Some Notes on the Kealy Family



Compiled by Kevin and Máire Kealy.   

December 2010

O’Caollaí – Kealy

The Kealy family originally came from Ballyadams Co. Laois.

Tradition has it that the family were minor chieftains of the Barony of Ballyadams, in Irish Críoch Uí mBuidhe.

The family was evicted from the Ballyadams land at an unknown date, possibly as early as the 16th century. The Kealys were then allowed to rent poor land in Kylenabehy, Wolfhill.

Kylenabehy is an Irish word meaning the “beech wood;” the place is known in modern times simply as Kyle.

An old Gaelic topographical poem dating back to a 15th century poet Giolla na Naomh O hUidhriin (d. 1420) has this line referring to the Barony of Ballyadams:

‘Da O Caollaí is caomh an chríoch.’

A free translation of the line reads:

‘To the Kealys is given the guardianship of the territory.’

May all our ancestors rest in peace.


In general, the Kealy family had a great loyalty to family names and tended to repeat them in succeeding generations which can cause confusion in distinguishing who is who between the various families. John features in every generation and in many branches of the family, Stephen, Malachy, Mary (and in alternate forms such as Mollie, Máire) William (Liam) and Kathleen were all favourite names. For convenience we have numbered the principal ‘John Kealys’ in the succession 1,2, 3 etc.

The Kyle Farm

There were four Kealys named John who were heirs to the Kyle farm from the 18th to the 20th centuries, John Kealy (1) of Kylenabehy married Sarah Fleming of Moyadd in 1803 in Knock chapel which was the local church for Moyadd. John and Sarah are the oldest ancestors for whom we have written records and from this couple sprang all the Kealys who are our relatives. Their son John (2) married Mary McDonald of Knockbawn, our father’s grandmother.  Their son John (3) married Margaret (Maggie) Dunne of Rathmore. Their son John (4) died in 1945 unmarried and intestate.  The farm then fell to William P, Kealy (father of Kevin, Brendan, Stephen and Maire) who increased the acreage from about 40 acres (Irish) to some 180 acres (statute) by purchasing the adjacent farms of John (Fred) Kealy and William (Prodle) Kealy and a neighbour called Grey.  He farmed the land until 1958 when it was sold to one of the Ramsbottoms from Timahoe – connected by marriage to the Kealys through the Conlans.

The Kyle land owned by the family is no longer a farm. There is little trace of the old house or outhouses. Today, Coillte, the state forestry agency, has taken all the Kyle lands and have planted conifers on the old Kealy holding.

The Kealys of Kyle

The last family to be reared in Kyle were the children of John (3) Kealy and Maggie Dunne. They were: John (4),  Mary (Brennan), William Patrick, Tim, Stephen (a Christian Brother, known as Brother Nicholas in religion), Kathleen     (Sister de Sales, a Presentation Sister in Limerick), Malachy and Rose (McHugh).  The three sons of William P. Kealy, Kevin, Brendan and Stephen  were reared in Kyle in their early days and after the family had moved to Prosperous in the County Kildare and later to Dublin, they still spent a lot of their time in Kyle especially during holiday times.  Maire spent a part of her youth with our Aunt Mary (Mamie) in Brennans of Graiguenahoun. In all there are seven generations of Kealys and their descendants on the family tree. John and Sarah Kealy were the progenitors of all these people. John Kealy (I) and Sarah his wife and many others of the Kealy clan are buried in one grave in Wolfhill Churchyard in Co. Laois. Liam Patrick Kealy, son of William P. and May Kealy who died just before his seventh birthday in 1936 is buried there also. The last Kealy to be buried in the family grave in Wolfhill is John Kealy (4) who died in 1945.

Three families of Kealy lived in Kyle – there were three farmyards right beside one other, As one came down the road from Wolfhill, the first yard one met belonged to William (Prodle) and Maria Kealy,  Passing through a gate one entered the yard of John (Fred) and Margaret.  Turning sharply right one entered our yard.  Though it seems obvious that all these Kealys must have been related at one time we could never establish our relationship to the other two families of Kealys of Kyle.  Tradition had it that at one time there were three brothers in Kyle and that these three families were their descendants. This may have come down from the Penal Law of parents having to split land between sons when the father died  – a law intended to weaken and impoverish the Irish ensuring that nobody got too much land. John (Fred) and Margaret were brother and sister as were William (Prodle) and Maria.  Incidentally both sisters strongly resented the nicknames Fred and Prodle and we never dared to call them by those names when their sisters were within earshot.  Our Aunt Rose always maintained that William and Maria were related to the Flemings of Moyadd.

Life must have been very hard for our predecessors. The land was very poor and it must have been a struggle for the generations to make a living and bring up their families on the income from the land. Our grandfather, John Kealy (3) (1847 – 1934) had a job as a rate collector to supplement his farm income.

The Kealys of Kiltown

James Kealy, son of John Kealy (1) and Sarah Fleming, married Ellen Comerford of Kiltown (just outside Castlecomer) and their offspring were the Kealys of Kiltown. The name Kealy has not survived in this branch of the family and their present day descendants are the Lacys and the Rothwells.

The Kealys of Athy

William Kealy, son of John Kealy (2) and Mary McDonald married Katie Brennan of Barrow House. They lived in Athy where they operated a public house. They later moved to Dublin. Their children were John (an accountant), Mollie (known as Sr. Rita in religion, a Dominican Sister), James (an Income Tax Inspector), Kathleen (a civil servant) , Stephen  (a higher civil servant in the Department of Finance and who died young at 42, William (a priest of the Dublin archdiocese), Malachy  (an engineer in the Electricity Supply Board) and Eileen (a teacher).

The Kellys of Kyle

Eileen Kealy, daughter of John Kealy (2) and Mary McDonald married Mike Kelly of Kyle. Their son Michael married Julia Kavanagh of Slatt. Their children were Mikey, Jimmy, Sheila (who married Joe Brennan) Bessie and Eileen (who married Henry Byrne). The Kellys lost their farm in Kyle and the family were reared by two of their Kavanagh aunts who had a Post Office in Kilmainham , Dublin.  Mikey emigrated to South Africa.

The Brennans of Graiguenahoun

Sarah Kealy, daughter of John Kealy (2) and Mary McDonald married Lag McEvoy of Graiguenahoun. Their daughter Mary married John Brennan of Lisnafunchion, Co. Kilkenny who moved into Graiguenahoun. They had six children. When Mary died, John Brennan married Mary Kealy, daughter of John Kealy (3) and Maggie Dunne of Kyle and sister of William P. Kealy. They had no offspring.

Sarah Kealy was an aunt of Mary Brennan (née Kealy) so there is therefore a double relationship between the Brennans and the Kealys.

American Connections

John Kealy (3), husband of Maggie Dunne and father of William P. Kealy had four brothers. Of these, Thomas and Malachy and a sister Bridget (often known as ‘Aunt Mary’) emigrated to the United States at the end of the 19th or early in the 20th century. Bridget changed her name to Mary when she arrived as Bridget was not fashionable as a name with the Irish Americans of that generation. Mary never married and Thomas entered the Passionist Congregation and took the name Stephen in religion. Many Kealys of the following generations were called Stephen after this man. Malachy married twice. His first wife was Maggie O’Shea from Kilkenny with whom he had two children Mary Margaret and John Thomas. The Jordans and Romanos are the descendants of Mary Margaret and the Lodges and Kealys are the descendants of John Thomas. His second wife was Mary Anne Dooley but they had no offspring.

It may be difficult to follow all these relationships. Referring to the family tree will help. In all there are seven generations of Kealys and their descendants on the family tree. As mentioned above,  John and Sarah Kealy were the progenitors of all these people. John Kealy (I) and Sarah his wife and many others of the Kealy clan are buried in one grave in Wolfhill Churchyard in Co. Laois. Liam Patrick Kealy, son of William P. and May Kealy who died just before his seventh birthday in 1936 is buried there also.  The last one to be buried there was John (4) who died in 1945 at the age of 52.