The surname of O'KELLY was originally from Kelly in Arbroath or Kellie in Fife, also from Kelly in County Devon. The name meant 'the dweller in a wood grove'. Local names usually denoted where a man held and owned land. The name was taken early to Ireland by settlers. Warin de Kelly was documented in the year 1194 in the County of Devon. Early records of the name also mention John de Kelly 1373 County Devon. In Ireland they were a most important and numerous sept in the Ui Maine. In Irish the name was O'Ceallaigh. The Irish prefixes of Mac (son of) and O (grandson or descendant of) gave rise at an early date, to a set of fixed hereditary names in which the literal patronymic meaning was lost or obscured. These surnames originally signified membership of a clan, but with the passage of time, the clan system became less distinct, and surnames came to identify membership of what is called a 'sept' of people all living in the same locality, all bearing the same surname, but not necessarily descended from a common ancestor. Adoption of the name by people who did not otherwise have a surname and by their dependents was not uncommon. Later, nicknames were in some cases to supersede the original clan names.
James O'Kelly, born in 1845 in Dublin, was the Irish war correspondent and politician. He seems to have done some studying at Trinity College, Dublin and at the Sorbonne, before joining the French Foreign Legion. He covered the Cuban revolt for the New York Herald, and was captured by Spanish troops, was sentenced to be shot, but was respited. He returned eventually to England, and became MP for Roscommon in 1880. It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. Men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way.
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