Eliza Kelly is something of an enigma. According to the family story, she was from Newbridge in Co. Galway and was a first cousin of Thomas J. Kelly – American Civil War colonel and leader of the IRB from 1866-67. Col. Kelly’s family lived in Mountbellew, beside Newbridge.
However, her father, James Kelly, is not listed as Thomas J. Kelly’s uncle on any available family tree and he does not appear to have had an aunt (Kelly was the most common surname in the area, so both parents could have had the name Kelly). However, the records are minimal, so that doesn’t rule it out.
However, it’s possible that Eliza was born in neighbouring Ahascragh as an Eliza Anne Kelly is recorded as having been baptised in Ahascragh on 19 Jul 1829 (born 17 Jun 1829). Parents are listed as James Kelly and Eliza (no surname listed). A James Kelly is listed as a tithe payer in Kilglass, Ahascragh, in 1824 and as a tenant in Griffith’s Valuation for 1857.
So, when Eliza ended up in Manchester, marrying likely famine refugee Patrick Boland, her reasons for being there are less clear. The Kellys of Mountbellew survived the 1840s in situ (they owned a public house), as, if the 1857 tenant is her father, did her family. Did she run away with the whistler from Roscommon? If she did, and we may never know, it would be ironic as her eldest daughter apparently ran away some years later.
But end up in Manchester she did and she married Patrick in 1845 and her father was in attendance. Eliza and Patrick had seven children – Henry (born about 1851), Mary Ellen (born about 1853), Kathleen “Catherine” (born about 1856), James “Jim” (born Manchester, October 1856), John Patrick “Jack” (born Oct 1962), Eliza “Lily” (born Dublin, 1864) and Teresa Anne “Teasie” (born Dublin, June 1868).
Civil registration of Catholic births was only introduced in Ireland in 1864, compared to 1837 in England and Wales. That makes it difficult to find out exactly which children were born in Ireland. As far as can be established, only Jim (Manchester, 1856), Lily (Dublin, 1864) and Teasie (Dublin, 1868) were registered at birth, though there is a baptism record for Jack in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, records.
However, the Levins entry in the 1881 census, Mary Ellen, aged 29, gives Ireland as her birthplace. In the Boland entry, Patrick (Jack aged 18) and Lilly (14) are both listed as being born in Ireland. However, Eliza’s place of birth is given as Manchester, which doesn’t match with what’s known about her.
Eliza was apparently illiterate as signed official documents with an X, so this may simply be a mistake.
Henry, who died aged 17 in 1866, also appears to have been unregistered as well. Catherine, by 1891, was 35 and married in London. She entered London as her place of origin. That’s really unlikely.
However, it is clear the family were travelling back and forth to Ireland in the 1860s. This could have had something to do with the IRB, importing guns and bullets was a priority for the movement in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Pregnant women were less likely to be searched than others.
The accepted family link to Col. Kelly became important in 1867 following Col. Kelly’s rearrest after the failed uprising in Ireland and his escape from prison in Dublin.
The story of the liberation of Kelly and Deasy from the prison van in Manchester and the subsequent trial and execution of three of the people involved, the Manchester Martyrs, is one of the most important events in the history of Irish republicanism. According to what members of the family have written, the Bolands in Manchester were involved. Eliza’s husband Patrick and his brothers had some unknown role in the liberation, while her young son James was working as a scout with Patrick’s workmate James Stritch.
However, no Bolands were amongst the people caught up in the dragnet launched after the liberation of Kelly and Deasy (in which a police officer was killed). Nor was James Stritch arrested. The Boland family may have escaped to Dublin immediately after the event and hid out there until Teasie was born and baptised in 1868.
The next information that’s available about the family is the 1881, which shows them living in 86 Tiverton Street, Adwick, Manchester. Henry was dead, and Kathleen and Mary Ellen had both left the family.
Eliza died a widow in Dublin in September 1890 with 8 Royal Canal Terrace in Phibsboro given as the address. Cause of death is given as “spasmodic asthenia syncope certified” (which is just a list of symptoms, rather than a defined illness). Her son’s Jim’s family were living in 12 Royal Canal Terrace at the same time according to other records. It’s most likely she moved to Dublin close to her son when Patrick died. Her daughter Lily is listed as being present at her death.
Eliza was buried in an unmarked (until 2018) grave in Glasnevin. According to Kevin Boland (in the unpublished “James Boland 1857-1895 A Nationalist of the Advanced School”) says “James’s widow Catherine expressed a wish that [Eliza’s] remains should be interred in the same grave as James in Glasnevin.” However, that didn’t happen – money may have been an issue if Jim had been renting a house for his mother and sister(s) as well as his own.