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Irish Surname - Kelly

The surname Kelly in Ireland is derived from O'Ceallaigh, which is based on the popular personal name Ceallach, meaning either 'bright headed' or 'troublesome'. The O'Ceallaighs were a native Gaelic sept located in Counties Galway, Meath, Wicklow, Antrim and Sligo.

The most prominent of these were the O'Kellys of Ui Maine (Hy Many), an ancient territory in mid Galway and south Roscommon - sometimes referred to as 'O'Kelly's Country'. Their reigning chieftain, O'Ceallaigh (c1351), was a renowned patron of the arts. The Annals of the Four Masters are full of their exploits and four of them served as Bishops of Clonfert, which is the diocese comprising much of the O'Kelly Country. Up to the 13th century the O'Kellys of Breagh (Meath) were equally as strong as those of Ui Maine, but the impact of the Anglo-Norman invasion dispersed them.

The Kilkenny and Tipperary branches of the clan were O'Caollaidhe, rather than O'Ceallaigh, and some of them retain the older form Kealy, or Queally in County Waterford. One of the most distinguished Archbishops of Tuam, Most Rev Malachy Queally (1630-1645), was born in the diocese of Killaloe which includes a great part of Tipperary.

Kelly distribution in the 1850s

In Griffiths Valuation c1850s, 11,518 Kellys were recorded in Ireland andonly 57 O'Kellys. The largest concentration of the name was in Galway, Roscommon and Mayo at that time.

Kelly is the 2nd most common surname in Ireland, not far behind Murphy in numerical strength.

Famous People with Kelly as their Surname

Grace Kelly (Princess Grace of Monaco) was of Irish descent, born in Philadelphia to John and Margaret Kelly. John's ancesters had emigrated from County Mayo and he established himself as a wealthy contractor. Grace Kelly was a beautiful Oscar-winning actress and in 1956, she was voted the Golden Globe's World Film Favorite Female Actor. Later that year, she married Prince Rainier Grimaldi III of Monaco to become Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. Grace was one of the most admired women in the world and to this day is upheld as a standard of beauty, grace, and style. She died on 14 September 1982 after her car left the road in the cliffs of Monaco.

The well-known modern Irish sculptor Oisin Kelly (1915-1981) created The Children of Lir (1964) for Dublin's Garden of Remembrance and the statue of James Larkin on Dublin's O'Connell Street.

Father Malachy Kelly (d. 1684) was the founder of the Irish College in Paris. Daniel MacKelly, Archbishop of Cashel from 1238-1253, was the first Dominican to become an Irish bishop.

Alternate Surname Spellings for Kelly

Kelley, Kellie, O'Kelly, O'Kelley, Kelli, Kealy, Quealy

Please Note

There is often limited information available on a specific coat of arms and motto for an Irish surname. Sometimes there are many variations, sometimes none, we have compiled a representative, but by no means exhaustive, selection. Please visit our Coat of Arms and Motto page for more information.

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