The Kelly family of
Ballymore, County Mayo,
Civil and R. C. parishes of
Kelly is the second commonest surname in Ireland
(only slightly less numerous than Murphy) with
about 50,000 of the name in the country today. Not
all of the name descend from the same stock since
Kelly has been assumed as an anglicised form of at
least six distinct Irish surnames: O Ceallaigh,
Mac Ceallaigh, O Caollaidhe, O Cadhla, Mac
Caochlaoich and Mac Giolla Cheallaigh. Each of
these surnames was borne by more than one family.
Any individual called Kelly in Ireland today,
therefore, descends from one of about eighteen
distinct families, each of which is historically
associated with a particular locality. The families
who assumed Kelly as an anglicised form of their
surname are dealt with below.
This is the Irish surname which has given rise
to most of the Kellys. It means 'descendant of
Ceallach', where the latter is a personal
name derived from an old Irish word meaning war or
contention. This surname was assumed by at least
nine different families:2
- O Ceallaigh of Ui
Maine. Descended from the Oirghialla
tribal group of Ulster, these were one of the
most powerful families in Connaught. As chiefs
of Ui Maine they ruled over an extensive
territory in the present counties Galway and
Roscommon, which they held until early
seventeenth century. This family produced many
distinguished chiefs, including Tadhg M6r O
Ceallaigh, who was killed in the Battle of
Clontarf in 1014.
- 0 Ceallaigh of Breagh.
A branch of the southern Ui Neill tribal
group, who were lords of Breagh (an
extensive district embracing a large portion of
present County Meath and north County Dublin)
until after the Anglo-Norman invasion (1169 AD),
when they were dispossessed and dispersed
throughout Ireland. Conghalach O
Ceallaigh, the last lord of Breagh,
died in 1292.
- 0 Ceallaigh of Cinel
Eachach. Based in the present Barony of
Loughinsholin in present south-east County
Derry, this family is still numerous there.
- 0 Ceallaigh of Ui
Teigh, in the north of present County
Wicklow, not far from Dublin.
- 0 Ceallaigh of Ard O
gCeallaigh, in the parish of Templeboy,
- 0 Ceallaigh of Corca
Laoighde, in the south-west of County
Woulfe, Rev. Patrick,
Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall - Irish Names and
Surnames, Dublin 1923, pp.457, 458.