John (Mac) Kelly – 100 Years Old – Winter 2002

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John Mac Kelly from Lisheenkyle is hale and hearty at 100 years of age.

John or “Mac” as he is better known is the last surviving child of Sean Mór Kelly and Julia Freeney.

Sean Ó’Ceallaigh NT of Craughwell who is a member of the same extended family, states that this branch of the Kellys first came from County Mayo and settled in Cluain, Claregalway.

Former generations of the family are buried in Lackagh cemetery. From Cluain, Mac’s family moved to Lisheenkyle in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Mac was a teenager during the Black and Tan war and the following extract from a tape made in 1990 gives a graphic picture of the Black and Tan terror carried out in Lisheenkyle in the early 1920s.

Mac still lives in Lisheenkyle with his son Sean, daughter in law Anne and grandchildren.

John Mac Kelly and “The Black and Tans” Extract from “The Castle Lambert Tapes”

The “Castle Lambert Tape” were recorded as videotape in Pat Kelly’s house in Castle Lambert in August 1990 and is an important part of our folklore.

The main speakers in the video are Pat and Martin T. Kelly, John Mac Kelly, Paddy Kelly and his brother Jack, Nora O’Brien and Fr. Michael O’Malley who conducted the interview. The interviews in their entirety are published in “The Lamberts of Athenry” 1999 by Finbarr O’Regan.

Michael (Rev. ML. O’Malley): Tell me, Mac, you had an experience, yourself and your brother.

Mac: About the Tank! We slept out for a couple of months (in hiding) anyhow, at least three or four months and your fathers (Paddy and jack) was in the same dugout as us.

Michael: Where was this dugout?

Mac: About a half a mile from my place – a very wild place. They made a monster big hole and they put sticks across and sciathans and scraws over it and a little burrow going in like a ladder in the ditch. There was place for six or seven men in it. We had the blankets and the sheets and everything above in it and we used to have great fun in it when we’d go in in the night- time.

We were two weeks home and we thought things was quietened down and the Tans came. They walked into the room and there was myself and the brother in the one bed. They went up on top of the bed.  They put the bed down to the bottom with all they jumped on top of it. They pulled (hit out) first out any side they could and I know I got a welt (got hit) across the mouth and a kick in the hip and a welt in the side and on the Iegs.

They were questioning me here and questioning me brother on the other side. And they caught me by the two legs and drew me out in the yard and put me standing up against the wall of the tank — questioning me. Questioning me about the Landlord too they were, to be honest about it.  They thought that I might give them information. I know nothing I said. I’m only a young lad, seventeen. I said I don’t know what is going on. And the next thing I know I was caught up and threw into the tank of water.

Martin T: And what about Mick (Kelly -Mac’s brother)?

Mac: They pulled him out into another place and they says ‘If you give us information about that Landlord and all that like — give us the information – we won’t shoot you but your brother is going to be shot. Wait now till you hear the shot‘. I don‘t mind I says. I don’t mind what you’lI do. I’m innocent I says. I’m only a young fellow. I don’t know what’s going on in the country.

Next thing I was in the tank and after a few minutes me brother was threw on top of me in the tank — down to the bottom.

Michael: That was Mick?

Mac: That was me brother! Nothing but me head out of the top of the water and nothing on but a shirt on a winter’s night and if you’d scream or roar that’s when you’d get the punching of the gun in the ribs. If you kept quiet —if you screamed they’d punch you. After a bit they pulled me up and pulled me up around the yard by the two legs like an ould dog and threw me inside the door in the kitchen — not to go outside that door ‘till daylight.

Next thing me brother was kept out an hour in the tank after me – kept in it for half an hour. He was pulled in too. I went in me father’s bed for the night, a nice dry bed and me sister putting hot lids and sheets and the devil knows what — trying to warm us.

Nora (O’Brien): Wasn’t it awful too!

Mac: They were questioning me about one certain man. I was making out he was killed anyhow. They were asking me questions about him. Of course, I gave no information.

Nora: They beat Martin Ruane, didn’t they, that night!

Mac: Oh, a good beating! That’s when they came to our house. I said to me father then – ‘Go back’ said l to Martin Ruanes. I sure Martin Ruane is killed’.

He went back around the turn in the old road and he seen the lights coming towards him again and he ran in and said there’s another crowd (of Tans) coming. Do you know what the other crowd came for? They had all the fowl in the place and geese and turkeys bagged and a new bicycle and an accordion left at the back of the house bagged. They came up across to bring the bags with them. And be God all mighty me and Mick took into Leonard’s woodin (small wood) and I brought the blankets with me anyway and I was starting to get warm inside with the blanket over the two of us and after a half an hour there was somebody calling us. My sister, Aggie, was calling us.

They took all the fowl they could and bagged them outside. They came up across from Connells and Ruanes and they took the fowl with them and the bike and the accordion and the devil knows what.

Me father went out to the top of the hill to see would they turn over you’re way but they went the opposite way. They (someone) went up Castle Lambert across the fields to tell your father ‘the Tans are coming’. That’s all I know about the Tans.

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About this record

Written by Martin T Kelly

Published here 05 Aug 2023 and originally published Winter 2002

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