Kelly, Liam (1922–2011) republican, Stormont MP and Irish senator, was born William Seán Kelly on 22 September 1922 in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone. His father, William, and grandfather Billy, had been active in republican politics. Liam joined the IRA during 1940 and was sentenced to two years in jail during 1941 for possessing illegal documents; he was then interned (1943–5). By the late 1940s he was involved in reorganising the IRA in Tyrone, but was expelled from the organisation in October 1952 for unauthorised activities. At that time he was a shop manager for the Tempo Cooperative Society. Regarded as a 'resourceful and charismatic' figure, Kelly retained considerable support among local republicans and, influenced by the politics of the Clann na Poblachta party, argued that the IRA should recognise the legitimacy of the 26-county state. He was successfully elected as an anti-partitionist to Stormont for Mid Tyrone in October 1953, polling 4,178 votes to 3,376 for Edward McCullough (Nationalist). Kelly stated that he 'was elected … as a republican candidate pledged to acknowledge only the sovereignty of the Irish people in Ireland … I accept and am prepared to uphold to the best of my ability the constitution which the Irish people adopted by referendum of the 1st July 1937.' However, Kelly stressed that he was not prepared to swear allegiance to a 'foreign monarch or country' (Ir. Times, 5 December 1953). Moreover, Kelly's victory speech had seen him denounce the 'bastard queen of a bastard nation' and assert that he believed in 'the use of force, the more the better, the sooner the better' (O'Brien, 12). As a result, he was convicted of sedition; Kelly refused to recognise the court and was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment.
The jailing brought Kelly to national prominence. Seán MacBride (qv) claimed that Kelly's 'conduct and determination' had 'awakened a new hope and spirit in the heart of every true Irishman and woman' (Ir. Times, 7 December 1953). Local councils and branches of Clann na Poblachta, the Labour party and Old IRA associations passed motions in Kelly's support. Hundreds attended a protest meeting in Pomeroy, featuring local clergy, councillors, Kelly's father and his wife Margaret. Shortly after Kelly's imprisonment, his supporters formed a political party, Fianna Uladh. In April 1954, while still in jail, Kelly was nominated for and appointed to Seanad Éireann, by the second inter-party government under John. A. Costello (qv). On his release in August, Kelly was welcomed back to Pomeroy by crowds of several thousand. He told supporters that 'with determination we can within a short space of time remove the border'. When the police moved in to seize tricolours, serious rioting broke out. There were dozens of injuries, and raids and arrests followed, once again bringing Kelly to national attention (Fermanagh Herald, 28 August 1954).
During the winter of 1954, Kelly organised Fianna Uladh across Ulster, appealing to IRA members that those republicans who refused to acknowledge the 'democratically expressed will of the Irish people in free election' would never gain mass support (ibid., 30 October 1954). He addressed Seanad Éireann just once, and later claimed that rejection of his suggestion that provision be made for northern representatives to sit in the oireachtas had promoted 'others to take action of a more direct nature' (ibid., 4 December 1954). Despite accusations from the IRA that Kelly had betrayed republicanism, he made it clear when speaking in Dublin during 1955 that he was a 'member of an armed force and I always have been' (ibid., 1 October 1955). In fact, throughout this period he had been organising an armed group, Saor Uladh, which drew in former IRA activists from across Northern Ireland. From 1955 he lived in Monaghan, which became the group's base. In November 1955 Saor Uladh volunteer Connie Green, a former British commando, was killed during an attack on Roslea RUC barracks, Co. Fermanagh. Kelly's political organisation responded to the IRA's disclaiming of responsibility by stating that 'Fianna Uladh neither admits nor denies responsibility for the raid. It is our policy now and always not to felon-set, to inform on political prisoners or to give away any information whatsoever to the usurpers of our country that would aid the process of elimination, which in our opinion helps the English army of occupation and its satellites' (Coogan, 295).
Despite efforts by the IRA to downplay the extent of Kelly's support, members such as Liam McMillen (qv) in Belfast were attracted by his promise of action. When a further split occurred in the Dublin IRA led by Joe Christle (qv), that group linked up with Saor Uladh. In November 1956 the Kelly–Christle alliance carried out a series of attacks on border posts. When the IRA began its own border campaign shortly afterwards, Saor Uladh continued their own operations. In May 1957 the group caused £50,000 worth of damage in a bomb attack on Newry docks. During July 1958 Saor Uladh member Aloysius Hand was killed in a clash with police in Co. Fermanagh; Kelly was arrested shortly before Hand's funeral in Monaghan. During that year Kelly travelled to the United States seeking support and also addressed the Clann na Poblachta ard fheis. The IRA remained hostile to Saor Uladh, and Kelly and Christle disagreed between themselves on tactics and policy, leading to a decline in activity.
In January 1961 Kelly announced that he was leaving Ireland permanently for the US. He gained employment on New York's transit system and became an activist in the Transport Workers Union. In late 1969, after the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland, he was among a number of IRA veterans who met John Kelly (qv) (1936–2007) and Seán Keenan to discuss aiding northern republicans. When the IRA in Ireland split, Kelly supported the Officials and became a prominent member of their North American Republican Clubs (though he was personally more conservative than many of its activists). Kelly was also a significant supplier of weapons to the Official IRA, utilising a network largely composed of Co. Tyrone emigrants. The Saor Uladh organisation remained active in Tyrone, cooperating with both IRAs in the early 1970s, though eventually most of its members were subsumed by the Provisionals. A number of Kelly's relatives were active in both the Official and Provisional IRAs. A nephew, Patrick Kelly, was killed at Loughgall, Co. Armagh, on 8 May 1987. Though Kelly had never been a supporter of the Provisionals, after his death in New York on 7 June 2011, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness (1950–2017) paid 'tribute to the many decades of service [Kelly] gave for the Irish people'. Kelly was survived by his second wife, Peggy, son Kieran and daughters Ellis, Shelia, Una and Bernadette. He was notable as a northern republican who recognised the futility of non-recognition of the southern state, was prepared to combine political activity with armed force and who, despite relatively conventional republican views, endorsed the Official side in the IRA split.