January 2017 - Passing of The O'Kelly de Gallagh et Tycooly

Walter Lionel ('Bob') O'Kelly The O'Kelly de Gallagh et Tycooly

Bob had been the quietly attentive and polite hereditary O'Kelly de Gallagh et Tycooly for seventy years when he died on January 16th. His gentle philosophies were a cornerstone of his leadership.

Bob's gentility masked an indomitable spirit, which, together with his absolute belief in the Roman Catholic faith, coupled with great health, ensured a very full life since his birth in County Westmeath in 1921. In the here-and-after into which Bob has now entered he has again met June, his beloved wife of over fifty years and mother of their four children; Barbara, Eithne, Michele and his Tánaiste, Robert. Above all else, Bob was devoted to his family.

In addition to his recognition as a Member of the Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains, he also held the courtesy title of Count of the Holy Roman Empire, the eight descendent of Festus O'Kelly who was honoured by Empress Maria Theresa in 1767, as father of the childless General Dillon John O'Kelly, by conferring on him and his family in perpetuity, the title of Count de Gallagh et Tycooly.

June let me into the story of how Walter became 'Bob' after his favourite pony when a child. He was known throughout his life as 'Bob' among family and friends, but among the wider O'Kelly of Hy-Many Clan he was affectionately and informally known as Count Walter.

Bob was a man of moral and theological absolutes. He would have considered it an assault if he were questioned about his beliefs. June once told me how he always wanted to impress on his children the importance of not always accepting without question the authority of others or their opinions. Injustice and the abuse of power hugely angered him.

Having studied civil engineering at Trinity College Dublin, he served as an officer with the Royal Engineers during the later part of World War II in India and Malaya. He then joined the newly established Bórd na Móna, where he spent most of his working life, until his retirement after thirty-seven years in 1986.

However, for all his philosophies and accomplishments as a father, engineer and business executive The O'Kelly will be remembered as being one of the longest serving clan chieftains in Ireland's long history who always upheld the nobility of this historical family that he was born to lead. The O'Kelly family of Gallagh and Tycooly traces its ancestry directly, as a senior branch of the O'Kellys of Ui Maine, to Maine Mór. The family built three castles, including Gallagh (Castleblakeney) and is closely associated with the Battle of Knockdoe in 1504. Later, in the seventeenth century, Col. William O'Kelly of Gallagh, fought against Cromwell, which resulted in the loss his castle and estate. The family subsequently moved into Tycooly House, near Athenry.

The O'Kellys and the O'Kellys of Maine will miss Bob greatly, but most poignantly Ireland will now have lost the head of one of its most ancient Gaelic families.