Kilkelly, Ireland (song)

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"Kilkelly, Ireland" is a contemporary ballad composed by American songwriter Peter Jones. It tells the story of an Irish family whose son emigrated to America, via a series of letters sent from the father back in Kilkelly. It has five stanzas, covering the time period from 1860 to 1892.


In the late 1970s or early 1980s Peter Jones discovered a collection of century-old letters in his parents' attic in Bethesda, Maryland.[1][2] The letters had been sent by his great-great-great grandfather, Byran Hunt, to his son, Jones' great-great grandfather, John Hunt,[a] who had emigrated from Kilkelly, County Mayo, to the United States in 1855 and worked on the railroad.[1][4] As Byran was illiterate, the letters were dictated to the local schoolmaster, Pat McNamara (d. 1902), who often wrote letters on behalf of his neighbors who were unable to read and write.[3]

Covering the years 1858 to 1893, the Hunt letters shared family news of births, deaths, and marriages, and reports of the annual harvest.[1][2][5] The last letter, dated February 1893, was written by John Hunt's brother, D. Hunt, informing him of the death of their father.[6] Peter Jones decided to compose a ballad based on the contents of the letters.[3][7][8]


Presented as a series of letters, the ballad has five stanzas covering the time period from 1860 to 1892.[7] The ballad conveys "the effects of poverty, famine and emigration on one Irish family"[1] while also expressing the universal theme of the sadness and longing experienced by families who have been separated permanently by emigration.[2][8][9]


"Kilkelly, Ireland" was first recorded in Ireland by Danny Doyle.[2] The ballad appeared on the 1990s Irish music album Bringing It All Back Home.[10] It has been covered by many artists, including Robbie O'Connell, Mick Moloney, Jimmy Keane,[11] Atwater-Donnelly, The Dubliners, Seán Keane, Ciara Considine, Jim Brannigan, Irish Roses – Women of Celtic Song, Empty Hats, Marc Gunn, and David Gans (with Eric Rawlins).


  1. ^ One source has the surname as Coyne.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d "Kilkelly". Mayo Ireland Ltd. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d O'Shea, James (16 September 2016). "Letters of a family to their son in America after the Famine". IrishCentral. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c "'Kilkelly, Ireland'". Irish Identity. December 2002. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  4. ^ "'Kilkelly Ireland' sung by its composer Peter Jones". 13 October 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  5. ^ O'Connor 2001, p. 36.
  6. ^ "Kilkelly Hunt Family, Orlaur February 1893". Mayo Ireland. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  7. ^ a b "Skye tops bill at WOW Hall's Irish Pub Night". The Register-Guard. March 17, 1995. p. 3D. 
  8. ^ a b Healey 2011, p. 85.
  9. ^ Rosen, Rebecca J. (7 May 2013). "Mars: The Immigrant Experience". The Atlantic. Retrieved 27 February 2017. 
  10. ^ Cronin 2008, p. 293.
  11. ^ Williams 1996, p. 269.


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