13 November 2008 Edition
Remembering the Past
BY MÍCHEÁL Mac DONNCHA
The writer, newspaper editor and Irish republican Seumas O’Kelly was a native of Loughrea, County Galway. Author of short stories, plays, poems and a novel, The Weaver’s Grave which was his masterpiece, O’Kelly’s life was cut short because of his commitment to Irish freedom.
The O’Kelly family of Loughrea were flour millers and merchants and Seumas received a good education. He was a fellow student of James Joyce in University College Dublin. There is a remarkable photograph of the BA degree class of 1902 including Joyce, O’Kelly and George Clancy. Like O’Kelly, George Clancy, a close friend of Joyce, was to die a tragic death. He was Sinn Féin Mayor of Limerick when on 6 March 1921 he was murdered in his home by the Black and Tans, on the same night as former Mayor Michael O’Callaghan.
Seumas O’Kelly was a committed republican from an early age. He is recorded as one of those to the fore in the centenary commemorations of the 1798 Rising in 1898. He was writing for Arthur Griffith’s Irish Republican Brotherhood-funded newspaper The United Irishman from 1904 and for its successor Sinn Féin from 1906. While a full list of attendees is not available it is probable that he was at the founding meeting of Sinn Féin in November 1905.
In 1906 O’Kelly was appointed editor of the Leinster Leader in Naas, County Kildare. He founded a branch of Conradh na Gaeilge in the town and was active in Sinn Féin locally. He welcomed republicans to his home during the annual Wolfe Tone commemorations in nearby Bodenstown.
O’Kelly’s first book of stories was published in 1906 and his first play was produced the following year. Several of his plays were produced at the Abbey Theatre. Constantly busy with literary and journalistic work, O’Kelly was subject to poor health. He joined Óglaigh na hÉireann when they were founded in 1913 but was unable to play an active military role. His brother was a Volunteer and was jailed in England after the 1916 Rising.
The paper Nationality, edited by Griffith, was established in 1915 and O’Kelly was one of its writers. It was the main organ of Sinn Féin during the 1917 and 1918 by-elections. In May 1918 Griffith was arrested and jailed in England and O’Kelly took over as editor of Nationality.
Following the 11 November 1918 Armistice which ended the First World War, British soldiers and loyalists ran riot through the streets of Dublin, attacking suspected Sinn Féin supporters. On the night of 13 November a crowd of drunken soldiers invaded the Sinn Féin Ard Oifig at 6 Harcourt Street (now Ard Oifig of Conradh na Gaeilge). Seumas O’Kelly was at his desk in the Nationality office and tried to defend himself with his walking stick. The office was wrecked and O’Kelly collapsed. He was brought to Jervis Street Hospital where he died of a brain haemorrhage.
Seumas O’Kelly was honoured with a republican funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery, attended by huge crowds. He died on 14 November 1918, 90 years ago this week.
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