Kelly, Thomas (1793?–1835), archbishop of Armagh, was born in south-east Tyrone. His upbringing is obscure. In August 1814 he entered Maynooth seminary, and rapidly showed great academic prowess. Ordained to the diocese of Armagh on 23 September 1820 by Archbishop Daniel Murray (qv), a close ally throughout his career, he was later that month appointed to the post of junior dean of discipline in Maynooth. Promoted dean by 1824, he was made professor of dogmatic theology in the college on 15 September 1825. Composed and intensely serious in demeanour (in later years he wore a hair-shirt daily), and with drawn, narrow, pale features, he impressed church authorities as having a maturity beyond his years. Patrick Curtis (qv), archbishop of Armagh, and the other provincial bishops, urged his appointment to the bishopric of Dromore when it fell vacant in August 1825. Receiving the papal brief of provision on 16 June 1826, he resigned from Maynooth to take up full-time pastoral duties, and was consecrated by Archbishop Murray on 27 August 1827. His principal concerns during his stewardship were to mitigate clerical discord and insubordination, to develop the diocesan primary and secondary school system to counter the spread of protestant evangelical schools, and to improve relations with other faiths in line with the example of his mentor, Murray. He drew up new diocesan statutes in 1827 which revised parish administration and these were later applied throughout the province of Armagh. Under his encouragement, St Colman's college, Newry, was founded in the late 1820s. Unlike his predecessor, he shared the weekly preaching duties of the mensal parish with his three curates in Newry where he first resided.
By the spring of 1828 the increasingly infirm Archbishop Curtis required the assistance of a coadjutor, and Kelly was his preferred candidate. Despite conflict among the clergy at an assembly called on 1 May 1828 to select three names for submission to Rome, Kelly comfortably headed a poll of the sixty-nine clergy remaining after thirty-one disgruntled priests had walked out. On 7 December 1828 Kelly was made coadjutor of Armagh, with right of succession, and with the right to retain the administration of the small diocese of Dromore at the pleasure of the pope, having weathered copious petitions to Rome from his clerical enemies. As a result of this renewal of hostilities previously endemic in the archdiocese, a papal rescript (1829) withdrew permission for the participation of curates at such assemblies, thereby quenching one of the prime causes of church dissension in the period.
Though experienced in the complexities of internal church discipline, Kelly's personality was by no means authoritarian. The character of those missions of intervention which he was called upon to undertake around the country during the late 1820s and the early 1830s was invariably impartial and conciliatory to protagonists. Brought in by Propaganda Fide in September 1829 to help settle the thorny issue of the Galway wardenship, he commended the integrity of the office-holder, Dr Ffrench (also bishop of Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora), and advised censure of the turbulent Fr Peter Daly (qv). After comprehensive examination of the dispute, he and William Crolly (qv), bishop of Down and Connor, managed to secure general agreement for the abolition of the office of warden and the establishment of the new diocese of Galway by a papal bull of 26 April 1831.
Kelly's strength as mediator was no doubt enhanced by his succession to the archbishopric of Armagh on the death of Curtis on 24 July 1832. A jurisdictional dispute between the dioceses of Derry and Down and Connor, arising in the parish of Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, in 1834 was carried to an amicable conclusion within a month, Kelly having gone to some lengths to arrange for the aid and counsel of two neutral bishops acceptable to both parties. He was nevertheless obliged to bequeath the difficult case of Eugene Mulholland, of Termonfeckin parish, to Crolly, his successor, after dismissing the unstable priest from the parish in 1833. He had few qualms about accepting grants under the national school scheme of 1831 towards the extension and official recognition of the primary system in the dioceses under his control, and was the first bishop to apply for funds when made available in 1832. Wishing to move the archbishop's residence from Drogheda, where he (and his predecessors) had lived, to the ancient capital of Armagh city, he received permission from the Holy See to change the mensal parish on the death of the parish priest of Armagh in 1834. But before making the transfer, he was struck down by fever after giving the last rites to a soldier in Drogheda barracks and died 13 January 1835 in the episcopal palace on Laurence St. He was buried before the high altar in St Peter's, West St., Drogheda.