Kiely, Thomas Francis (‘Tom’) (1869–1951), athlete, was born 25 August 1869 at Ballyneale, near Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary, the son of William Kiely, farmer, and Mary Kiely (née Downey). Educated at the local national school, he worked on his father's farm as a young man. They were neighbours of Maurice (qv), Pat (qv), and Tom Davin (qv), the famous Carrick-on-Suir athletes, who coached him at hurdling, weight-lifting, and jumping.
In August 1892 he competed in the All-Round Irish Championship in athletics; six victories from nine events ensured a comprehensive first place in his debut at the competition. Although he was never defeated in this championship (he won further victories in 1893, 1894, and 1898), lack of serious competition and a desire to allow others to enter and win prevented him from competing every year. He achieved a remarkable feat at the Jones's Road sports ground, Dublin (later the site of the Croke Park stadium), in September 1892, when he won seven events at the National Athletics Championship. Having established himself as Ireland's foremost athlete, Kiely began to compete overseas, travelling regularly to Britain and America. He won five British hammer championships in six years, 1897–1902, and in the process set several world records in various hammer and weight-throwing classes, including a world record for the hammer in 1899 with a throw of 162 feet (55.473m). Although the record lasted only 46 days, he was the first person to throw over 160 feet (54.864m).
In 1904 the Irish-American community urged him to compete at the Olympic games at St Louis. The British team offered to pay his fare and expenses if he competed under their banner, but he refused; when he reached the USA, having paid his own way, several prominent athletic clubs, including the New York Athletic Club and the Irish-American Athletic Club, offered him financial support, but he again refused. In the All-Round World Championship at the games he dominated the competition and won a comprehensive victory in this prestigious athletic event: he came first in the hurdles, hammer, and mile walk, and finished highly placed in the jumps, shots, and sprints. This competition had previously been very much the preserve of American athletics, and it was included as an Olympic event in 1904 for the first and only time, probably because the games were being held in America; its anomalous status may explain why Kiely's name is absent from the Olympic games roll of honour for St Louis. That he won an Olympic medal is undoubted, as the medal itself is authentic and he was acknowledged at the time as an Olympic victor.
Two years later he returned to America and again contested the All-Round World Championship, at Boston. This time it was an American championship (which adds to the confusion over his Olympic achievement). He finished second in the sprint, high jump, and pole vault, and astonished the crowd by winning the final competition of the day, the mile race, having already won the shot, hammer, and broad jump. Thus, aged thirty-six, Kiely confounded the athletic world by beating the American champion, Ellery Clarke, to win his second world championship, and retired unbeaten in all-round competition. In all he won fifty Irish titles, twenty-five English ones, two American all-round championships, and had eleven international wins.
Kiely was also a hurler and footballer, and was a member of the first Munster hurling team to play an inter-provincial match against Leinster. A tall, lithe, handsome man, he loved fiddle music, dancing, and coursing, training horses and greyhounds. He bought a farm at Fruithill, near Dungarvan, Co. Waterford around 1906 and married soon after. He and his wife, Mary, had three sons and five daughters. He died 6 November 1951 in Dublin. In 1997 an exhibition of his memorabilia and related historical material was held in Clonmel at the South Tipperary County Museum.