Kelleher, James (1878–1943), hurler and jockey, was born 31 March 1878 at Clonmult, Co. Cork, third son among four sons and three daughters of William Kelleher, farmer, of Clonmult, and Johanna Kelleher (née Cronin) of Dungourney. He received his primary education locally at Clonmult before beginning work on the large family farm and devoting himself to his twin passions of hurling and horse racing. He emerged as a hurling prodigy with local club Dungourney in the early 1890s, but his first real success came when he was selected at full back for the Cork side that reached the 1901 All-Ireland final before losing to London. In the same year he captained the tiny Dungourney club to a surprise victory in the Cork county championship, and then demonstrated his tactical acumen and ruthless desire for victory by dropping nine of his own clubmates in his selection of the Cork side for the 1902 All-Ireland series. His decision was vindicated, however, by Cork's humiliation of London by 3–13 to no score in the 1902 final with Kelleher himself imperious at full back. The 1902 final, which was delayed until 11 September 1904, was held as the inaugural fixture of the Cork Athletic Grounds, making Kelleher the only Cork man to captain an All-Ireland winning team on home ground. Kelleher won a second All-Ireland the following year when a Blackrock-selected Cork side again overcame London, having previously destroyed Kilkenny 8–9 to 0–8 in the home final. Although Kelleher went on to play in four All-Ireland finals (1904, 1905, 1907, 1912), and captained the side twice (1905, 1907), he was unable to add to his two All-Ireland medals, Cork losing to Kilkenny in all four of the finals. He was particularly unlucky in 1905 when Cork's initial victory was overturned after it emerged they had fielded a British army reservist in their side. They lost the subsequent replay. He led Dungourney to three Cork county championships, and after their demise won a fourth with Midleton in 1914. In 1910 he led the Cork side on an exhibition tour of Belgium during the Pan-Celtic Congress.
Of medium height, Kelleher was agile and quick to turn but also immensely strong, once scoring a point from a puck-out when the ball bounced in the opponent's square before dropping over the bar. He was perhaps most renowned for his reading of the game and a versatility that saw him play in every position from goalkeeper to full forward during his long career, although he played most frequently at full back. He was generally regarded by his contemporaries as the greatest hurler of his generation, and his dedication to physical fitness and emphasis on tactical awareness had a profound influence on the development of the game as a whole.
Kelleher maintained an avid interest in National Hunt racing from an early age and was a successful breeder, trainer, and jockey. He won more than forty races, twenty-four of them on his most famous mount, Home Chat. He was a moderate supporter of the Irish Parliamentary Party; his victory in an open steeplechase at Ceim (12 March 1912), when he was the only farmer in a field of local landlords, was regarded as a great victory for home rule by the local populace. Generally conservative in his political outlook, he joined the Irish Volunteers (1914) and was elected captain of the first Volunteer company in Clonmult (1915). He was unhappy with the radicalisation of the organisation, however, and left in 1917.
Kelleher married first (13 September 1927) Sabina Cronin, a nurse from Clonmult, and settled on a large farm at Ballyard. Sabina died childless in 1932. He married secondly (30 April 1935) Bridget McCarthy, a farmer's daughter from Leamlara; they had one daughter, Joan. Kelleher contracted Weil's disease and died at Ballyard on 10 January 1943.