O'Kelley Coat of Arms

Author and family historian Alethea Jane Macon -6, who descends from Sarah Josephine Tuck -5, Louisa Disey O'Kelley -4, James O'Kelley -3, Charles Dean O'Kelley -2, James and Elizabeth O'Kelley -1, William O'Kelley displayed the O'Kelly of Hy-Many Coat of Arms on the right inside cover of her 1969 book titled "Four O'Kelley Sons and Some of their Descendants" and some of my ancestors have associated the traditional and registered O'Kelly of Hy-Many Coat of Arms with my family maybe as far back as 1880s when Professor Thomas Dean O'Kelley -5, who descends from Dr Francis C. O'Kelley -4, Thomas Dean O'Kelly -3, Francis O'Kelley -2, James and Elizabeth O'Kelley -1, William O'Kelley visited Ireland.  I find it doubtful that the traditional O'Kelly of Hy-Many Coat of Arms was ever used by my Irish family mostly because "Stone Tower Houses" like the one that appears on the O'Kelly of Hy-Many Coat of Arms didn't come into use in Ireland until the 15th century and the English Invasion of 1172 AD reduced the O'Kelleys at Tara to such a low level that they almost disappeared from Irish History so it seems certain that my Irish family may have never used this arms which likely didn't exist before 1400AD but there was a William O'Kelley who may have been my ancestor living in Dublin in 1597 who registered this arms as his own so this is difficult to know for certain. 

My Irish Grandfather William Kelly, Gentleman and Protestant who lived in the first half of the 1700s was a merchant in Kells, Co Meath and he may have used an Arms as such was fashionable in his time by a "Gentlemen" merchant, it could have appeared on the signage of his store and maybe the traditional O'Kelly of Hy-many Arms was so dominant at that time as was the belief that all O'Kelleys descend from Teige Mor O'Kelly of the Battle of Clontarf that my ancestor might have used it, I have discovered no method to truely know why my family has embraced the O'Kelly of Hy-Many Coat of Arms but DNA makes it certain that my family was not of the Hy-Many O'Kellys.  Before the O'Kelly of Hy-Many Coat of Arms came into being likely around 1400 AD, I think my Irish family would have used the O'Kelley of Bregia Arms which must have predated the O'Kelly of Ui Maine Coat of Arms but to be clear I am purely speculating and I am doing it to encourage other O'Kelly/O'Kelley researchers to think about this while conducting their research.  I think it likely that Teige Mor O'Kelly who died at Clontarf was King of both the Bregia O'Kelleys and Hy-Many O'Kellys as it has been claimed they sometimes fought together as one but I have doubts he was blood related to the Hy-Many O'Kellys.   Teige Mor O'Kelly who died at Clontarf appears in the well accepted Pedigree of the O'Kellys of Hy-Many at #19 but there is an odd entry in that Pedigree at #24 of Teige Tailtenn meaning "Teige of Tailtenn" and "Tailtenn was in Bregia, a few miles northwest of Navan in todays modern Co Meath and this is a long way from the place in western Ireland known to be "Hy-Many".  This Teige #24 and his father Conchobhar #23 were slain in the Battle with the Conors in 1180 which was just 8 years after the invasion of Ireland by the English so there was great fighting in Ireland and I believe this is when the kingship shifted from the O'Kelley of Brega to the O'Kellys of Hy-Many and this is why legend claims the O'Kelleys of Brega were once as powerful as the O'Kellys of Hy-Many, they were allies and when the O'Kelleys of Brega living in the east near Dublin were brought low by the English and the O'Kelly of Hy-Many were more isolated from the English because they lived in the west, that this was a military alliance and not a blood alliance so the power shifted to the west.  To be clear, recent SNP DNA results conclude that 5000 years separate my line of O'Kelley said to come from Co Meath and the O'Kelly of Hy-Many in western Ireland and our DNA match indicates that the grandfather we share lived well before the use of surnames came into being, this may be well before our ancestors came to Ireland so the fact that one is O'Kelly and the other O'Kelley has nothing to do with blood but it may have everything to do with a military alliance that began in the east with the O'Kelley of Bregia who descend from the 141st Monarch of Ireland Aed of Slaine and the alliance extended west to include the O'Kelly of Hy-Many said to descend from Maine Mor.  Kelly means "strife or war".

Before the invasion and in their time of their greatness and seated in Co Meath, the O'Kelleys at Tara likely interacted with the English well before the invasion.  The English nobility and the Irish nobility surely interacted and may have intermarried and keeping up with the "Joneses" has always been important to the upper classes as was finding wealthy sons and daughter-in-laws and Tailteann the place of the great Fair of Talti was nearby so surely some of the sons of the O'Kelley of Bregia competed in the games where Coat of Arms were likely fashionable the last few centuries of it's existence so I think it likely in their "Glory Days" my ancestors may have used the O'Kelley of Bregia Coat of Arms in the 12th century mostly because that is what most Noble European families did; they certainly used a banner with something that identified their Sept.  It is also written that the Bregia O'Kelleys were just as great as the Hy-Many O'Kellys so it seems likely that since the Hy-Many O'Kellys had a Arms that not to be outdone the Bregia would have also used one and they two arms share a common design.  According to Dr John O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees the O'Kelleys of Co Meath used the same arms as their cousins, the O'Fogartys.  The O'Fogarty Arms uses symbols that one would expect to find associated with "The Great Plain of Ireland" and those claiming to descend from Irish Monarchs.  The English created the "Chief of Arms" in 1552 to regulate the Irish Coat of Arms under English law but before that time the Irish had their own Officer of Arms established in 1382 so this was once regulated under Irish Law but it is likely the Gaelic Chiefs did as they pleased with their Arms well before this time after all the Book of Kells, one of the most illustrated books to exist was created in 800 AD in Kells, Co Meath Ireland so the Irish have a long history finding value and beauty in art and images, we see this in the many carved stones left behind so leaving their mark behind was well practiced. 

"Bregia" or Brey as it was pronounced was a word used to describe the great plain that extended North, West, and South of the City of Dublin and it was a place where oats, barley, and wheat were grown in abundance and the O'Kelley of Bregia Arms includes a garb of barley between two lions ramparts. The Irish Harp appears as a charge and it's first recorded use was in the 12th century by an Irish Monarch.  The Irish Harp is also used as a symbol for the Province of Leinster.  Any Coat of Arms using the Harp would indicate it had some tie to Ireland as a whole or the Province of Leinster, or the Irish Monarchs which is likely why the Fogartys used it, like the O'Kelley of Bregia they claim descend from the Irish Monarch Aedh Slaine.  The Harp was the symbol for Ireland that King Henry VIII added to his arms.   The Crescent Moon is also ancient and it can represent many things.  I also believe that because both the O'Kelley of Bregia and the O'Kelly of Hy-Many use a blue shield and two Rampart Lions on both Arms indicates there is a lost meaning to why there are "two" lions and not one, and I wonder if that lost meaning could be one lion represents The O'Kelley of Bregia in the east and the O'Kelly of Hy-Many in the west.  Everything on an arms has a meaning so two lion's verses one means something.

Noted Irish researcher Michael O'Laughlin of the Irishrootscafe.com published in 2002 "A Genealogical History of the Milesian Families of Ireland " and on page 7 he connects the O'Kelly of Connaught and the O'Kelley of Bregia as a single O'Kelley of Ui Maine Sept and suggests that "Chief of Hy-Many" came from both lines and he references them using the double "e" spelling of my name.  Is it possible that "Hy-Many" was once much larger and extended east to include Bregia, extended all the way from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast and to the Irish Sea?  John O'Dugan was the historian for the O'Kellys of Hy-Many and he recorded in a poem in 1392 AD the O'Kelleys of Tara who operated the Harbors. Dr John O'Donovan would write in the 1800s that these Harbors that the O'Kelley of Tara or Bregia pronounced "Brey" were on the river Shannon but that river is located far west of Tara and Bregia as it forms the more traditional eastern border of Hy-Many so maybe O'Laughlin has this right and a thousand years ago Hy-Many was a much larger place, might have included 1/3 of the Irish land mass and the O'Kelleys like the O'Neills were a collections of many related but powerful families of who the O'Kelleys were Chief and these O'Kelley often fought among themselves for control.  This opens up the very real possibility that the border of Hy-Many extended from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast and the O'Kelley of Bregia Arms might have been the true Arms of all O'Kelleys and that knowledge became lost when William Boy O'Kelly became Chief of Hy-Many in the 14th century and I suspect it was his son, Maeleachlainn who also became Chief of a much smaller Hy-Many who may have used elements of the O'Kelley of Bregia Arms by replacing the Garb of Barley with a Stone Tower House and adding chains to the Rampart Lions to create the Arms that is widely associated with O'Kellys world wide.  Personal Arms of Rick O'Kelley
- Anyone can use a personal arms to represent themselves as long as it doesn't infringe on any registered trademarks so I fashioned a coat of arms for my personal use.  I use an American Flag to represent my service to my country during war time, I top my arms with a crown to represent my descent from the Irish Monarch Aed Slaine, the helmet represents the military service of three of my grandfathers and my own father, the left upper quarter of my shield displays the O'Kelley of Bregia Arms, the right upper quarter displays the Harp of Ireland the place my ancestors lived maybe for more than 2000 years, the below left quarter displays the Hap Arnold US Air Force emblem to represent my service in the US Air Force Strategic Air Command, and in the bottom right quarter I display the traditional O'Kelly of Connaught Ireland Arms because it has been associated with my family for more than 100 years and I suspect it likely there were many marriages between the O'Kelleys of Bregia and the O'Kelly of Hy-Many as the Annals of Four Masters say they were equal in power and wealth which is my basis for my theory that the reason the two arms display Rampart Lions, one on the left and the other on the right might be to represent the O'Kelly of Hy-Many who descent from Maine Mor on the west of Ireland and the O'Kelley of Bregia who descend from Aed of Slaine on the east.  DNA indicates that one would need to go back 5000 years to find the ancestor that these two lines of O'Kelley share and that was 4000 before surnames were invented but I have come to believe the O'Kelley surname had more to do with a nation than a bloodline.  I was born in the Year of the Dragon.

So how did the Irish O'Kelly of Connaught Coat of Arms come to be associated with my American O'Kelley family?  Alethea Jane Macon does not tell her reader the source for her Coat of Arms used in her book but I have a theory as on the bottom of page four of her book Macon identifies her source for the names of the first American born sons;

"From the Francis O'Kelley branch of the family have come the names of six sons who were born to Thomas O'Kelley and his wife Elizabeth Dean"

I think that in addition to the names of the sons, that it is reasonable to assume that Macon also obtained the image since the only descendant of the Francis O'Kelley branch of the family she thanked was Kate Walker (Effie Kate O'Kelley) and Kate was the daughter of Thomas Dean O'Kelley who as a young college graduated traveled Europe including Ireland with a college professor and he made that visit in 1883 and in that time Charles O'Kelly Esq of Newtown in Co Galway Ireland used a registered Coat of Arms where the Enfield is describes in Bernard Burke's book as Passant.  Burke also describes the registered arms of other native Irish O'Kellys and most all are described as the large colored arms where the Enfield is "statant".  A minor detail but cases are often solved because of the discovery of a minor detail.   Thomas Dean O'Kelley Professr as he made education his career, he may have been an artist and he may have created the arms that Macon used or just bought it off the streets of Ireland and came back with it but his son, Fredrick Henry O'Kelley was an artist and the colored arms to the right is a photograph of an arms that Fredrick Henry O'Kelley painted, framed, and gave as gifts to his family members.  I think this is evidence that Macon obtained her Arms from this family.  I received the photo of one of his paintings from
Sandra Claire Thompson the granddaughter of Fredrick Henry O'Kelley.  I have no method to know but maybe Alethea Jane Macon's source for the Coat of Arms she used in her book knew something that connected the Coat of Arms to my family and has been lost but let me be clear, Bernard Burke does describe the arms that Macon used in her book very much like the arms of Charles Kelly of Newtown but is not of my family>  I wonder if because because the name Charles O'Kelley runs deep in my American family if some assumptions were made but DNA, pedigrees, and my intense four year investigation exclude any possibility that we could be of the family of Charles O'Kelly Esq of Newtown in Co Galway Ireland.  And while I do not know who may have created the Coat of Arms image that Macon uses in her book, there is a tiny mark that appears hidden in the Coat of Arms that I believe may be the mark of the artist who created this arms and if this mark can be identified the true origins of this image can be proven.  The Kelly Clan of Ireland website uses a colored version of this arms.

Alethea Jane Macon in her book describes the O'Kelley Coat of Arms as "blue shield upon which is depicted in silver a tower, triple-turreted, supported on each side by a silver lion, rampart.  From the neck of each of the lions hangs a golden chain descending between his legs.  The mantle is blue and silver".  Rightly or wrongly it is the Coat of Arms most of my cousins believe was used by our Irish ancestors.   

I have found only three physical examples for the use of the O'Kelly Arms before 1750 and the oldest is thought to be the bronze stamp to the right.  Since metals cannot be carbon dated, I am not sure how the date of this stamp could be determined but it was said to have been discovered in a bog in Ireland in May of 1858 and while it is given as the seal of the O'Kellys of Hy-Many I can find no evidence that proves that this bronze stamp was ever used by any O'Kelly and I have yet to learn of any document that survives today that bears the mark of this seal?  If one doesn't exist then I can't discount the possibility that this seal was created about 1858 for criminal profit.

The arms that appears on the O'Kelly Slab in the Cadamstown Churchyard  in Co Offlay was not far from Co Laois and it bears an inscription that Coat of Arms was authorized by the English King of Arms St George in 1608 AD.  The stone bears the date of death as 1684 AD with an inscription that translates "Here lies Brian O'Kelly of Cadamstown, grandson of Ferdinand O'Kelly, Lord of Irry-O'Kelly and Carrig-Dunamas, in Leinster, who led in marriage Ellenor, daughter of Roger O'More of Balina, Esquire, by whom he had six sons who were killed in battle, except Gerald O'Kelly, a lieutenant of Charles O'More's regiment. Gerald married Elizabeth, daughter of James Bagot of Bathjordan in County Limerick, by his wife Sheelah Poer; she was the grand-daughter of Earl of Muskerry, and of Sir William Power of Kilbolan, Knight."  The full text is found in the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, Volume 2  By County Kildare Archaeological Society beginning on page 448.  On page 451 the author states this is the arms of the O'Kelly's of Hy-many so it must have been issued in ignorance but just because the descendants of the Hy-Many began to register this arms as their own after 1750 AD, that doesn't prove the arms originated with them.  I find it far more possible that the O'Kellys in eastern Ireland, closer to the English and the Pale might have used an English Registered Arms well before the Hy-Many O'Kellys in the west.  This arms on this slab includes a profile helmet, an Enfield if it is an Enfield as it looks more like a dog is "statant"  but may be "Passant" as one front foot appears to not touch, lions with chains, but the tower doesn't have the traditional three turrets that one finds in the arms claimed by the O'Kellys of Hy-Many so this arms is different but that difference appears to have been missed by the authors.  The Cadamstown O'Kellys are thought not to be descendants of Tadhg Mór Ó Ceallaigh the ancestor of the Connaught O'Kellys and Cadamstown is within O'Kellie Country in Co Laois who were subchiefs to the O'Mores and were of the 7 Septs of Leix who lost their lands through confiscation in the 1500s and early 1600s. 

The Brian O'Kelly Cadamstown Coat of Arms appears more like the modern descriptions of the O'Kelly of Hy-Many Coat of Arms than the oldest known example and it comes in the form of a photo from the Kelly Clann of Ireland website where it is said to be carved upon the tomb of Colla O'Kelly the 7th Lord of Screen who died in 1615 AD and is buried in the Kilconnell Abbey in Co Galway Ireland.  I think the image carved on Colla's tomb must be proof that non related O'Kellys shared some common designs in their Coat of Arms.  Colla O'Kelly a descendant of William Boy O'Kelly was an O'Kelly of Connaught or of Hy-Many, yet his arms looks different from the description that appear in John and Bernard Burkes books, different from the Arms described in the 1800 books by John O'Hart, and John O'Donovan, and different from the Arms that appears in Edward MacLysaght books causing me to wonder, who borrowed from who?  I doubt anyone knows when the image on Colla's tomb was carved but if it was carved not long after Colla's death or even before his may be the earliest image of what is believed to be the "O'Kelly of Hy-Many" arms and unlike the bronze seal and the Cadamstown Arms, this carved image doesn't include a helmet or crown, the Enfield also looks more like a dog is "Passant" and not "statant", the chains are not represented, and it has the three turrets common to the O'Kelly of Hy-Many Arms.  But this arms is different from the arms associated with the O'Kelly of Hy-Many as it has the traditional tower with the rampart lions on each side that we all have come to accept as the arms of O'Kelly it also has a third rampart lion appearing on the far right and there are bars or lines faintly represented behind the head of that rampart lion.  Colla O'Kelly's 1615 Coat of Arms is very different from that of Brian O'Kelly at Cadamstown, the Enfield on Colla's arms is standing upon the two twisted cords called a "wreath"  and it is over and part of the third rampart lion and not over the tower supported by two rampart lions.  It seems clear that as early as the time of Colla's death in 1615 different lines of O'Kelly had their own design that may have been unique to their most powerful ancestor but it appears most used some of the basic elements found in the O'Kelly Arms today.  I know of no Irish O'Kelly Coat of Arms from any line of Irish O'Kelly that does not use a blue shield and two Rampart Lions.


Bernard Burke describes:  O’Kelley of Ui Maine, Ireland Clann or Sept.  Arms:  Azure a tower triple-towered supported by two lions rampart argent as many chains descending from the battlements between the lions’ legs.  Crest: On a ducal coronet or an Enfield vert**:  Motto: Irish: "Ta Dia Dam Tor Laidir" but appears most often in Latin: "Turris fortis mihi Deus" meaning in English "God is my tower of Strength".  The Motto often appears as a banner below the shield.  Above the shield appears a double Coronet, the lower the helmet of a Champion*, the upper a crown of nobility; the King of Ui Maine.  On top appears a mythical beast called an Enfield describe as vert or green and while there is a tradition that is said the beast came from the Irish sea near Dublin to stand over and protect the body of Teige O'Kelly who fell in the Battle of Clontart good Friday 1014 the use of the Enfield is not unique to the Hy-Many O'Kellys as the Enfield is a Heraldry Symbol  that denotes a chief fell in battle.  John O'Donovan reports that it appears on several O'Kelly tombs in Ireland which would suggest the person in those tombs were chiefs who died in battle.

There are several distinctive Coat of Arms some used by the descendants of Teige O'Kelly but similar arms used by lines who do not claim descent from Teige O'Kelly Descriptions for numerous Hy-Many lines are described by Burkes to appear mostly as

 the large colored Coat of Arms to the left or a dual Coronet and the Enfield "statant" and it is also the arms that we see below left for D H O'Kelly but to the far right of D H Kelly's arms we see the arms of Authur Keily a family that lived mainly in South and Southeastern Ireland who very early used the double "e" spelling of O'Kelley.  Sometime during the reign of Queen Elizabeth they dropped the "O" and became Kelley but during the reduction to remove the unnecessary extra "e"s they became Keily likely to set them apart from the Hy-Many O'Kellys who began to use Kelly.  The Authur Keily Arms is not the only variations on the most commonly accepted O'Kelly Arms as Dr John O'Donovan one page 129 reports a description for the Tycooly House in Co Galway Ireland as field gules (red shield) and unchained lions which is more like the below Arms for Castle Kelly.  The Coat of Arms to the right is the arms for the O'Kellys of Barretstown Co Kildare as described at the bottom of list in Bernard Burke and the arms of the O'Kelly of Ballysax arms also described in Bernard Burke and these two Killdare houses of O'Kelly are cousins both descend from the House of Screen and Colla O'Kelly.

Most all of these arms present the Enfield standing on what appears to be a stripped cushion.  This is called a "Wreath" which is two cords twisted and is said to mean a "sign of authority".  Why this appears on some and not others is a mystery but nothing is placed on a Coat of Arms without meaning and I note that it is missing from the Coat of Arms that appears in the front of Alethea Jane Macon's book and it is missing from the large color representation that appears on the top left of this page.  Why is it missing, I suspect it is because the artist overlooked it.

General Richard Denis Kelly "The O'Kelly" of Mucklon Co Galway Ireland used an arms that appears in the Visitation of Ireland Volume 3 and it is very different from all other O'Kelly arms.

English Coat of Arms were issued to individual family members and only they can bear the Arms, the Irish Coat of Arms belong to the Sept and any blood descendent of that O’Kelley Sept was authorized to display the Arms as his own but during the 19th century when the Irish were becoming more acceptable of English ways and customs several different lines of O'Kellys made application and were registered by the Ulster King of Arms.  These O'Kellys appear in Benard Burkes 1884 book titled "The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales".  Today they would make application to the Office of the Chief of Herold.  The O'Kelly Coat of Arms first appeared in the Ulster Kings of Arms 1755 when registered by Denis O'Kelly

I think it worthy to mention that I have displayed ten Coat of Arms that were actually used, eleven if we count the Arms of Barretstown and Ballysax individually for each house and the chains that are commonly described in Burkes appear only in the Brian O'Kelly of Cadamstown, the Arms that appears in the front Alethea Jane Macon's book, the Bookplate for D H Kelly, and the Arms of General Richard Denis Kelly.  Less than 50% of the time the chains appear in real Coat of Arms.  The helmet appears in only the Brian O'Kelly of Cadamstown, the Bronze Seal, Bookplate for D H Kelly, and Alethea Jane Macon's book and that too is less than 50% of the Arms.  Of the eleven arms represented on this page, seven are used by Colla O'Kelly of Screen and his descendants.  General Richard Denis Kelly is said to have descended from William Boy O'Kelly but by Hugh O'Kelly the 27th Chief of Hy-Many.  Brian O'Kelly of Cadamstown, Fitz Roy Kelly, and Authur Keily are thought not to have descended from William Boy O'Kelly but it is unknown if they claim descent from Tadhg Mór Ó Ceallaigh who died in 1014 at the Battle of Clontarf. 

O'Kelly Bookplates from the 19th Century
Denis Henry Kelly Rev Andrew Kelly
father of Denis Henry Kelly
Fitz Roy Kelly Authur Keily

Before Public Libraries, the lords of the manors maintained their own personal libraries and as they would loan books they needed a method that would allow the ownership of the books to be identified and this was accomplished by the use of bookplates which were small labels often 9X6 CM that were pasted either in the front or back of the book.  The above are bookplates that I have obtained.  The first two are bookplates from the O'Kellys of Hy-Many.  Castle Kelly was originally known as the Castle of Aughrane.  The second two are descendants of other O'Kelly lines who like Brian O'Kelly of Cadamstown are thought not to have descended from the O'Kellys of Hy-Many.  All four bookplates are dated to the 19th Century.  Notice the shields have direction lines, these tell the viewer the color of the shield, it is called Hatching, and only D H Kelly and Fitz Roy Kelly are Blue, Castle Kelly has a green upper and a purple lower while Authur Keily is white.

Some of the O'Kelly Coat of Aarms include chains running from the Lions' neck down between their legs but the Castle Kelly arms is missing the chains and the dual Coronet.  The O'Kellys that descend from Teige who died at Clontarf or the Battle of Brian as most often given top their arms with an Enfield a commonly used symbol that indicates the owner of that Coat of Arms died in battle but the arms of Fitz Roy Kelly is topped by a grey hound (Courage, vigilance, and loyalty).  Arthor Keily uses an arms that is topped by an Enfield so like Teige that indicates his ancestor fell in battle otherwise his arms is like Castle Kelly's arms as it is also minus the chains and his castle has four turrets while it is said the O'Kellys have three so it appears there were a lot of borrowing that occurred.  These minor differences might seem meaningless to us today but they had meaning to those who bore those arms.


* Irish Knights were known as Champions  **Vert is green