in the evidence of Massey, and who became Chief Organizer after the retirement of Stephens is a man of marked ability, various resources and untiring energy ; a clear thinker, and a sagacious worker, he has also displayed a very remarkable adroitness in his movements in England and Ireland. While managing the details of the organization, he has baffled the watchfulness of the authorities, and even when his residence was betrayed to the Government, he managed by that restless foresight which amounts to intuition, to change his whereabouts and to evade up to the present the attentions of the police. The dangers through which he passed in America, as an officer in the signal service during the war, concentrated the self-reliance which has been of such use to him in the service of Ireland. A follower of the art preservative of all arts, the knowledge gained as a

*NOTE: Erica Veil, a descendant of Thomas Kelly is writing a biography of him and informed me that his middle name is Joseph not James based on family documentation

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printer and journalist has stood him in good need on the emergencies into which his patriotic duties led him.

Thomas J. Kelly was born in Mount Bellew, comity Galway, in 1833. His father belonged to the farm­ing class and brought up his son for the Church. On this account he received a better education than is generally the lot of young men in similar circum­stances. Not Laving a vocation for the clerical profession, his father wisely bound him to the printing business in Loughrea. Finding the prospects before him too circumscribed for his aspiring mind, young Kelly started for America, and arrived in New York when but eighteen years of age. Like most young men on their first arrival here, he had to encounter those buffetings which almost invariably fall to the lot of the inexperienced in a new country ; but with his usual persevering industry, he overcame them, and got good employment at his profession as printer. He soon rose in the estimation of his employers and in the good opinion of his brother craftsmen, among whom he was quickly distinguished for his integrity and ability. He was a prominent and active member of the Printer's Union, and members of the craft now refer to him as another evidence of the ability which distinguish Printers when they enter public life. The eminence to which the followers of Guttenberg and Faust, of Etienne, and Caxton, have arisen, is a favor­ite and prolific theme with the crafts-brethren. This is not to be wondered at, or checked, when we consider the philosophers, poets and historians, on the muster

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roll—the Franklins,, Berangers, Michelets, and in our own days, the Greeleys, Colfaxes, and others, not to mention those of a military turn, like Marechal Brune, who, graduating from the composing stick to the baton of France, distinguished himself by driving the English and Russians from Holland, and against the Austrians on the plains of Italy. Truly may the printers be proud of the men who have done honor to the profession, and it was extremely pleasing in this connection to hear some of the craft refer to Kelly, as one who illustrated the force of character, ready resources, sagacity and honesty, which are claimed as characteristic of its best representatives.

On his arrival in New York, young Kelly, having a predisposition for military matters from boyhood, was delighted with the advantages offered by the National Guard, and companies of citizen soldiery. He of course joined a military organization, and in time identified himself with every movement tending to exalt his countrymen in the social and moral scale. The moment a true young Irishman gets a weapon into his hand, his first thought is for Ireland, and the more he learns the use of it, the more intense is his desire to use it against England. Kelly had this natural feeling, and became an active member of the Irish Society which had produced the Fenian Brotherhood-. that known by the significant title of " The Emmet Monument Association."

In 1857, at the recommendation of some friends,. 'Mr. Kelly went to Nashville, Tennessee, where he soon afterwards started the Nashville Democrat, which

 

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ably supported the Presidential claims of that noble patriot, Stephen A. Douglas, during the exciting polit­ical campaign of 1860.

Mr. Kelly continued to be a warm and fearless supporter of the Union cause, and when the rebellion broke out he was obliged to leave. These were the terrible days when terrorism ruled in Tennessee, and when the Legislature in secret session, and without waiting for the people to vote on the question of seces­sion, placed the power of the State at the disposal of the "Southern Confederacy." By the machinery of mobs and vigilance committees dextrously worked, night and day, thousands of Union men were forced to fly from the State. " We have seen scores of the best men of Tennessee," said a competent authority, writing at the time, "within the last few days, and they all bear witness that in their belief, the reign of terror now raging and maddening in that State, has had no parallel in modern history. There is less of personal freedom, there is more of atrocious and horri­ble tyranny in Tennessee at this time, than would be found under the worst and most wretched government of Asia, or the savage islands of the sea." At this time, Kelly was the last man to fly the starry flag in Nashville, over his printing office, and he had to fly so precipitately that he was unable to save his proper­ty, and therefore was again thrown on the world with nothing but his own strong will and industrious perseverance to rely upon. But he was not disheart­ened. He saw that a great war was in its inception, and that patriotism should meet its just reward. His


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military spirit added to the feelings engendered by his treatment as a Union man. The declaration of Colonel Corcoran in New York, tendering the 69th Regiment for the defence of the Union, and calling for recruits, reached him, and he started with the inten­tion of going to New York and joining it. When he arrived at Cincinnati, he heard of the enrollment of the 10th Ohio, an Irish regiment, and immediately joined its ranks as a private, and at the expiration of the three months' service, he re-enlisted for the war.

He had seen some active service in Western Virginia in his first campaign, and was severely wounded in one of the battles that followed. He was immediate­ly promoted to a Second Lieutenancy for gallant and meritorious conduct, but his wound rendered him unfit for service for some time. When able to return to his regiment he was selected for duty as Signal Officer on General Thomas' staff, with rank of Captain, a distinc­tion which speaks for itself, especially when conferred by so able and discerning a commander.

The signal service was one of great importance, and imminent danger. From the nature of its proceedings little publicity was given to them. Tact, sagacity, quick perception, and persistency under all obstacles, were the requisites to make or distinguish an officer in this service. Oftentimes the signal officers, accom­panied only by a few men, had to occupy a prominent isolated position on a mountain or hill, to telegraph their signals or respond to others. These positions were frequently exposed to rebel raids, and the officers were often overpowered or killed.

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Captain Kelly discharged the duties of his position to the entire satisfaction of General Thomas, who complimented him for his ability and zeal. In camp he was a great favorite with his brother officers, on account of his agreeable manner, in their social hours, and his daring disposition in times of danger, made him relied on by the men. His regiment was finally mustered out of the service, having served its time honorably.

Almost broken down by hardships and exposure, Captain Kelly was unfit for active duty, and he retired with his regiment to recuperate.

About this time when he had helped to save the Republic of his adoption, circumstances led him to place his experience in the cause which designed to make a republic in his native land. By so doing he doubtless interfered materially with his future pros­pects, as he was offered promotion in the American service, and declined it to further the cause of Irish liberty. Being present at the Chicago Fair, to raise funds in aid of the Irish movement, he received much information concerning the progress of republican ideas in Ireland, and the desire of the Fenian Broth­erhood there to take the field. He was so much impressed with what he heard, and believing he would be of positive benefit from the training he had under-gone, he made up his mind to join the struggling band, came to New York, and placed himself and his expe­rience at the disposal of the Brotherhood.

The result was, Captain Kelly was dispatched to Ireland as an envoy, the first who was sent in a mili­

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tary capacity. Accredited to Mr. Stephens, the inter-view had a special influence on the future of both. They were immediately struck with each other. Kelly beheld an untiring, restless conspirator, with capacity to sway men's minds, in Stephens; Stephens acknowledged the blunt, honest and capable soldier, in Kelly. Becoming convinced of the power and influ­ence of James Stephens, and finding him master of the occasion, Kelly became his devoted adherent. He was at once set to work, and deputed to make an inspection of the state of things in Ireland, and report on them on his return. His report was fully satisfactory. He stated that he was amazed at the ramifications of the Brotherhood in Ireland, and could not have believed it, only he had convinced himself by actual observation.

In all his transactions Kelly exhibited such a clear­ness of perception, and vigor of thought, such integrity of purpose and energy, that Stephens quickly recog­nized him as an invaluable agent in carrying on his organization scheme. He was employed in various offices, sometimes in visiting circles in different sections of the country, at other times in assisting Stephens in the executive management of affairs at home.

During these trying and dangerous missions the cool­ness and courage of the signal officer, were constantly brought into play, and he labored with a secrecy and caution that baffled the most vigilant detectives.

On the arrest of James Stephens, Capt. Kelly had to exert himself with unceasing ability. He had to meet the different centres who were impatient to

 

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commence operations on the occasion, and to calm or make controlable the excitement that existed. The promises of support from America were so flattering that he did not think it prudent to give his consent to a rising then. Stephens, too, was opposed to an out-break under the circumstances.

Captain Kelly supervised, if he did not originate the plans for Stephens' escape, which were so success­ful. The arrangements were admirably prepared, and Kelly, with a few friends, received the liberated prisoner outside of the jail walls, and conducted him to a place of safety, and baffled all search for him.

Most of the leaders were now in prison or sentenced to penal servitude. Kelly's activity bordered on the marvelous. He had to meet the different centres from the country to make their reports for it would create suspicion if too many were seen to visit the retreat of the Chief.

Of course, the particulars of the transactions of this period, or of Captain Kelly's important services cannot now be published. Suffice it to say, that he did good work which fully met the approval of the leading minds of the Brotherhood. When it became necessary for Stephens to visit this country to try and heal dissensions and unite all lovers of Ireland, all the preliminary arrangements were made by Captain Kelly. How he effected his object is fully stated in the following interesting letters :

PARIS, March 21, 1866.

My Dear —, When I parted from you on Tuesday night, you had'nt much idea of the heavy task before me. Yet now that all


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is over it appears only to be a dream. Although you thought Mr. Stephens had left the country, he was in Dublin until that night, and, spite of all the vigilance of British spies, he left his lodgings on an outside car, got on board a vessel in the Liffey, and sailed for an English port.

It was amusing to me to see him pass several policemen on the quays, and walk deliberately on board. We were three days in the Channel owing to bad winds. We ultimately reached a port in Scotland, slept all night in Kilmarnock, rode in the mail train next day from there to London, slept in London, and (in the morning, in the heart of the enemy's city), after sleeping all night in a hotel across the street from Buckingham Palace (in the Palace Hotel), started by the morning train from the Victoria Station for Dover.

We got on board the French mail steamer there about eleven o'clock on Sunday, and started for Calais, which we reached in safety. Wasn't my mind happy when I touched French soil, and saw the Chief Organizer of the Irish Republic in a position to laugh at the blindly-mad, childlike efforts of the British to capture him.

After all the searches of ships and steamers outside of the Irish coast, so well were we informed of their every movement, that the affair was comparatively easy. The next time that James Stephens touches the Irish soil, he will show the British that their barbarous treatment of Irish patriots but added fuel to the national flame already kindled all over the island, instead of "stamping it out," as they propose to do. Sir Hugh Rose will find when he attempts to commit such devilish barbarities as those of which he was guilty in India, that he has not Sepoys to deal with. Let him order his soldiers to butcher women and children and gray-haired old men (as he threatened to do), and blow our soldiers from the cannon's mouth—let him dare carry out his black-hearted intentions towards the women of Ireland, and there will be such a retribution, not alone in Ireland, but in the heart of the British empire, as will not be paralleled in history. The enemy left no stone unturned to make us fight before we were ready ; they played a desperate card and lost. Just wait and see the effect of the arrival of Mr. Stephens

 

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in America, and you will see I speak correctly. All is well for Ireland yet. Next Christmas I have confidence I will dine with you as a free and independent citizen of the Irish Republic. Kind remembrance. Yours, etc.

PARIS, March 21.

THOMAS J. KELLY

 

DEAR Mrs. --- I have been remiss in not writing to you before this. Mr. Stephens and myself arrived here on Sunday last. We were enabled to make our trip with great ease. Just think how horribly stupid the enemy's agents are, when we were enabled to travel in the open day through Scotland and England—to embark at eleven in the day from the harbor of Dover.

After all the ship-searching, we started from the quays in the city of Dublin. Mr. Stephens left his lodgings on an open car, and, on my honor, undisguised. We had no easy time in the Channel, as we were kept there three days owing to adverse winds. We were driven to Carrickfergus Bay by stress of weather, and it was amusing to think how much the Mayor of Belfast would give to know what a distinguished guest he had. However, as the wind changed after being anchored all night, we did not make a call or leave our cards.                                                    Yours, Very Sincerely,

THOS. J. KELLY.

 

Arrived in America, Colonel Kelly was the right hand man of his chosen chief. On the transfer of the management of Fenian affairs, Kelly, by circular of the 18th June, 1866, took charge of the Central Office. Towards the close of the year, the most intense anxiety permeated the Fenian body. Arrests continued to be made in Ireland, the hopes of an outbreak were rife. Its necessity was argued by the great majority, especially of the military men. Among them Colonel Kelly was prominent, and when Stephens did not


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think the time auspicious, the former called a meeting on the 4th January, 1867, the facts of which being deemed official, are here given :

None but Centres and Delegates were admitted, and Colonel Kelly laid before the members a state­ment of the affairs of the organization, giving an account of James Stephens' conduct at the critical period when action was expected, pledging at the same time that the work was progressing favorably, and that the prospects of final success were promising.

The details of the plans and measures adopted were not made public, but the statement that all moneys received, were employed in carrying out the great work of Ireland's redemption, and that true and effi­cient men were ready at their posts for the work assigned, gave heart and purpose to the members present. Members of the Irish organization were present who stated that the men of the old land were willing and prepared for the final struggle ; that now and hereafter, they would place no confidence in the words of this leader or that ; that they at home, come what may, were determined to fight for their homes and nationality ; that there was nothing left for the manhood of Ireland save paupers' graves or the emigrant ship ; that their hopes, their honors and their lives were doomed forever, unless they succeeded in driving the English garrison from Ireland; and that the attempt would be made, come weal or woe. Nothing, they said, could be worse than the present condition of Ireland, and they are determined, and so are the MEN of Ireland, to put an end to it. The

 

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want of action on the part of Stephens, in the face of his " uncalled-for promises" was the subject of severe criticism and condemnation, though his past services and great labors in the cause of Ireland were not forgotten or ignored in the disappointment and irrita­tion of the moment.

Another meeting of Centres and officers of New York and vicinity, to the number of five hundred, v as held on Sunday, the 6th, at which Kelly's action was sustained. The report says :

"When the defection of James Stephens was made known, and the action of Colonel Kelly to sustain the men who had already gone to maintain the national honor was ascertained, a vote of confidence in Colonel Kelly, as well as a determination to sustain the fighting men at home, was unanimously adopted."

Colonel Kelly was soon on the other side of the Atlantic. An outline of his action is given in the informer's evidence on Colonel Bourke's trial. It only remains to give the following translation of a letter which appeared in the Paris Liberte, after the result of the rising in Ireland, on the 5th March.

SIR: Permit me to say a few words in reply to an article entitled " The Insurrection of the Fenians," published by you in the Liberte of the 17th of March, 1867. M. W. de Foneville, the writer of the article in question, is certainly ignorant of our plans, our resources, and our principles, affirmed in a proclamation ren­dered public by the English, Belgian, and German papers. We have wished to efface from the opinion of the peoples the reproach of Castelfidardo, and give to the world a gauge of our Republican principles and our social aspirations. That is why we have inscribed in capital letters upon our proclamation the sentence—" We aim at founding a Republic based on universal suffrage,


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which shall secure to all the intrinsic value of their labor." The national soil, the abolition of salaries, and the Republican form based on universal suffrage, such is what is desired by the Ireland of 1867, regenerated by the stay of its exiles in Amer­ica. What has that in common with the programme of John Bright? Not even universal suffrage, which he is against. Why then, should you fasten us to the skirts of one man? We are a people and a principle—that is to say, the eternal and the absolute. Can a principle be vanquished? Why, therefore do you say we are vanquished? Did not Christianity commence by defeats ? Did it not, like us, water the ground with the blood of its martyrs. Ours yield in nothing to those of the primitive ages, and if their voices, stifled in the dungeons of England, could come here to protest against your strange advice, and your still stranger criticisms, not one would use any other language than that which I use to you at this moment in their name and in the name of all proletarian Ireland. Our movement is only com­mencing, and is not about to finish. As to battles, we shall avoid instead of seeking them until we are strong enough to gain them. As for our alliance with the English Reformers, it is a fait accompli; if you doubt it, you have only to read the reso­lutions adopted at the last meeting. But by Reformers we under-stand those who mean to go radically to the bottom of the move­ment, and not those who officially assume the direction of it. I add that a nation and a principle are strong enough to await all from time without ever claiming extenuating circumstances, even from the generosity of another nation. The insurrection, or rather the revolution, follows the course it ought to follow. Compromised for an instant by the unskilful zeal of some leaders, who, like us, love to give battle, it has resumed its tranquil course ; men no more die of hunger and cold than fear the English flying columns; and the reform of Mr. J. Bright will not prevent any member of the organization from being at his post, or from doing his duty in conformity with the orders of the provisional government. I avail myself of this circumstance to appeal to the sympathy of the generous people of France in favor of our cause. I am, &c.,

THOMAS J. KELLY.

 

 

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Many details of Colonel Kelly's devotion to the cause of  Irish Liberty cannot be given, as he is fortu­nately "at large" yet, and their relation might com­promise others as well, whose services in the future will doubtless be needed.