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Kelley Family History

Ó Ceallaigh is angliciized as (O) Kelly, Kelley &c. the name Ceallach has been translated as 'strife' or 'contention' or 'bright-headed'.

There were several powerful distinct septs of the name. The two most influential were the Uí Maine sept in Oriel, ruling extensive lands in Connacht, and the Southern Uí Néill sept in Meath who were lords of Brega, near Navan; they were one of 'the four tribes of Tara'. Other septs were in Derry, three in Laois, one in Wicklow, one in Sligo and one branch of the Corca Laoidhe in west Cork

In the 1659 'Census' of Sir William Petty, Kelly is listed as a 'Principal Irish Name' in the following counties (NB Galway, Mayo & Tyrone returns are missing): all figures are for families, Kildare (240 + a scattering of Keely, see below); Kilkenny (133); Laois (121); Dublin (98) + city (16); Down (63 -some still with prefix 'O'); Meath (54); Donegal (39, often with prefix 'O'); Tipperary (90, including 30 or so 'Kealy' this last may well be a distinct name, Ó Caollaidhe, a sept in Co Kilkenny); Clare (28); Offaly, Kelly (18) and Keely (36, see foregoing); etc etc

By the time of Griffith's 'Primary Valuation' (1850s) of households in Ireland, high numbers are recorded over the whole country: the top five counties are: Galway (986) Roscommon (815) Tyrone (514) Kilkenny (466) and Kildare (461).

In the Registrar General's Report on births in 1890, Kelly has the second highest number in Ireland, the most being in Dublin, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and Cork.

Kelly is also a surname from Kelly in Devon (from 'kelli' which is Cornish for 'grove'), and a family of the name has been established there since 1086. Place names in Scotland, Kelly near Arbroath and Kellie in Fife, have also given rise to the Scottish surname. Kelly is also a surname of the clan MacDonald. There are many Irish names whose anglicised forms are identical to lesser known British names; individuals bearing these British names were in Ireland during especially the 17th century, as officials, settlers and soldiers. (v. Appendix).

Early references:

'Mór, daughter of Donnchadh, son of Ceallach, and queen of Ireland, died': recorded in the Annals of Tigernach for 986.

Tadhg ua Ceallaigh, lord of Uí Maine, died at the Battle of Clontarf: recorded for 1013 in the Annals of the Four Masters.

Two famous Kellys:

Grace Kelly (1929-1982) film star and Princess of Monaco.
Gerry Kelly (b 1953) IRA volunteer in the northern 'Troubles', now Sinn Féin politician.

Also q. v. v. Boland, Boyle, Brady, Breen, Buckley, Canny, Car(e)y, Conway, Craven, Crowley, Cullen, Curry, Delan(e)y, Farren, Fearon, Foley, Gavin, Geary, Gorman, Hanl(e)y, Healy, Hurl(e)y, Hynes, Kelly, Kenny, Larkin, Loftus, Long, Luc(e)y, Lyons, Mullen, Rea, Reaney, Ring, Sexton, Trac(e)y, Tunney et. al.

Who have we missed?

Tell us about any famous Kelley (or surname variant) you think we should add here. We will get our genealogists to check them out and add them to the list. Thanks!


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I have found out recently that I am a Kelley. My wife has helped me trace my roots back to a John Jacob Kelley whom served with the union in the civil war in the USA. His father is a Jacob Kelley and we can't find further than that for the Kelley name to have came across the Atlantic. We do have an O'Ceallis name as well, which I see is where Kelley came from. does not help much past where we are now. What other resources would be suggested to use to help trace my roots further back?

Jennie Graber

My granddad's (Albert Sommers Kelley) grandfather (James Mac Kelley) was buried in Somerville TN. We are trying to find information on the Kelley family in Ireland. My mom always believed they were O'Kelleys. But, my granddad's grandmothers tomb says "wife of James Mac Kelley" So we aren't sure who we are anymore. lol Any information or help is greatly appreciated!

Melinda Kelley Koslovsky

I’m trying to find out who my 4th great grandparents are, and if they were from Ireland. Family lore indicates my dad’s ancestors emigrated from Ireland. My earliest known ancestor is Stephen J Kelley, my 3rd great grandfather, born 1790 in NC. His 1st wife was Elizabeth, m abt 1823. They had a daughter, Elizabeth b 1824. His 2nd wife was Mary Polly Maxey Collier, b 1807 in NC, they were married in 1837 in Madison County MO, they lived in Jackson County IL, and had 3 sons: Stephen b 1840, Benjamin Franklin Kelley (my 2nd Great Grandfather) b 1844, and Morgan b abt 1844 as well. Any information you can share will be truly appreciated!


my family has Delbert,Ben as great uncles and grandfather named Delbert Kelley I am trying to make contact with anyone who can tell me of connection or relatives in Ireland.


In answer to the query over spelling Kelly and Kelley are only anglicised forms of Ceallaigh. Both bewildered English officials and beleaguered natives had a blithe disregard over spelling in the 17th century, when anglicisation occurred in a big way. These two spellings have survived into modern times, but there were surely more! C


Anyone know the reason some have two es in Kelley and some one?


Family legend in the upper-Midwest of the USA is that Kelley designates Protestant and Kelly designates Catholic religion adherence. No proof of this. Whether true or not is unknown to me.


slinte mhaith ! Go n-eiri an t-adh leat! . To the Kelley Clan!

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