Kelly, Richard (1810–84), newspaper proprietor and local politician, was born at Loughrea, the son of Jasper Kelly and his wife, Frances (née Davis). The Kellys were a family of minor catholic gentry from Dunmore (near Loughrea); they transmitted the names ‘Jasper’ and ‘Richard’ as a reminder of their intermarriage with the Ouseley family. Nothing is known of Richard Kelly's childhood. He was active in the catholic emancipation, anti-tithe, and anti-corn law campaigns. In May 1837 he founded the Tuam Herald, having purchased the type, press, and goodwill of the Connaught Advertiser, which dated back to the late eighteenth century. (His brother Gore Kelly ran a local paper, The Chronicle, at Ballinrobe.)
The Herald was liberal – that is, O'Connellite – in its politics; Tuam was predominantly liberal owing to the influence of Archbishop John MacHale (qv). Throughout Kelly's proprietorship the paper was strongly linked to the catholic church; Kelly was a friend of archbishops MacHale and John MacEvilly (qv) and of Bishop Patrick Duggan (qv) of Clonfert, as well as of George Henry Moore (qv). He was also associated with the proprietor of the Cork Examiner, John Francis Maguire (qv). Kelly adopted the motto ‘Fiat justitia ruat coelum’ (‘Let justice be done though the sky should fall’) for his paper, which advocated repeal of the union and the abolition of tithes, and attacked official corruption. Despite an expensive libel suit in 1838 over its criticisms of a local magistrate's handling of an election riot, the paper flourished. In 1843 Kelly attended all the monster meetings that Daniel O'Connell (qv) held in Connacht, and Joseph Haverty (qv) captured his likeness in a sketch of the Clifden meeting.
Kelly supplemented his newspaper business with printing and a book and stationery shop. He served as a JP, peace commissioner (an obituary describes him as the first borough magistrate), poor law guardian, and town commissioner. As chairman of the Tuam town board he oversaw the building of the town hall and the municipal gas works; he claimed credit for bringing the railway to Tuam ‘by pen and purse’. During the period of near-famine in 1855–6 he was appointed to the board of works as special finance officer in charge of relief works for Galway and Mayo; prominent local figures made this appointment possible by agreeing to provide surety for any financial shortfall. Kelly's handling of the relief works was widely praised and he subsequently moved to Dublin and took up a Dublin corporation post (assisted by his friendship with Sir John Gray (qv)).
Richard Kelly married Margaret Tully, sister of the proprietor of the Roscommon Herald; through her the Kellys were related to Jasper Tully (qv). They had six children. In September 1855 Richard Kelly transferred the Tuam Herald to their eldest son, Jasper Kelly (c.
After Jasper's death Richard senior ran the paper from Dublin until his grandson came of age. It was Richard and the editor Edward Byrne (qv) who were summoned before the Galway county election court in 1872 over the Herald's publication of clerical denunciations of the conservative by-election candidate, Colonel William Trench (qv). (The Kellys had a long-standing association with the family of Trench's rival, Colonel John Nolan (qv).) Richard Kelly died 4 September 1884 in Dublin; after a high-profile funeral he was buried at Dunmore.
Richard John Kelly (1856–1931), newspaper editor and lawyer, was born 20 January 1856 and educated at Blackrock College and QCG and became a reporter and editorial writer for the Tuam Herald before assuming full control. He covered the early activities of the Land League and was present at the 1879 Irishtown meeting; he befriended C. S. Parnell (qv) and Michael Davitt (qv) and remained a staunch Parnellite through the split. Kelly co-founded the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, and published extensively on genealogy and family history; he was a fellow of the RSAI and a member of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society.
As a newspaper aimed at a relatively restricted catholic provincial middle-class clientele, the Herald's profitability was limited. Kelly was called to the bar in 1886 and built up a successful practice on the Connacht circuit, becoming a king's counsel in 1914. He published numerous legal works, most notably a compendium entitled The statute law of Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Acts, 1860–96, which is 2,000 pages long and annotates 4,000–5,000 decided cases; he was assistant legal land commissioner in 1911–14. His career became increasingly centred on Dublin (he lived on Ailesbury Road), though he remained nominal editor of the Herald, sending down editorials and articles by train. (His articles on local history and genealogy were well received.) From about 1900 day-to-day running of the paper was left to the manager, John Burke. Despite political differences – Kelly was a staunch Redmondite, who later supported the treaty, while Burke supported Sinn Féin from 1907 and became a member of Fianna Fáil – the two men retained a healthy mutual respect. Kelly continued to take a strong interest in local matters, campaigning for better housing in Tuam, supporting charities there, and lobbying for the development of Galway as an Atlantic port.
Kelly was a founder member of the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland, serving on its council until his death and writing many pamphlets for it; he wrote extensively for catholic magazines and participated in catholic associations. His numerous publications included a history of Tuam, short lives of St Jarlath (qv) and Charles J. Kickham (qv), and nine selections of Irish patriotic and popular poems. He was a member of the Gaelic League, and added a Gaelic version to the Herald's Latin motto.
Kelly was also a governor of the Richmond, Hardwicke, and Whitworth hospitals. He was well known in Dublin commercial circles as a director of the National Bank of Ireland, member of the council of the Dublin chamber of commerce and the Dublin Rotary Club, and life member of the RDS. He took a strong interest in eastern Europe and wrote several articles for nationalist papers (including The Leader in the period before 1914), comparing the position of the Czechs within the Habsburg empire to that of the catholic Irish within the UK. In 1915 he encouraged Pierce O'Mahony (qv) to publicise Bulgarian grievances in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Bulgaria to support the allied war effort. In 1919 Kelly was awarded the freedom of the city of Prague and a silver medal. At the time of his death he was honorary consul of the republics of Estonia and Bolivia and the kingdom of Romania; he had been appointed a chevalier of the Order of the Star of Romania. (His writings may provide useful material for scholars comparing the historical experience of Ireland with that of eastern Europe.)
Despite his home rule sympathies, Kelly held several official positions. He was a JP for Co. Galway and Co. Dublin from 1887; at various times he served as revising barrister for the city of Dublin (he was assistant revising barrister for several other areas) and crown prosecutor for Co. Sligo; he also served as commissioner for Connacht and Munster under the Military Service (Civil Liabilities) Act (1916–19). Shortly before the Easter rising he published an editorial warning young men that it would be madness to resort to physical force. He became a member of the reconstruction commission appointed by Viscount French (qv), lord lieutenant (1918–21) to plan for Ireland's post-war needs, when all but the most conservative nationalists were distancing themselves from the Dublin Castle administration.
By 1930 the Tuam Herald faced declining circulation and a depressed economic climate. The paper failed to adjust to the transition from a limited middle-class readership to newer and more populist styles in journalism and politics; the building and machinery were old and in poor repair. The ageing Kelly, whose main source of income was his legal career, decided to close down the paper, which had become a liability. John Burke raised the money to buy the paper; it revived under his ownership and was run by three generations of Burkes.
Richard John Kelly died 3 September 1931 in Dublin and was buried at Glasnevin cemetery. He married Edith Mackey of Southampton, a cousin of the actress Sybil Thorndyke; they had one son, Richard Jasper (who became state solicitor for Galway) and six daughters. The Kellys are an interesting example of a catholic professional dynasty in which two long lives stretched from the emancipation campaign to the eve of the Eucharistic Congress; in the process their O'Connellite politics, at the cutting edge of radical nationalism in the 1830s, came to be seen as pale-green Castle catholic conservatism, and they moved from provincial entrepreneurship to metropolitan professional status.