Benedict Kiely

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Benedict "Ben" Kiely (15 August 1919 – 9 February 2007) was an Irish writer and broadcaster from Omagh, County Tyrone.

Early life[edit]


Benedict Kiely was born in Dromore, County Tyrone to Thomas John and Sara Alice (née Gormley) Kiely. He was the youngest of six children, the others were Rita, Gerald, Eileen, Kathleen and Macartan; four of these predeceased him. His sister Kathleen (mother of Omagh country singer Brian Coll) survived him and at the age of 94 attended his funeral in Dublin but died herself six months later.[citation needed]

Kiely's father, Tom, a native of Moville, County Donegal, was a Boer War veteran. When he was only eighteen, he joined the Leinster Regiment. Over the next five or so years, he travelled over Ireland and abroad, including the Caribbean, and finally, to South Africa. He was decorated for heroism, for his actions in the Boer War (during which time he had met with General Christiaan De Wet). Sometime after having returned to Ireland, Tom took up employment with the Ordnance Survey as a survey measurer (or "chain man"—so called because a chain was used to do the measuring).

Three years later, Tom happened to be in Doyle's Hotel in Drumquin, and that was where he met a young barmaid by the name of Sara Alice Gormley, who came from the townland of Claraghmore, near Drumquin. (In Claramore there were so many families with the surname Gormley that each one used their own nickname to distinguish one from the other.)

In the spring of 1920, Tom and Sara Alice Kiely, and their six children, moved from James Campbell's farm in Dromore to Omagh, where Tom took up the position as the porter in the newly opened Munster and Leinster Bank. After living for a short time in Castle Street and Drumragh, the family finally settled in St Patrick's Terrace in the Gallows Hill area of Omagh. This area was to be a lasting inspiration for Benedict Kiely.

Teenage years[edit]

Whilst he was a teenager, Kiely began to feel the urge to become a writer. He had a keen interest in the work of George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Jonathan Swift. In 1936, after completing his education at Mount St Columba Christian Brothers School in Omagh, he went to work as a sorting clerk in Omagh Post Office, where his brother-in-law Frank McCrory was working (Frank was the husband of Kiely's sister Eileen).

However, Kiely soon realised that the post office would not provide him with the life of the scholar which he so desired. So, in the spring of 1937, he left Omagh and began a new life in Emo Park, Portarlington, Co. Laois, where he decided he would train as a Jesuit priest.

Life in Counties Laois and Dublin[edit]

His life as a Jesuit was not meant to be for, exactly a year later, in the spring of 1938, Ben suffered a serious spinal injury, which resulted in a lengthy stay in Cappagh Hospital in Finglas, Dublin. During his hospitalisation, Kiely was given plenty of time to think about the course his life had already taken, and about a course it might take. He also realised that he lacked a vocation to the priesthood and abandoned his training as a Jesuit.[citation needed]

Part-time journalist[edit]

When he got out of hospital in 1939, Kiely returned to Omagh to recover from his back problem. It was here where he waited for the beginning of term at University College in Dublin. The following year, he began working as a part-time journalist in The Weekly Standard newspaper (which was then edited by Peter Curry).

In 1943, Benedict Kiely graduated from National University with a B.A. in History and Letters.

First marriage[edit]

On 5 July 1944, Kiely married Maureen O'Connell. This marriage produced four children:

  • Mary Patricia Kiely (1945–1945)
  • Anne Kiely (born: 1946)
  • John Kiely (born: 1948)
  • Emer Kiely (born: 1949)


In 1945, Kiely began working for the Irish Independent, where he was employed as a journalist and critic. In 1950, now a father of four, he joined the Irish Press as a literary editor. In 1964, he moved to America, where he was a Writer-in-Residence at Emory University, visiting professor at the University of Oregon, and Writer-in-Residence at Hollins College (Virginia). He spent four years in those three different places. In 1968, he returned to Ireland after having spent four years in America. In the spring of 1976, he was Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Delaware.

He continued to receive acclaim for his writing and journalism (a career which spans over six decades) receiving the Award for Literature from the Irish Academy of Letters. By now, he was one of Ireland's best known writers. In 1996, he was named Saoi of Aosdána, the highest honour given by the Arts Council of Ireland.

The person who may have inspired Kiely to write novels and short stories was his father, Tom Kiely, who used to tell stories about people, places and events from his younger days.

Later years[edit]

Kiely visited Omagh in 2001. This was marked by the unveiling of a plaque outside his childhood home on Gallows Hill by Omagh's Plain Speaking Community Arts group. In an interview at that time, when asked about censorship, he remarked with a typical quip: "If you weren't banned, it meant you were no bloody good."

In September every year in Omagh, an event called The Benedict Kiely Literary Weekend is held to celebrate the author's many achievements.

In 2005, Kiely married his partner of over 40 years, Frances Daly.


A well-known brother-in-law was Frank McCrory who worked for many years as a playwright/ songwriter of pantomimes at Omagh Town Hall. Frank's wife Eileen was Benedict Kiely's sister. Drumquin is often mentioned in his novels and stories because that's where he had maternal family connections. His mother, Sarah Alice Kiely (née Gormley) was from Claramore, a townland near Drumquin. He was a distant relation (through his mother) of the Gormley family who owned Gormley's pub in Castle Street in Omagh, uncle of Omagh-born musician Brian Coll, great-uncle of American writer Margaret Millmore (née Stanley), great-uncle of writer Sharon Owens and is mentioned in Frank McCourt's book 'Tis.[citation needed]

According to RTÉ News, Kiely died in St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin on 9 February 2007,[1] aged 87. The twice-married author and father of four (who had been living out of Omagh for 69 years) was survived by his second wife Frances, his daughters Anne Kiely and Emer Cronin, son John Kiely, and a large extended family. He was predeceased by his first wife and a daughter, Mary.

List of works[edit]

Short stories[edit]

  • The Collected Stories of Benedict Kiely (2001)
  • The Trout in the Turnhole (1996)
  • A Letter to Peachtree (1987)
  • The State of Ireland: A Novella and Seventeen Short Stories (1981)
  • A Cow in the House (1978)
  • A Ball of Malt and Madame Butterfly (1973)
  • A Journey to the Seven Streams (1963)

Literary Criticism and Non-Fiction[edit]

  • A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays (1999)
  • All the Way to Bantry Bay and Other Irish Journeys (1978)
  • Modern Irish Fiction: A Critique (1950)
  • Poor Scholar; A Study of William Carleton (1947)
  • Counties of Contention (1945)


  • Nothing Happens in Carmincross (1985)
  • Proxopera: A Tale of Modern Ireland (1977)
  • Dogs Enjoy the Morning (1968)
  • The Captain with the Whiskers (1960)
  • There Was an Ancient House (1955)
  • The Cards of the Gambler (1953)
  • Honey Seems Bitter (1952)
  • In a Harbour Green (1949)
  • Call for a Miracle (1948)
  • Land Without Stars (1946)


  • Drink to the Bird: An Omagh Boyhood (1992)
  • The Waves Behind Us: A Memoir (1999)

Television and radio broadcasts[edit]

  • Jungle of Pembroke Road (TV) (1974) – Himself
  • Humours of Donnybrook (TV) (1979) – Himself
  • Irish Angle – Hands: Fermanagh County (TV) (1981) – Script writer
  • Irish Angle – Hands: Curraghs (TV) (1985) – Narrator
  • Wordweaver – The Legend of Benedict Kiely (TV) (2005) – Himself
  • Sunday Miscellany (an RTE1 radio programme broadcast each Sunday between 9.00 and 10.00 am) – contributor of short talks mostly on literature or other Irish topics


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