Open main menu

General Sir Thomas Kelly-Kenny, GCB, GCVO (27 February 1840 – 26 December 1914) was a British Army general who served in the Second Boer War.

Sir Thomas Kelly-Kenny
General Sir Thomas Kelly-Kenny
Born27 February 1840
Kilrush, county Clare, Ireland
Died26 December 1914 (1914-12-27) (aged 74)
Hove, Sussex, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branchFlag of the British Army.svg British Army
Commands held6th Division
Battles/warsSecond Boer War
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
"6th Division". Caricature by Spy published in Vanity Fair in 1901.


Military and political careerEdit

Thomas Kelly was born on 27 February 1840 in Kilrush,[1] County Clare, Ireland. He was educated as a lay student at St. Patrick's College, Carlow (University of London). He was the fifth son of Matthew Kelly and Mary Kenny[2] He assumed in 1874 the additional name of Kenny, under the will of his maternal uncle, Dr. Mathias Kenny, a survivor of the Peninsular War and the Battle of Waterloo.[3] He was appointed Ensign without purchase in the 1st Battalion, 2nd (The Queen's Royal) Regiment of Foot on 2 February 1858 and was appointed to command the escort of General Sir James Jackson General Officer Commanding Cape of Good Hope. When this officer was succeeded by General Wynward he was appointed ADC. He resigned this post on the outbreak of war with China in 1860 and accompanied his regiment to the Far East where he was appointed ADC to the Commander of the Queen's, Sir Alfred Jephson.[4] He held this post for the duration of the war. He was further appointed Lieutenant by purchase on 12 October 1860, the day Pekin surrendered to the Allies[5] and engaged in the China war at Sinho and at the taking of Tanku and Taku forts. He was mentioned in despatches and was decorated. He was appointed Captain by purchase on 20 July 1866. He was (acting) Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General (QMG) in Bombay from 25 May 1869 to April 1870 when he was sent to Abyssinia on the outbreak of war. He was in charge of the transport train at the front and was mentioned by Lord Napier in despatches for "zeal, energy and ability". In 1875, he graduated at the staff training college and received a medal in 1877.

Kelly-Kenny took a keen interest in affairs in his native County Clare and in 1876 he was appointed Justice of the Peace for Clare (after his inheritance of his estates), as were his father Matthew Kelly, his uncle Mathias Kenny and his brother Matthew Butler Kelly.[6] In 1876 the then Captain Thomas Kelly Kenny held 5736 acres in Clare.[7] He was patron of the school at Scropul near Treanmanagh founded by his uncle Dr Mathias Kenny.[8][9] His family had a strong history of involvement in politics and local government. His mother's first cousin Richard Kenny was Vice Provost for Ennis in 1827 and also served as a grand juror.[10] Another of their first cousins, Dean John Kenny of Kilrush and Ennis, was an active figure in political and social reform in those towns. His second cousin Fr Matthew J Kenny was one of the first two presidents of the Clare Farmers' Association and a founder member of the Land League.[11] His uncle Fr Timothy Kelly was an active campaigner for famine relief as parish priest of Kilrush in the famine years. In the late 1840s his father Matthew Kelly and other Gallery and Kenny relatives were poor law guardians.[10]

In 1879, the then Major Thomas Kelly-Kenny put his name forward for the April by-election in County Clare. He was opposed by the Catholic clergy, so withdrew his candidacy and did not go to the poll. Ignatius Murphy[11] recounts in his history of Killaloe diocese (p. 225) that Bishop Ryan and his priests met in Ennis to discuss the merits of the various potential candidates and did not endorse Major H Kelly-Kenny (sic). The Limerick & Tipperary Vindicator reported on 11 April that the Bishop and many curates were pro-Major Kelly-Kenny as he was Catholic, locally born and a local landowner. Against him were his Liberal politics. The majority of the curates voted against him and the Limerick and Tipperary Vindicator reported: "A strong adverse expression on behalf of the Catholic curates who constitute a large majority overwhelmed the scales against Major Kelly-Kenny who notwithstanding rumour to the contrary has withdrawn". The paper goes on to quote his resignation letter and also mentions that his (Unionist) cousin Matthew Kenny solicitor of Ennis was his conducting agent.[12][13] The clergy later supported the O'Gorman Mahon as a home rule candidate. He was narrowly elected. Some of the curates' sentiments are possibly expressed by Father Matthew J Kenny in his post-election address. He expressed a wish for the downfall of the Liberal and Tory parties in Ireland and the end of Landlord Tyrannies.[12]

Cecil Stacpoole Kenny recounts that Major Kelly-Kenny's name was one of the three on the roll that went to the Lord Lieutenant for the High Sheriff of Clare in 1880 but he did not succeed. This post was by appointment. He was later appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Clare in 1901. The papers confirming his appointment are in the Irish Jesuit Archives.[14]

Major Kelly-Kenny was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel on 26 July 1881.[15] He was Assistant Adjutant General (AAG) and QMG from that date until 30 June 1889. Continuing in senior appointments, he was AAG and QMG, North-Eastern District from 1 July 1889 – 21 September 1892, where he commanded the training camp at Strensall Camp, Yorkshire. Later he became AAG Aldershot Garrison from 28 December 1893 – 12 March 1896 on the staff of the Duke of Connaught.

Second Boer WarEdit

In the Second Anglo-Boer war of 1899–1902 he was, as a Lieutenant-General, General Officer Commanding the 6th Division of the South African field force. He was twice Mentioned in Despatches and received the Queen’s South African Medal with four clasps. He was involved in the relief of Kimberley, the battles of Paardeberg, Poplar Grove and Driefontein.

At the battle of Paardeberg he had a conservative plan to besiege Cronje and bombard his force from a safe distance with superior artillery. When Roberts became ill, he appointed Lieutenant-General Herbert Kitchener as commander. Kitchener had become known as 'Kitchener of Khartoum' due to his success against the Dervishes in the Sudan. He overruled Kelly-Kenny and ordered an assault on the Boer trenches. The result was 'Bloody Sunday' — an unnecessary sacrifice of hundreds of lives on the British side. Kelly-Kenny was involved in the engagements at Poplar Grove and Driefontein where the 6th division distinguished itself by its fight after a six-hour march under a scorching sun. These were viewed as key in destroying Boer morale and winning the war and Kelly-Kenny was well regarded by historians for his role. After that point the war became a series of guerilla skirmishes.

War Office appointmentEdit

General Sir Thomas Kelly-Kenny, Adjutant General to the British Army, in conversation with a German officer during the manoeuvres of 1902.

The General was a close friend of King Edward VII who treated him as confidential military advisor.[16] In October 1901 he was appointed Adjutant-General to the Forces[17] which post he held until 1904. This was at the insistence of the King, who liked him for his industry and administrative capacity and dislike of jobbery. However Lord Roberts (the commander in chief) did not share this opinion; the General was conservative about reform, and the War Office was opposed to his appointment. The General did not work well with his colleagues who tried to get his powers reduced (which the King opposed). They then tried to move him back to command in 1902 offering him the command of the 4th Army Corps. This he declined. The King was happy about the General's decision. He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 1902 Coronation Honours list published on 26 June 1902,[18][19] and received the knighthood in a private audience on 2 August, during the King′s convalescence on board HMY Victoria and Albert.[20] In September 1902, Kelly-Kenny accompanied Lord Roberts and St John Brodrick, Secretary of State for War, on a visit to Germany to attend the German army maneuvers as guest of the Emperor Wilhelm.[21] In October that year, when again it was suggested that he be transferred to an Army corps the King wrote to Mr Broderick saying that the Adjutant General was a most able officer with a thorough knowledge of his profession who would be a loss to the War Office and that he was most surprised that Lord Hornby described him as reactionary when it came to reform. The War Office bowed to the King's wishes and left the General in his post until the reforms in 1904. Kelly-Kenny did accept the appointment as Colonel of his regiment, The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment), on 16 April 1902,[22] and served as such until his death.[23]

Later lifeEdit

On 21 June 1904 he was conferred the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB).[24] In 1905 he attended the wedding of the Crown Prince of Germany with Prince Arthur of Connaught on which occasion the Kaiser decorated him with the order of the Grand Cross of the Red Eagle. (He had previously received from the Kaiser the order 1st class of the Red Eagle). In 1906,[25] he accompanied Prince Arthur of Connaught to Japan as part of a mission to present the Order of the Garter to the Emperor. While on this trip and speaking with the Mikado, the Mikado remarked on how he had to improve the horses in Japan the breed being small. According to Redesdale (p. 26), the General replied that "It is not always the big horses and the big men that do the best work" which compliment made the Mikado smile.[25] On this trip the General received from the Emperor the Grand Cross of the Rising Sun. On his return to England he received from King Edward VII the Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO). Documentation on his trip is held in the Irish Jesuit Archives.

In his day the General was quite a celebrity appearing on cigarette cards commemorating his Boer war successes and marches. Sir Thomas was friendly with several members of the Royal Family, including the Prince of Wales and Prince Arthur of Connaught and stayed in both Sandringham and Frogmore as a guest of the Prince of Wales on shooting parties.[26] Shooting cards from the Sandringham shoots are in the possession of descendants of the General's heir Thomas O'Gorman. He was a regular at court and was on friendly terms with Queen Alexandra, who carved a tea table for him herself. The descendants of his heir Thomas O'Gorman still have a chair made from Elm on the royal estate given to the General. He accompanied the French ex- Empress Eugenie on a yachting tour around Ireland in 1909.[27]

The General largely lived in Britain, where his clubs were Army and Navy and Arthurs, and he let his house at Doolough Lodge in County Clare to his brother Matthew Butler Kelly JP, who is recorded as living at that address in Thom's Directories. There are unsubstantiated[28] reports that royalty stayed at Doolough Lodge with the General, for example that King George V visited Doolough Lodge, as Prince of Wales in 1906[29] and that George V stayed at Doolough Lodge during his visit to Ireland in July 1911.[30]

He retired in 1907.[31]

In 1909 he sold his lands to the tenants under the 1909 Land Purchase Act.

In his Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Seán Fitzgibbon reports that at a meeting in Dublin on 3 August 1914, the day on which Britain declared war on Germany, Sir Thomas Myles, who the previous weekend had landed a consignment of guns for the Irish Volunteers at Kilcoole, said he had a leader for the Irish Volunteers (who should take over the defence of Ireland and re-create Grattan's Parliament) in the person of Kelly-Kenny.[32]

Cecil Stackpoole Kenny records that one of the last things he did was to visit his cousin Lieutenant Bertram Maurice Kenny in hospital, where he was seriously wounded. The General was proud of the family connection with Lieutenant Kenny's father William Kenny (judge, privy councillor and unionist MP) to whom he left £1000 in his will.

Kelly-Kenny died at Hove on 26 December 1914.[33] He is buried in Hove Cemetery having left strict instructions in his will that he did not want a military funeral.[34]

The executors of his will[35] included his nephews Matthew Devitt, a Jesuit priest, and Thomas O'Gorman, of Cahircalla, to whom he left the bulk of his large estate, with some small bequests to other family members. A collection of his personal papers inherited by Fr Devitt are now in the Irish Jesuit Archives.

Orders, Decorations & MedalsEdit


  1. ^ For confirmation of his birthplace, often misreported elsewhere, see, for example, New Zealand Tablet, Volume XXVIII, Issue 2, 11 January 1900, Page 4 and manifest for his trip from Liverpool to Ellis Island on the Mauretania on 23–29 January 1909: [1][permanent dead link] [2][permanent dead link] (line 13, question 29).
  2. ^ Burke, Bernard; Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1912). A genealogical and heraldic history of the landed gentry of Ireland. Harrison. p. 368.. See also Landed Estates Database. An incorrect name is given for his father in Kelly-Kenny, General Sir Thomas, G.C.V.O., Catholics Who's Who, F. C. (Francis Cowley) Burnand.
  3. ^ See Kenny's obituary in the British Medical Journal, 10 October 1874, p.480.
  4. ^ "The Taku Forts 1860". Queen's Royal Surreys. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  5. ^ The West Australian, 28 December 1914.
  6. ^ "Return for each county, city and borough in Ireland of persons holding commission of the peace". UK Government. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  7. ^ "Return: Owners of one acre and upwards, Ireland". UK Government. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  8. ^ Scropul National School 1860-2012, published by Oidhreacht an Chláir.
  9. ^ Correspondence with the Department of Education held in the Irish Jesuit Archives.
  10. ^ a b Dunboyne collection of newspaper clippings on Clare, National Library of Ireland.
  11. ^ a b The Diocese of Killaloe, 1850-1904, by Ignatius Murphy (1994).
  12. ^ a b The Clare Elections, Kieran Sheedy, 1993.
  13. ^ Limerick and Tipperary Vindicator, 11 April 1879.
  14. ^ Papers confirming his appointment held in the Irish Jesuit Archives.
  15. ^ "No. 24999". The London Gazette. 26 July 1881. p. 3680.
  16. ^ King Edward VII, a Biography, Part II, Kissinger Publishing, 2004.
  17. ^ "No. 27360". The London Gazette. 1 October 1901. p. 6400.
  18. ^ "The Coronation Honours". The Times (36804). London. 26 June 1902. p. 5.
  19. ^ a b "No. 27448". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 June 1902. pp. 4189–4190.
  20. ^ "Court Circular". The Times (36837). London. 4 August 1902. p. 4.
  21. ^ "The German maneuvers". The Times (36865). London. 5 September 1902. p. 6.
  22. ^ "No. 27435". The London Gazette. 20 May 1902. p. 3324.
  23. ^ "No. 29030". The London Gazette. 5 January 1915. p. 153.
  24. ^ "No. 27688". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 June 1904. p. 4007.
  25. ^ a b The Garter Mission to Japan, Lord Redesdale, Bibliolife, 2009.
  26. ^ Correspondence in National Archives of Ireland; correspondence in the Irish Jesuit Archives; and royal diaries in Royal Archives, Windsor.
  27. ^ "An Empress in Ireland". Trove. 2 September 1909. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  28. ^ Research by The Royal Archivist has confirmed that the Prince of Wales did not visit Ireland in 1906 and did not stay with the General in Ireland between 1903 and 1906 and that the Royal Archives contain no record of a visit in 1911.
  29. ^ "Visit to Doolough Lodge". Clare Champion. 10 June 2011. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  30. ^ Houses of Clare, Hugh W.L. Weir, Ballinakella Press, Whitegate, Co. Clare, 2nd edition, 1999, p.103.
  31. ^ "No. 27994". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1907. p. 966.
  32. ^ "Bureau of Military History Witness Statement" (PDF). Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  33. ^ Obituary in The Times Monday, 28 Dec 1914; pg. 9; Issue 40736; col C. His place of death is incorrect in the New York Times of 27 December 1914 [3]
  34. ^ The Times, Wednesday, 30 Dec 1914; pg. 11; Issue 40738; col F; Court Circular.
  35. ^ England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1915.
  36. ^ "Latest Intelligence - The German Army Maneuvres". The Times (36900). London. 16 October 1902. p. 4.

Further readingEdit

  • Houses of Clare, Hugh W.L. Weir, Ballinakella Press, Whitegate, Co. Clare, 1986. (The references to the royal visit to Doolough Lodge in this book have not been verifiable from other sources.)
  • The Boer War, Thomas Pakenham, Cardinal, 1979; ISBN 0-7474-0976-5.
  • The Great Boer War, Arthur Conan Doyle, London, Smith, Elder & Co., 1902.
  • Mitford's Japan: The Memoirs and Recollections, 1866–1906, of Algernon Bertram Mitford, the First Lord Redesdale by Mitford, Hugh Cortazzi, Algernon Bertram Mitford.
  • Genealogies of Kenny and Lysaght, Cecil Stacpoole Kenny, manuscript National Library of Ireland

External linksEdit

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Evelyn Wood
Adjutant General
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Douglas
Preceded by
Granville Chetwynd-Stapylton
Colonel of the Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey)
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Hamilton