Account Set up to Digitise and Preserve ‘The Master’s Collection’

Among the many items of deeply historical interest found in a collection in Castleisland recently is the plaintive diary of a local man, Robert O’Kelly who was born here in 1835 and died in 1919.

The collection is the result of several decades of dedicated documentation and research by the late Michael O’Donohoe. Mr. O’Donohoe, a retired primary school teacher, passed away in June 2008 and few realised the depth of his passion for the history of Castleisland and its environs.
It doesn’t stop there. There are items of interest to the rest of Kerry and great national events and election and trends were also fair game for the man who was known locally as The Master.
Researcher, Janet Murphy discovered the Diary of Robert O’Kelly among the boxes which held the collection and she made the recently formed committee aware of it.
The collection has been loaned to the committee by the family of the late Mr. O’Donohoe and is in the process of being digitised and put on-line.
In the course of the O’Kelly diaries, which run to well over 5,000 words, the writer frequently made references to his lack of education.
He also expressed a hope that someone, some day would find his writings and, in his own words: ‘transcribe those items and put them in perfect form if you like and if you are interested in them.’
His writings were given the floor at the launch of the Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project.
Local actor and author, Tommy Martin was asked to read from the Diary of  Robert O’Kelly at the River Island Hotel  at 9pm. on Saturday, October 25th in the year of 2014.
There, in a packed ballroom and in surroundings that would have blown the poor man’s mind, Robert O’Kelly’s Diary was opened and read. It was read almost as he had written it all those years before.

It was interpreted by a man used to scanning that kind of wordscape and sympathetic to any shortcomings in the writer’s amazing legacy.

All this happened well over a century after O’Kelly’s wishes for discovery and transcription were made and, certainly, 95 years after his death.

This may be the most poignant find among, what we’ve come to call, ‘The Master’s Collection’ – but there are so many others and there’s so much more.
The following is a 340 word excerpt from the opening paragraphs of the diary and it sets the tone for the remainder.
The Diary of Robert O’Kelly – A Diary of Items of Interest
“They may interest you now or for whom you may like to send them for. They are most imperfectly written but that cannot be helped as I am no sort of scholar.
If I was or had any sort of education but unfortunately for myself I scarcely got any education or did I get a chance ofbeing one.  Only taken away from school before I was ten years of age and put to the block at one of the most labourious trades in existence.
There are good many items of interest during my life.  I could have chronicled and penned down if I had any sort of learning or scholarship.  You can write them out and transcribe those items and put them in perfect form if you like and if you are interested in them.
I, Robert O’Kelly was born on the 18th June in the year1835 in the town of Castleisland.
 The first great thing I remember was the great and big storm of wind what blew on the little Christmas day and night in the year 1839, thegreatest and the most fiercest and destructive storm that blew in the 19th century.
In the summer of 1840, I was carried to a great meeting where the great Father Matthew, then on his rounds throughout Ireland, was administering the pledge.  There were thousands assembled on that memorable day to take the pledge.
In his passing through the people I well remember I had the great privilege of his putting his hand on my head and blessing me amongst the thousands who assembled there in that memorable day to take the pledge.
 I well remember seeing the great Daniel O’Connell three or four times in 1843 and 1844 and hear him speak from his Carriage on the Repeal Movement that he was agitating the country from town to town all throughout Ireland wearing his repeal Cap.  He was a notable figure to be seen in his day.”
The project was officially launched by Minister for Diaspora Affairs, Jimmy Deenihan, TD. Mr. Deenihan spoke about the importance of local history and said how fortunate Castleisland is to have a collection of this magnitude at its disposal.
He also suggested that the people of the town should keep an eye on 2016 as the year will mark the 790th anniversary of the building of the original castle here.
Mikey Conway introduced Island Players Drama group member, Tommy Martin with a ring or two from the original town crier’s bell which belonged to his father.
Committee chairman, John Roche gave a rundown on the project and outlined the progress made since the first meeting in May of this year.
There is so much historically relevant material in the collection and so many leads to be followed from it.
As it did while he lived here, it will go on filling gaps in local history. It will go on providing vital clues and missing pieces of family jig-saws here, there and everywhere.
There is an appeal going out by hard copy and by all electronic means to people who may be in a position to help with the financial side of this project. Any and all contributions will be gratefully accepted by the committee.
The ultimate aim is to get the collection on-line and make it available to a world-wide audience. It is envisaged that this can be done with relevant, supporting documentation, drawings, maps, photographs and sketches.
There is an account set up in the Bank of Ireland in Castleisland to which donations / subscriptions can be made and the number is: A/C 699 74 292.  Sort Code: 90.56.78 or to: The Michael O’Donohoe, Memorial Heritage Project, Bank of Ireland, Main Street, Castleisland, Co. Kerry.
The organising committee is grateful to the O’Donohoe family for loaning the material and especially to Michael’s sister, Breda for her support and co-operation. It also wishes to thank: Minister Jimmy Deenihan, TD. Dr. Paul Dillon for their encouragement and support early in the project along with: Tom Fleming, TD.; Cllr. Bobby O’Connell and Cllr. Danny Healy Rae. 
Thanks were also extended to the now Killarney based former Castleisland librarian, Eamonn Browne – who was present at the launch – and researcher, Janet Murphy as their help and advice has been of invaluable importance to the project to date.   
The project committee comprises of: Chairman: John Roche, 087 13 22 808; Secretary:  Colm Kirwan, 087 23 75 168;  Treasurer: Tomo Burke, 066 71 41 392; PRO: John Reidy, 087 23 59 467   © 2014. 

Dr. Paul Dillon who among other phases of his life was a tutor in the History Department at UCD, saw a part of the collection while it lodged in the Kerry County Library in Tralee. His comments on it sum up the importance of the entire body of work to the Castleisland area and neighbouring districts.

The following is a selection of Dr. Dillon’s remarks on what he saw:

“This is a very valuable local history collection which clearly took Mr. O’Donohoe many years to compile. It consists of both original documents (and copies of such documents) and his own extensive notes on a wide variety of local topics. The collection’s strengths lie in Mr O’Donohoe’s systematic approach to researching and collecting material on many subjects, and the careful organisation of this material.”

 “Mr. O’Donohoe went to considerable effort to secure original and rare documents relating to the district. These include roll-books of local schools, unpublished memoirs of considerable historical interest, and a great deal of printed material including many booklets issued by local societies and sports clubs. There is a full collection of copies of historical maps of the town. There are many photocopies of original documents which may themselves be difficult to locate, if indeed they survive.”

“Castleisland is fortunate in having such a full historical archive – gathered in one place and well-organised – and it would be a shame if it was not made available to the public as soon as possible. As the material is already so well organised, in clearly marked folders, with various sections arranged thematically, alphabetically and chronologically, it would not require a great deal of reorganisation.”