Friday 5 October 2012

On the Trail of Red Kelly (Part 1)

When I researched the Ned Kelly Touring Route over four years ago here in Victoria, Australia, I became aware of another significant location related to the story of the infamous bushranger who was hanged in Melbourne in 1880.

The village of Moyglass in County Tipperary, Ireland, was a place that Ned never visited, born as he was in Australia. But in 1840 his father, a poor casual labourer named John "Red" Kelly, lived there.

Yielding to impulse and stealing two pigs from a house in nearby Ballysheehan, Red's fate was sealed - convicted of the theft, he was sentenced to transportation as a convict to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania).

Freed in 1848, he settled north of Melbourne and fathered seven children - including Ned. The famous saga of the Kelly Gang had begun.

I love piecing together fragments of history in person, so I was delighted to be able to visit Moyglass last year courtesy of Tourism Ireland and my cheerful driver for the day, Frank Moore.

From Dublin we headed to Fethard, an attractive town founded around 1200 in King John's reign, and still in possession of its medieval walls and church:

Here we met up with our guide for the day, local history guru and guide Terry Cunningham:

The old pub we rendezvoused at, McCarthy's, offered a surprisingly broad range of services, as you'll note from the sign...

... and yes, the publican did later assure me they're licensed to act as undertakers should the need arise. I was also interested to notice that, by odd coincidence, the pub was opened the same year that Red nicked those fateful pigs.

Driving through beautiful green countryside of fields bordered by low stone walls, we soon pitched up at Moyglass. Don't get carried away with anticipation of its cosmopolitan bustle, though - it was basically a cemetery and this pub:

But what a pub. The Ned Kelly Village Inn was clearly a shrine to the village's most famous descendant, with Kelly signage all over its exterior.

Here's the pub's rather stylish sign, with Kelly and horse rampant:

And Ned in full armour:

The bushranger's famous last words:

And finally, to dispel any doubts about the Kelly connections with Moyglass, Red's family tree:

Unfortunately the pub was closed at that time of day, so we regretfully had to pass on seeing the interior. Or so we thought. We were just about to get back in the car and move on to our next Kelly location, when the pub's owner showed up to do a bit of maintenance.

"Would you like to look inside?" he asked. Would we? We were in like Flynn, er, Kelly within seconds. And what did we see there? I'll save that for the next instalment... [read it here]

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