Anti-Treaty Soldier (Lieutenant) Denis Kelly


Anti-Treaty Soldier (Lieutenant) Denis Kelly (aged 25) of Scart Road, Bantry (near Kealkil)

Date of incident: 17 April 1923

Sources: CE, 21 April 1923; SS, 21 April 1923; FJ, 21 April 1923; MSPC/DP4951 (Military Archives); Rebel Cork’s Fighting Story, 208; Last Post (1976 ed.), 108; Bielenberg et al. (2015), 158; Keane (2017), 359-60, 422; CW/OPS/04/05 (Military Archives); Cork No. 5 IRA Brigade Memorial, Bantry; IRA Monument, Castletownbere.


Note: Denis Kelly and possibly another anti-Treaty soldier named Coughlan were killed during a large-scale roundup on 17 April 1923 by National troops in the Kealkil district near Bantry. The Cork Examiner reported: ‘Considerable excitement was caused here [in Bantry] this evening [Thursday night, 19 April] when large forces of National troops arrived here from the Kealkill and Pass of Keimanagh [sic] direction, bringing close on twenty prisoners, some of them stated to be active and prominent Irregulars belonging to the West Cork Brigade. It is stated that another large batch captured further out in the mountainous district, which includes some prominent leaders, were taken on to Macroom. There appears to have been a large encircling movement of the troops from the Kerry side, working in conjunction with the Bantry force and other districts. Two Irregulars named Kelly and Coughlan, natives of Bantry, were killed. No casualties are reported on the National forces’ side. It is thought that the backbone of the Irregular resistance in that difficult mountainous area is broken, and that peace will soon be fully restored all round.’ See CE, 21 April 1923. Kelly was surprised by National soldiers in their roundup near Kealkil and got a short distance away when he was felled by fatal wounds from explosive bullets, one in the arm and another in the back. See Bielenberg et al. (2015), 158.

An operations report for 21 Arpil 1923 from National Army troops based in Bantry presented some of the circumstances as different. According to this account, National Army Soldiers returning to Bantry from Kealkil on the morning of 18 April 1923 were ambushed by Irregulars. The National troops reportedly rushed the Irregular position, with the result that one Irregular named Denis Kelly from Bantry was killed and another named Cronin was wounded but escaped. See CW/OPS/04/05 (Military Archives). 

Denis Kelly of Scart, killed at Kealkil, was buried at Kilmacomogue near Bantry. See Last Post (1976 ed.), 108. The IRA monument in Castletownbere indicates that Lieutenant Kelly was killed on 17 September 1923. Solid evidence for the death of an Irregular named Coughlan is lacking. See Keane (2017), 360. Denis Kelly’s name also appears on the monument of the Cork No. 5 Brigade of the IRA in the middle of Bantry.

The pension file of IRA Lieutenant Denis Kelly contains an in memoriam card giving his age as 25 at the time of his death. He was reportedly born in 1897. In civilian life he had worked as a casual labourer. His IRA service began in 1920 and continued through the rest of the War of Independence, the Truce period, and most of the Civil War. When fighting on the anti-Treaty side during the Civil War, he belonged to the Cavalry or Mounted Unit of the Cork No. 5 Brigade and First Southern Division under the command of Ted Sullivan. His mother Ellen Kelly was awarded a partial-dependant’s allowance of £112 10s. in 1934 under the Army Pensions Act of 1932. See MSPC/DP4951 (Military Archives).  

Denis Kelly was in 1911 one of the seven living children (eleven born) of the widow Ellen Kelly of 33 Scart Road in Bantry. Only three of her seven children were still co-resident with her in that year. They were her three sons Timothy (then aged 20), Terance (aged 17), and Denis (aged 11). Timothy and Terance worked as general labourers. Denis was then still in school.

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