Joseph J. Kelly, His Family Story
Joseph’s eyes opened early on that cool April morning in 1899. Joseph was sleeping in the loft in his family’s three-room, stone house. He looked up to see the thatch roof looming a few feet above him. He touched it thinking he might never touch a thatch roof again. Thoughts like this were racing through his head. He also savored the smell of the turf fire, the cooking oats along with the sounds of his mother, Anne, adjusting the pans and kettles over the fire. “Better hurry up’’, she thought for today was a big day for her sons Joseph and Michael.
Anne remembered, with some sadness, the six previous times she prepared a going away breakfast for her children. She was excited for her sons and the opportunity America might afford them. Her excitement however was tempered by the realization that after today only two of her living children, John and Anne, would remain with her in the little village of Carhoon in Ballymacward, Galway. Bridget the eldest, left for Boston in 1870, then Maria to Boston. Both were domestics and doing well. Then it was Elizabeth, first to Boston and then to Chicago. Next it was Owen, the eldest boy, who was a warehouse worker in Detroit and living up to the unspoken Catholic tradition. He already had four children! "Good Catholic boy", Anne thought as she smiled. Jane left next. She left so young. She recently married Ed Delahunty in Detroit. Ed was the brother of John Delahunty who married Jane’s sister Elizabeth. James followed Jane and was living with his brother Owen in Detroit and later on to Chicago to live with his sister Elizabeth. Joseph and Michael would leave this morning.
Joseph rolled over. There was Michael still asleep. No surprise there. There was a party for the two boys last night. They had been to these “farewell” parties before. There was music and laughter, toasts and tears, and of course, stories. He loved stories, especially the embarrassing ones unless of course, it was about himself. At the party, Joseph’s brother-in-law, Pat Griffin, his sister Anne’s husband, recounted one such story from about seven years ago. The two brothers, Michael and Joseph, had gotten into a row with their aunt Bridget, a bitter woman who was estranged from most of her Cahill family. “One day, a few years back”, Pat explained, the boys passed by their Aunt’s house. Bridget was in the yard. Words and taunts were exchanged. Next harsher words, then words laced with profanities Pat explained. At this point Pat noticed Joseph’s discomfort but he didn’t stop. His eyes twinkled when he said “And it didn’t stop there!”. There was a good hoot when Patrick described how a pot of slop was thrown at, and on, the boys and how their aunt had smirked at them. The brothers retaliated with a volley of small stones and sticks. Unfortunately for all involved, one stone hit its mark. The incident was resolved in the local Petty Session Court after Aunt Bridget filed a complaint. Neither of the brothers ever admitted to throwing “that” stone. The boys, at the time swore that they didn’t mean to hit their aunt. Patrick didn’t mention that boys mother hadn’t quite forgiven them for the disrespect they showed their aunt and the hefty fine she paid to keep the boys out of a two week stay in the Galway jail. At the end of the story both Joseph and Michael reflected that they had learned their lesson. Joseph also decided that was one story that would remain in Ireland.
There were toasts. The first to the memory of the boys father, James “the Cooper” Kelly. James had died about eight years ago. Joseph was just twelve at the time. The boys missed their father especially helping their father with his coopering. They would often walk with him for miles along the train tracks from Woodlawn Station towards Galway, looking for scrap wood he used in making barrels and churns. They frequently visited other villages looking to sell his goods. Everyone called him “Cooper” Kelly. Joseph often wondered if they knew him by his
given name, James or Seamus. James was proud to be a businessman and often, after singing a document, would add the word “Cooper” after his name. The next toast was for the memory of the boys grandmother Elizabeth Cahill who passed away a few years back. Joseph was a witness on her Death Certificate. Needless to say Joseph and Michael both missed their father and grandmother.
Abruptly, Joseph realized it was time to wake Michael and start their big day. Some of his melancholy started to lift as he realized that at the end of his journey to Boston was a new life, new hope, and a connection to his relatives in America. Initially he would meet his sisters Bridget and Maria at the dock. Both had left for Boston before he was born. Then later, on to Detroit to reconnect with his oldest brother Owen, brother James and sister Jane Delahunty.
The S S. Cephalonia on May 7,1899 approached Boston Harbor. Joseph was overwhelmed with emotion. He knew his glass to be half full. The new opportunity for a better life, the reunion with his siblings and the anticipation of the imminent meeting with his sisters Bridget and Maria. Joseph was also acutely aware of the empty half of the glass as well, and it was harder to swallow. He knew, in his heart that there was a good chance that he might never see his mother Anne, brother John and sister Anne again. He also knew as he disembarked that he was one of the lucky ones. However, there were many things Joseph didn’t know. How could he?
Joseph didn’t know that in three years his brother Michael, a cobbler, would move from Boston to Chicago where four months later would succumb to T.B. He also didn’t know that Michael’s body would be shipped back to Boston to be buried there with family.
Joseph didn’t know that he would meet Catherine Moriarity from Glenbeigh, Kerry in Detroit. They would marry shortly thereafter in 1908. That his firstborn Mary Anne would die in infancy. That He would have four children with Catherine: Anna, Joseph, Kate and Virginia. Also that his obituary in 1957 would indicate that in addition to his four children he would have thirteen grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. The obituary also mentioned that of his nine siblings only his sister Anne Griffin, in Ireland would outlive Joseph. Joseph did know, however, at the time of his death, that he would be the last of five siblings to be laid to rest at Mt Olivet Cemetery in Detroit.
Joseph would work various jobs in in his 58 years in Detroit. Early on he would work as a clerk, a timekeeper, a salesman for a dry goods company. he would also be a Men's Furnishing Salesman for the George F. Minto clothier in Detroit. After the death of Mr Minto and the closing of his store, Joseph would then work for the Wayne County Road Commission as a Claims Adjuster then, towards the end of his career, he would transfer into the Tax Department.
Joseph didn’t know that his emigration would come full circle back to Ireland, once in each successive generation. His son Joseph Jr. would graduate from Holy Redeemer High school in Detroit. He would be employed by the J.L.Hudson Company till his death in 1971. During his employment at Hudson’s Joseph Jr. would attain the position of Buyer and for twelve years would travel to Europe and purchase various goods for the store. The first of those trips occurred in 1957, shortly after his father passed away. Joseph’s first stop was Ireland and the Donegal Tweed Company by way of Ballymacward, Galway. He would visit with his Aunt Anne Kelly Griffen and family. Joseph had a picture of his father to share with his Aunt. Shortly after his visit with his Aunt Joseph Jr. wrote a letter home sharing his meeting his Irish relatives. One of Joseph Jr’s eight children, Michael, would remember the two specific names in that letter: Michael Griffin and Ballymacward.
Joseph Sr. didn’t know that fifty three years after his son visited Ballymacward his family story would essentially be lost . Little knowledge remained of cousins or connections, knowledge of names or even where his family settled after arriving in the States. The grandchildren did know that their father visited the home of their great aunt in a parish near the market town of Ballinasloe, Galway. Also that their Grandfather had nine siblings. That two
stayed in Ireland and eight emigrated to the States. Joseph Sr. also didn’t know his second-generation descendant and Joseph’s grandson, Michael Kelly and his sister Patricia would complete the full circle back to Ireland. They would meet through Ireland Reaching Out and later collaborate with their Irish Griffin cousins Mary, Anne, Sean and Tom. Eventually the Joseph Kelly family story would reemerge, shared again and bring closure to family on both sides of the Atlantic.
Grandson Michael knew he had an ending to the Kelly story when he visited the Kelly ancestral home with his cousin Sean Griffin. Sean told Michael he often passed by the old house and wondered what happened to all those Kelly’s that left for America. He said he thought they all died out. Gone. The good news is he now knows differently.
By Michael A. Kelly
|Townland born||Corskeagh Trench, Ballymacward, County Galway|
|Place of Death||Detroit, Wayne, Michigan|