Kelly, George (c.1680–1762), clergyman and Jacobite, was born in St John's parish, Co. Roscommon, son of Edward Kelly, who may have been an officer in James II's (qv) army. George probably received his early education in Athlone, Co. Westmeath. He entered TCD in 1702 as a pensioner and graduated BA in spring 1706. He was later ordained a deacon of the Church of Ireland. Little is known of his ecclesiastical career until 1718, when he delivered a sermon that expressed sympathy for the exiled Stuart king. Expelled from the college, he retired to Paris, where he became involved in John Law's Mississippi scheme. A gifted orator, skilled in history and the classics, Kelly published a translation of Castlenau's Memoirs of English affairs during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth (1724). Later (1727) he also proposed printing a translation of the books of Tully's ‘Epistle to Atticus’.
He returned to London in 1721 and became chaplain to Francis Atterbury, the Jacobite bishop of Rochester. Adopting the alias ‘James Johnson’, he threw himself into illicit Jacobite traffic and became one of the most important messengers between Atterbury and the exiled Stuart king. His association with Atterbury and the Jacobite plotter Christopher Layer drew on him the unwelcome attention of the authorities. When they attempted to arrest him, he held them off with his sword until he could burn his incriminating correspondence. Ordered to be detained during George I's pleasure, he spent the next fourteen years in the Tower of London. However, helped by his cousin, the Jacobite priest Fr Myles McDonnell, he made his escape to the Continent on 26 October 1736.
On his arrival in Avignon he was befriended by James Butler (qv), 2nd duke of Ormond, whom he served as secretary and chaplain. Although no Jacobite himself, Jonathan Swift (qv) expressed satisfaction that Kelly, ‘so valuable a company’, had entered the service of his old friend, the duke (Higgins, Politics, 19). In 1745 he joined the Jacobite invasion of Scotland. One of the famous ‘Seven men of Moidart’, he served as a messenger between Charles Edward, the Young Pretender, and the French court, exaggerating Jacobite successes and infuriating the expatriate Scottish Jacobites. It was largely through Kelly's efforts that the French government signed the treaty of Fontainebleau, undertaking to help the Stuarts.
After the prince's escape from Scotland Kelly returned to France, where he continued to exert what many deemed to be a malign influence on the prince. He dogged the attempts of the Jacobite commander, Lord George Murray, to reenter the prince's service, eroded the influence of the prince's old tutor, Thomas Sheridan (qv) (1684–1746), and deepened the rift between Charles Edward and his father, who was unsure whether Kelly was a really a Jacobite or a Hanoverian double-agent. Relieved of his post as secretary to Charles Edward through the influence of Marshal Keith in 1749, he reappeared as a pensioner and companion of Charles Edward in the latter part of the 1750s. He relapsed into relative obscurity, returning briefly in 1760 to sow dissension between the increasingly dissolute prince and his lover Clementina Walkingshaw. He died in 1762, aged 82.