WOODSIDE, N.Y. -- With these words, Col. Patrick Kelly's family and comrades-in-arms laid him to rest 134 years ago. This testament took on meaning for new generations on Saturday, June 6, as over 100 people gathered at Kelly's grave in First Calvary Cemetery to unveil a new headstone over his previously unmarked grave.
The Galway Association of New York, with the help of the Fort Schuyler-based Irish Brigade Association organized the effort at the 150-year-old cemetery, known by local history devotees as “The Valhalla of the Irish Soldier.” The ceremony began at noon with a Mass in the chapel. At 1 p.m. re-enactors portraying men from Kelly's command, joined by a color guard from the New York State Guard’s modern-day 88th Brigade, led a procession to Kelly’s grave for the unveiling of his new $3,000 stone.
Kelly, born in Castlehacket, County Galway, Ireland, commanded the Irish Brigade’s 88th New York Infantry regiment and later commanded the 500-man remnant of the Brigade that fought heroically in 'The Wheatfield,' during the second day of the battle at Gettysburg. He died as he led the Irish Brigade against entrenched Confederates troops at Petersburg, Va. on June 14, 1864.
Brilliant sunshine and generous breezes embraced those who gathered by the cemetery chapel. Inside the nearly full chapel a portrait of Kelly, created by artist James Wassel from a wartime photo, faced the congregation as Fathers John McCrone and Jarlath Quinn celebrated Mass. In his homily, McCrone praised Kelly as “a great leader . . (who) knew the times that his men neeeded to be affirmed and needed to be challenged.” Indeed, one officer in the Brigade noted, Kelly “was not lavish with praise. When he did bestow it, the few words went a long way. . . . ‘Well done, my brave byes,’ to the little remnant of the (Irish) Brigade at (the battle at) Bristoe when they went through the manual (of arms) under fire at Coffee Hill . . . was worth as much as five hundred.”
Father John O’Halloran, an Episcopalian priest and chaplain of the New York City Sons of Union Veterans, again assisted during the Mass, and his presence again reminded all that Catholics and Protestants both fought and died while serving with the Irish Brigade. Harpist Penelope Jones played “O’Cathain’s Air” (more commonly known as ‘O Danny Boy’) during Communion, providing one of the day’s more poignant moments. She, bass Arthur Kirmss, of the New York Sons of Union Veterans, playing recorder and guitar, and tenor James Luddy provided music for the service.
After the Mass, those who came to honor Kelly formed up behind the color guard , comprising Co. A, 69th New York and several men from the 27th Connecticut. The color guard carried a Stephen Hill-created replica of the National color made by Tiffany for the 69th, along with a reproduction of the "Prince of Wales" flag the 69th New York State Militia carried into battle at First Bull Run. Kelly followed the so-called “Prince of Wales” flag into that battle as a lieutenant in the regiment.
Ireland's Consul General James Henessey, speaking at the graveside, recalled the sacrifices made by Kelly and other Irish immigrants in service to America, saying, "The stones, the soil, the green grass of this country cries out for what the Irish have given here."
Brig. Gen. Herb Ryan, commander of the New York’s 88th Brigade, told of his own link to the famous Irish Brigade. Gen. Ryan's great-grandfather and great-uncle came to America in 1862 looking to work on the railroad but, like so many of the Irish getting off those ships, instead earned their way carrying a gun with the 28th Massachusetts Infantry, which later joined the Irish Brigade. Happily, unlike so many others, Ryan’s forebears lived to tell the tale as well.
Stephen D. O'Neill, of the 69th NY Historical Association, gave the keynote remarks, after thanking the IBA’s Jack Conway for coordinating the effort for Kelly. O’Neill underscored the special place Kelly had in the Irish Brigade, one of the most storied and bloodied fighting units in either Irish or American history. "Although (Irish Brigade founder and first commander Thomas Francis) Meagher was respected by his men," said O'Neill, "I believe that Kelly was the commander who truly owned their hearts. This beautiful monument is another gift of Galway to his memory. It will help to ensure that Colonel Patrick Kelly of the Irish Brigade is not forgotten." The IBA later presented historian T.L. Murphy with a portrait of Kelly in thanks for her authorship of a 16-page monograph on Kelly given out to those at the ceremony.
At the gravesite, David Kincaid, a first sergeant in the Irish Brigade’s Co. I, 116th PA, sang "The Irish Volunteer" from his recently released CD of the same name. The monument was then unveiled by Galway Association President Cecilia Rohan. Kelly's plot, shared by his Irish-born wife, Elizabeth, many years ago held a fine stone that seemed to have simply disappeared. Once again, then, thanks to the efforts of Kelly’s kinsmen from Galway and others, his grave once again offers testimony to Kelly’s sacrifice.
After the unveiling, Jones and Kirmss played "Brian Boru's March," a melody in turns both sprightly and mournful. Jones paused and with great deliberation plucked the last few notes on her Irish harp. As those notes wafted over nearby graves, they seemed to bystanders to affirm the long line of descent from the ancient Irish warrior Boru to the gentle warrior Kelly and others driven from Ireland by poverty and famine.
For more information about the Irish Brigade Association and Col. Patrick Kelly, visit the IBA’s web site at http://www.thewildgeese.com/iba.
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