Kelly Irish Manuscripts in English

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This catalogue described the English language portion of the Kelly Irish Manuscripts Collection. This portion mainly comprises transcribed and translated Irish legends and histories copied by Denis Henry Kelly and Michael McDermott, in particular prose and metrical translations by Kelly of Fenian (or Ossianic) Tales (English MSS 479-494) (transcriptions by Michael McDermott of the uncontracted Irish text can be found at Irish MSS 45-50, other manuscripts of Fenian Tales in Irish can be found at Irish MSS 61-62, 68, 115). The other substantial group within the collection is the four volume Collectanea De Rebus Hibernicis (English MSS 496-499), containing a mixture of transcribed historical accounts, letters, treatises and legends. In addition there are transcriptions and translations by John O'Donovan and Kelly of various Irish manuscripts and letters, including the Annals of Inisfallen (English MS 478) and the Macariae Excidium (English MS 500), and a small quantity of original Irish manuscripts in English.

The collection as a whole contains works of history, literature, genealogy, heraldry, mythology and grammar, predominantly in the form of Irish transcriptions, some with English translations, and a small number of early manuscripts. The collection bears witness to an important phase of Ireland's Cultural Revival, when middle-class scholars began to disseminate information gleaned from study of early Irish manuscripts to a wider audience.

A brief summary of the remainder of the Collection follows: 

  • Transcriptions of literary and historical manuscripts in Irish, many with translations into English and notes. Most of these manuscripts were written by D.H. Kelly, but a significant number were written by his friends, in particular Eugene O'Curry, John O'Donovan, W.M. Hennessey, Michael McDermott and Joseph Longan;
  • Extracts from the Ordnance Survey papers in the library of the Royal Irish Academy relating to Sligo, Mayo, Clare, Galway and Roscommon, transcribed by D.H. Kelly;
  • Grammars and notes on Irish language and transcriptions, and manuscript copies of catalogues of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy, Trinity College Dublin and the British Museum;
  • Original letters from Eugene O'Curry and John O'Donovan to Kelly, 1837-1861 (Irish MS 20);
  • Original Irish language manuscripts collected by D.H. Kelly, including the Hanrahan Collection of Fenian Tales;
  • Small number of eighteenth-century manuscripts which belonged to Count Charles O'Kelly (English, French and Latin);
  • A number of genealogical manuscripts, pedigrees and armorials etc. of Irish families (Irish, English, French and Latin).

Administrative / Biographical History

Denis Henry Kelly (1797-1877), Irish landowner, scholar and collector, was the son of Andrew Armstrong Kelly and his wife Leonora Mary, daughter of Francis Salvador, esq., of Twickenham. Denis Kelly was a senior member of the O'Kelly family of Uì Maine or Hy Many, and resided at Castle Kelly, Mount Talbot, Roscommon. He married twice: first to Mary, daughter of Walter M. Moseley of Buildwas, Shropshire, by whom he had two daughters; secondly to Elizabeth Diana, daughter of Colonel John Cator of Brehenham, Kent, by whom had a further three daughters. He was a magistrate of Galway and Roscommon and a deputy lieutenant of the former county. In the early nineteenth century, many landowners in Ireland were members of learned societies, collectors or genealogists. Kelly himself had a substantial library containing old family manuscripts, manuscripts and papers that he himself had acquired, and transcripts of manuscripts copied by or for Kelly.

In 1830 the Irish scholar John O'Donovan (1809-1861) had been appointed to the Ordnance Survey of Ireland under the direction of George Petrie. In 1834 O'Donovan embarked on a series of fieldwork tours throughout Ireland to collect topographical and historical information. When O'Donovan went to Roscommon in 1837, Denis Kelly gave him substantial support. He set O'Donovan up in his house at Castle Kelly, gave him a servant, introduced him to the local area, people and antiquities, and allowed him to consult his family papers and manuscripts. This marked the beginning of a long friendship. In the early 1840s, Kelly again assisted O'Donovan in his preparation of The tribes and customs of Hy-Many, commonly called O'Kelly's country (Dublin, 1843). O'Donovan's work for the Ordnance Survey introduced him to a number of other Irish antiquarian scholars. In 1835 his recommendation that Eugene O'Curry (1796-1862) be appointed to the staff of the Survey was agreed. In January 1840 O'Donovan married O'Curry's sister in law.

Along with many other Irish scholars of the day, Denis Henry Kelly was a member of the Royal Irish Academy, though it is not known when he was elected. The Academy provided a forum for discussion and publication. Kelly published a number of articles in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy from the 1850s until his death. His early articles tend to concentrate on the local history and archaeology of Galway and Roscommon. From the 1860s Kelly wrote a number of articles on, or translations of, Irish manuscripts. In 1875 The book of Fenagh in Irish and English was published. This manuscript had been transcribed and indexed by William Maunsell Hennessy and translated into English by Kelly.

The Royal Irish Academy also provided employment opportunities for scholars of Irish. The work of the historical section of the Ordnance Survey was stopped in 1842, and from this date Eugene O'Curry was employed in cataloguing the Irish manuscripts in the possession of the Royal Irish Academy. In 1851 O'Curry was elected a member of the Academy, and in the same year he was appointed to catalogue the Bentham and other manuscripts in its library. He did not live to complete this further catalogue, which in 1865 was continued by Joseph O'Longan (or O'Longain), Irish scribe to the Academy. The catalogues of Irish manuscripts were indexed by Denis Henry Kelly (volumes 1 and 2, in 1858-1859) and by O'Longan (volume 3, late 1860s).

Kelly may also have been a member of the Irish Archaeological Society, founded in 1840 by James Henthorn Todd, John O'Donovan and Eugene O'Curry. The Society aimed to produce scholarly publications of ancient Irish manuscripts, especially those in the Royal Irish Academy; membership included presidents of the RIA and Dublin University. Kelly's correspondence suggests he was interested in the formation of the Ossianic Society in 1853. This Society aimed to publish poems and tales of the Oisin and Fianna, especially from Irish language manuscripts. However the Society was engaged in a power struggle with the Irish Archaeological Society and the Council of the Royal Irish Academy, and was wound up in 1863. The valuable library of Denis Henry Kelly, comprising around 15,000 Irish books and many manuscripts was sold in 1875 in Dublin. Kelly died in Dublin on 15 May 1877.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The collection was purchased by Mrs Enriqueta Rylands, on behalf of the John Rylands Library, in 1901 from James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford, as part of the Bibliotheca Lindesiana.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, Jo Klett and Elizabeth Gow with reference to:

  • Nicolas Barker, Bibliotheca Lindesiana: the lives and collections of Alexander William, 25th Earl of Crawford and 8th Earl of Balcarres and James Ludovic, 26th Earl of Crawford and 9th Earl of Balcarres (London: Quaritch for the Roxburghe Club, 1977), pp. 261-262, for information on Bernard Quaritch's manuscript acquisitions from the 1875 Kelly sale in Dublin;
  • D.J. O'Donoghue, The poets of Ireland: a biographical and bibliographical dictionary of Irish writers of English verse (Dublin: Hodges, Figgis & Co., 1912);
  • Gillian Doherty, The Irish Ordnance Survey: history, culture and memory (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2004);
  • Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, The catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the Royal Irish Academy: a brief introduction (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1988);
  • Index to the serial publications of the Royal Irish Academy, 1786-1906 (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1912).

Other Finding Aids

The manuscripts in English only are catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (Eng MSS 478-507).

An unpublished handlist of the Rylands Irish Manuscripts provides a brief list of the Kelly Irish Manuscripts Collection (Rylands Irish MSS 1-131). This list was compiled while the Collection was in the Bibliotheca Lindesiana of the Earls of Crawford, and is largely based on the sale catalogue of the Library of Denis H. Kelly (see bibliography).

Custodial History

These manuscripts were acquired by the 25th Earl of Crawford in 1875 at the Dublin sale of the library of Denis Henry Kelly. Bernard Quaritch purchased 67 lots on his behalf, at a cost of £203 4s 6d. All the manuscripts were formerly owned by Kelly; where previous owners are known, this is noted at subfonds level.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library also holds the Strachan Book Collection and research notes of John Strachan (1862-1907), which contain information on the Irish language, and the Cassedy Book Collection of over one thousand printed items relating to Irish history, language and culture.

University College Dublin holds the papers of Eugene O'Curry (ref.: IE UCDA LA38 ). These include correspondence relating to the Ordnance Survey (1835-1839) and the Royal Irish Academy (1843-1853) and general correspondence on antiquarian, genealogical, linguistic and literary matters (1838-1862), D.H. Kelly being one of the main correspondents.


Catalogue of the Library of Denis H. Kelly, Esq.... to be Sold by Auction, by John Fleming Jones... Thursday, 28th October, and following days, etc. (Dublin, 1875).

John O'Donovan, The Tribes and Customs of Hy-Many, Commonly Called O'Kelly's Country (Dublin: Irish Archaeological Society, 1843).

Janet Wallwork, 'Irish Treasures of the John Rylands Library, Manchester', History Workshop Journal, vol. 31 (Spring 1991), pp. 136-44.

Brian C. Donovan and David Edwards, British Sources for Irish History, 1485-1641: A Guide to Manuscripts in Local, Regional and Specialised Repositories in England, Scotland and Wales (Dublin: Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1998).

Articles by D.H. Kelly published in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy

  • 'Account of Inscribed Stones at Fuerty, County Roscommon', vol. 8, p. 455;
  • 'Ancient Terraced Gravel Hill near Castle Blakeney, County Galway', vol. 6, p. 49;
  • 'Artificial Island and Certain Antiquities Recently Discovered near at Strokestown, County Roscommon', vol. 5, p. 208;
  • 'Description of Two Irish MS. Tracts by the Celebrated Duald McFirbis, Transcribed by W. Hennessy, and Presented by him to the Royal Irish Academy', vol. 9, p. 182;
  • 'MS. Collection of Extracts Made from Memoranda Rolls of the Exchequer and Other Record Authorities by the Late James F. Ferguson', vol. 9, p. 260;
  • 'Time and Topography of the 'Bruighean Da Choga', vol. 15, p. 251;
  • 'Translation of Duald MacFirbis' "Some Bishops of Ireland"', Irish Manuscripts Series, vol. 1, part 1, p. 83.

Additional Information

The transcripts, translations and extracts in this collection have been copied from a large number of manuscripts, some of which are now lost. The majority of source manuscripts were held at the library of the Royal Irish Academy (, many of which were in the O'Gorman Papers. A substantial number were held by other institutions including the Bodleian Library, the British Library, the Royal Dublin Society and Trinity College Dublin. A few manuscripts were in Kelly's own collection or in private hands elsewhere. Where available, information regarding the current location of source material is provided in the description of each manuscript. However, in many instances this information cannot be established.

Geographical Names