James Joseph O'Kelly

James Joseph O'Kelly (1845 – 22 December 1916) was an Irish nationalist journalist, politician and member of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and as member of the Irish Parliamentary Party represented the Roscommon constituency between 1880 and 1916.


His grandparents on his father's side came from County Roscommon. His father, John O'Kelly, ran a blacksmith's shop and dray making business in Dublin's Peterson's Lane, which connects Townsend Street with City Quay. He also owned the Cumberland cottages off Westland Row. He was educated in Dublin. He was sent to London at a very early age to learn the craft of sculpting from his maternal uncle John Lawlor, however, on his father's insistence, he returned from London to take up an apprenticeship in the family business.

After his father's death in 1861, the Dublin properties were sold and the family moved to London. James returned to John Lawlor's studio where he worked for two years before departing to join the French Foreign Legion.


Kelly went with the French Foreign Legion to Mexico. Around 1865, O'Kelly deserted from the French Foreign Legion and escaped to Baltimore. Although he returned immediately to London, it was his first contact with America. Having establishing himself as a journalist in London, he made a return visit to America to see John Devoy in 1871. He secured a position with the New York Herald as a journalist. He was very successful with this paper and became Drama Critic and Art Editor. Aside from this occupation he dealt in paintings through the Goupil Gallery on Fifth Avenue. This episode of his career may have spanned the best part of twenty years. It is probable that the connections established there were instrumental in Aloysius O'Kelly's later move to America.

In 1877 O'Kelly persuaded John Devoy to take a positive approach to the Irish party's policy at Westminster. The following year O'Kelly arranged a meeting between Clan na Gael's William Carroll and Irish parliamentarians.[1] This was flagged as a New Departure.

O'Kelly reported on the revolt in Cuba.[2]

Escaping imprisonment by the Spanish in Cuba, Kelly joined the US troops in their campaign to eliminate the Sioux chief, Sitting Bull.

Back in Ireland

In the 1880s he returned to Ireland, where he pursued an active political career. In the UK general election of 1880 he was elected Home Rule League MP for Roscommon. In 1880, despite Parnell's opposition, he gave his support to the Compensation for Disturbance Bill.

In October 1881, Charles Stewart Parnell, Member of Parliament and leader of the Irish Party, then at the height of his powers, was arrested and imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol. Two days after his arrest, O'Kelly, along with some other Party members, including John Dillon and William O'Brien, were also imprisoned under the Coercion Act in Kilmainham where they remained until May 1882.

In December 1883, James O'Kelly travelled to Sudan with his brother, Aloysius, to report (for the Daily News) on the River War, the Jihad of the famous Mahdi.

O'Kelly won election to the new Roscommon North seat in the 1885 general election and was returned unopposed in the same seat in 1886. When the Irish Parliamentary Party split in 1890 over Parnell's leadership, O'Kelly supported Parnell. On hearing of the death of Parnell, he called at Walsingham Terrace, Brighton, where the Parnell family was staying, and offered his assistance.[3] As a Pro-Parnellite he subsequently lost his seat to an Anti-Parnellite in the 1892 general election, but won re-election in Roscommon North in the 1895 election. He was then returned unopposed to the same seat in successive elections (1900, 1906, 1910) until his death in 1916.

He represented the Irish Independent newspaper in the British House of Commons in London.

His brother was the painter Aloysius O'Kelly.


  1. Comerford, R.V, The Fenians in Context, 225. J.J. O'Kelly to John Devoy, 5 and 21 Aug 1877, Devoy's Post Bag, i, 266–70
  2. Ceallaigh Scéal ón mBlárcatha by Tomás Mac Síomóin (Coiscéim 2009)
  3. Daily Chronicle, 9 October 1891, 5
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Charles Owen O'Conor
Charles French
Member of Parliament for County Roscommon
With: Andrew Commins
Constituency divided
New constituency Member of Parliament for North Roscommon
Succeeded by
Matthias McDonnell Bodkin
Preceded by
Matthias McDonnell Bodkin
Member of Parliament for North Roscommon
Succeeded by
George Noble Plunkett
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