Irish Song – Kilkelly, Ireland | AOH 32

2021 Song Draft- Round 8- Pick 5- Hanspostcard selects ‘Kilkelly, Ireland’- Moloney, O’Connell and Keane.

You never know what you might stumble across in an attic. In the late 70’s early 80s-a songwriter named Peter Jones was rooting through his parents attic in Bethesda, Maryland when he stumbled across a treasure. What Jones found was a collection of letters covering the years 1858 to 1892- from his great-great-great grandfather -Bryan Hunt to his great- great grandfather John Hunt. John Hunt had left his family in Kilkelly, Ireland and emigrated to America in 1855 and got a job working on the railroad. Bryan was illiterate and had dictated the letters to a local schoolmaster Pat McNamara. The letters were full of news from the family in Kilkelly- covering the births, deaths, marriages, reports on the annual harvest. While his son John had left for America he was never far from his father Bryan’s thoughts and he always longed to see him again.

On reading through the letters Peter Jones was overwhelmed with emotion and was moved to write this song- a heartbreaking and sad song but one of my favorites. It has been recorded by a number of artists over the years but my go-to version is by Moloney, O’Connell and Keane recorded in 1987. I first heard this song over a decade ago when I discovered the weekly Sirius/ XM radio show Celtic Crush- hosted by Larry Kirwan. Every few years he runs a listeners poll of favorite songs- and ‘Kilkelly, Ireland’ -is always high on the charts-once it came in at #1.

Below is a link to the story of the letters at irishcentral.com- which has links to all these incredible letters.


Kilkellly, Ireland – by Peter Jones

Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 60, my dear and loving son John
Your good friend the schoolmaster Pat McNamara’s so good
As to write these words down.
Your brothers have all gone to find work in England,
The house is so empty and sad
The crop of potatoes is sorely infected,
A third to a half of them bad.
And your sister Brigid and Patrick O’Donnell
Are going to be married in June.
Your mother says not to work on the railroad
And be sure to come on home soon.

Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 70, dear and loving son John
Hello to your Mrs and to your 4 children,
May they grow healthy and strong.
Michael has got in a wee bit of trouble,
I guess that he never will learn.
Because of the dampness there’s no turf to speak of
And now we have nothing to burn.
And Brigid is happy, you named a child for her
And now she’s got six of her own.
You say you found work, but you don’t say
What kind or when you will be coming home.

Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 80, dear Michael and John, my sons
I’m sorry to give you the very sad news
That your dear old mother has gone.
We buried her down at the church in Kilkelly,
Your brothers and Brigid were there.
You don’t have to worry, she died very quickly,
Remember her in your prayers.
And it’s so good to hear that Michael’s returning,
With money he’s sure to buy land
For the crop has been poor and the people
Are selling at any price that they can.

Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 90, my dear and loving son John
I guess that I must be close on to eighty,
It’s thirty years since you’re gone.
Because of all of the money you send me,
I’m still living out on my own.
Michael has built himself a fine house
And Brigid’s daughters have grown.
Thank you for sending your family picture,
They’re lovely young women and men.
You say that you might even come for a visit,
What joy to see you again.

Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 92, my dear brother John
I’m sorry that I didn’t write sooner to tell you that father passed on.
He was living with Brigid, she says he was cheerful
And healthy right down to the end.
Ah, you should have seen him play with
The grandchildren of Pat McNamara, your friend.
And we buried him alongside of mother,
Down at the Kilkelly churchyard.
He was a strong and a feisty old man,
Considering his life was so hard.
And it’s funny the way he kept talking about you,
He called for you in the end.
Oh, why don’t you think about coming to visit,
We’d all love to see you again.


  1. Terrific lyrics! Quite a song… in my old hometown, for years the most popular bar with over-30s was a scottish pub… that’s the type of music you’d hope to hear when you went in for a pint, but rarely would it be this good.

    • Yep- it seemed like the father was always hoping to see the son again–it just wasn’t that easy. Today the world is a lot smaller.

  2. A haunting and lovely song, with such poignant lyrics that made me think of some of my relatives and close friends scattered about the country. I’ve moved from Northern to Southern California, then to Missouri, and now back in Southern California for 10 years. We all have the best of intentions of traveling to see one another, and sometimes did made the effort, but the years have a way of passing so quickly, and before you know it, 20 years have gone by without a visit.

    • Very well put. It is easier to ‘stay in touch’ these days but sometimes the travel is easier said than done. Time passes quickly. The father at the end calling for the long gone son always gets me.


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