Kilkelly (Irish: Cill Cheallaigh) is a small and friendly village approx 5.5 miles south of Ireland West Airport Knock, in County Mayo, Ireland. Located in the parish of Kilmovee, the village is along the N17, the national primary road between Galway and Sligo.
'Cill Cheallaigh' gets its name from the name Ceallach (Celsus), supposedly that of a son of a King of Connaught born circa 520 AD. Educated at Clonmacnoise, he was ordained a priest and later became Bishop of Killala. There was growing opposition to his appointment and after a turbulent period, he left the post and became a hermit on an island in Lough Conn. He was later murdered and his brother was refused permission to bury him at either Turlough or Swinford. The people of the Kilkelly area gave permission for his burial to take place and thus the town was named after him.
Kilkelly is probably best known in modern times for the poignant emigration song entitled 'Kilkelly Ireland', penned by American songwriter Peter Jones, whose great, great grandfather was John Hunt, from the general Kilkelly area.
Back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Peter found a box of old letters in the attic of his parents home in America. These were a series of letters written between 1860 - 1890, to John Hunt by his parents from their home in Kilkelly in Ireland. The letters chronicled family news of births, deaths, marriages and were written on behalf of the parents by local schoolmaster Pat McNamara.
The letters had all been posted in Kilkelly and as Peter Jones read through them he was overwhelmed with the emotion that reunited him with the land of his ancestors. As a result, Peter used these letters to compose a ballad, which he called 'Kilkelly Ireland'.
The song is a moving reminder of the sadness suffered by one Irish family with the effects of the Famine, poverty and emigration, but it has universal appeal as it reflects the saga of countless other families torn apart by emigration never to see one another again.
The song was first recorded in Ireland by Danny Doyle and has been covered by a number of other artists, including The Dubliners, Mick Moloney, Seán Keane and Ciara Considine.
Peter Jones, the writer of the song, visited Kilkelly a few years ago and was honoured by the locals on that occasion.
There is a wide range of sporting activities in Kilkelly including a new Multi Use Games Area which includes an Astro Turf, Playground, Basketball Court and Tennis Court. Two swimming pools in nearby Kilmovee and Claremorris are within twenty minutes of Kilkelly.
The river Trimogue flows through the town dividing the parishes of Kilmovee and Aughamore. Lake Nambrackragh is within walking distance of the town. This is a beautiful tranquil area for fishing or family picnics. There are numerous small forests in the area and an abundance of lakes with pike, perch & roach. Extensive landscaping has been carried out in the area by the local angling club and by the community council.
The ruins of Urlaur Abbey are located down a quiet country road, three miles from Kilkelly, in the village of Urlaur along the shores of Urlaur Lake. The Abbey was founded circa 1430, by the powerful family of de Angulo (or Nangle) for the Dominican Order and was dedicated to St Thomas. This Anglo-Norman family also founded St Mary’s Augustinian Abbey in Ballyhaunis around the same time, taking the name Costello and becoming Lords of the Barony.
The annual 'Pattern Day' is held every year on the 4th August at Urlaur Abbey. Patterns were a traditional feature of rural Ireland, held to honour patron saints - 'Pattern' being a corruption of the word 'patron'. The Pattern begins with Mass in the ruins of Urlaur Abbey followed by races and sports, fancy dress competitions, Irish music and dancing displays and many novelty events, making it a fantastic family day out. Traditional food items like dilisk (seaweed), can be purchased at the Pattern.