Thurles Man Architect of Roman Catholic America

It is just an idea for Thurles Town Council, North Tipperary Co.Council and the Principal Landscape Architect operating with URS Ireland Ltd., latter tasked with planning and managing the upcoming refurbishment of Liberty Square.

Proposed Idea: Check the names of all great Irish men, natives of Thurles, Co Tipperary who have made a considerable contribution not just to Ireland, but to the world. Have their names cast in brass and placed into our pavements on Liberty Square, in similar style to the now world famous “Hollywood Walk of Fame.”

Believe me when I state that you will be greatly surprised at the contribution Thurles has made down through the years, as indeed my profile sketched hereunder is a true testament.

Death the Leveller,” by Poet/Dramatist James Shirley B.A. (1596 – 1666)

 “The glories of our blood and state are shadows, not substantial things;     
there is no armour against fate; death lays his icy hand on kings.     
Sceptre and crown must tumble down and in the dust be equal made,
with the poor crooked scythe and spade.”

Architect Patrick Charles Keely (1816 – 1896) today sleeps peacefully in Holy Cross Cemetery, Kings County, New York, USA, (Plot: St Peters, range E). Patrick incapacitated by age, died following a heat stroke and rests today in this cemetery with organized crime figures like Louis Capone (1896 – 1944) and Frankie Yale (1893 – 1928), with U.S. Representatives John Michael Clancy (1837 – 1903) and Ardolph Loges Kline (1858 – 1930), with racehorse trainer “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons (1874 – 1966) and jockey Edward R. Garrison (1868 – 1930), with Major League Baseball player and manager Gil Hodges (1924 -1972) and the Irish-American businessman William Russell Grace (1832-1904).


Patrick Charles Keely, Aug 9th, 1816 – Aug 11th, 1896.

In a telephone conversation with one of our regular history readers here on Thurles.Info recently it was correctly suggested to me that Ireland and Tipperary should perhaps begin to celebrate the period of the Great Irish Famine, not only through just viewing its darker moments, mainly depicted through forced emigration, death, disease and starvation, but also from the viewpoint of our countries major contributions to every continent worldwide, during this same catastrophic period in our countries history.

Focusing on the latter, let us take a close look at the architect Patrick Charles Keely (possibly originally spelt Kiely) who was born here in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, “in comfortable circumstances,” on August 9th 1816.

Little is truly known of his early education, however he most certainly was apprenticed to his father John, latter a Kilkenny native who came to Thurles as skilled carpenter and builder (Possibly John Kiely of Stradavoher Street, Thurles, whom history records as a listed carpenter and builder.) and who is credited with building St. Patrick’s College in 1829-37 and the Thurles then St. Mary’s Fever Hospital begun in 1838-40.

At the age of twenty six, Patrick emigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn. He immigrated through Castle Gardens to Brooklyn, New York, in 1842, which may have been the reason for the spelling of his name changing from ‘Kiely,’ to ‘Keely.’  Castle Clinton or Fort Clinton, once known as Castle Garden, is a circular sandstone fort now located in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, New York City. It should be noted that since many Irish people then coming into America were illiterate, (Not so Mr Keely). Names often were spelt by those recording immigrants incorrectly, based on individual verbal accents and pronunciations. Castle Gardens is perhaps best remembered as America’s first immigration station (pre-dating Ellis Island), then giving access to more than 8 million people worldwide then arriving in the U.S. particularly between 1855 and 1890.

Arrived at a time when Catholicism in the United States was much on the increase, Keely initially worked as a carpenter for a number of years without attracting much attention. However it was during this time, his path crossed with the Rev. Sylvester Malone, a Roman Catholic priest.  Fr. Malone had been sent to form a parish near the waterfront at Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, in 1846. Now together with Keely, they would work on plans to build a Gothic style church. A Gothic revivals had begun in the mid-18th-century continuing throughout 19th century in Europe and America and was largely chosen as the construction style for most ecclesiastical and university buildings.

Thus the new Church of Sts. Peter and St. Paul was to be Patrick C. Keely’s first designed ecclesiastical edifice, duly dedicated in 1848. Regrettably, facing a decline in parish enrolment during the 1950’s this structure was eventually demolished in February of 1957.  However not before an article in the “Irish World” on September 19th, 1896 entitled, “The Late Architect Keely,” described a requiem Mass to be celebrated at Sts. Peter and Paul Church one month following Keely’s own death. The article gives us a ‘mind’s eye’ glimpse of the decorations for his Requiem Mass; “The altar was draped in purple, and in front of the altar, in the centre aisle, stood a handsome catafalque (platform or box used to stand in place of the body of the deceased) and candelabra. Two palms surmounted the catafalque, while the candelabra contained twenty-six lights. A special musical programme was rendered under the direction of the organist, Frederick Bradles, and the choir of the church.”

Patrick Keely’s reputation for honesty and integrity quickly now made him a popular choice amongst the hierarchy and clergy of all main religious denominations throughout the eastern United States and his would eventually lead to his designing over 600 buildings that would include The University Of Notre Dame Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Saint Francis Xavier in New York New York, Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Cleveland Ohio, and The Immaculate Conception Church in Boston, to name but a few. The locations of his churches range from Nova Scotia all the way south to Louisiana and as far west as Iowa.

He was called on to prepare plans for many new churches, by those who had observed, first hand, evidence of his skill, not just as a carpenter and builder but also as a wood carver. Evidence of his carving ability can be seen at the St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, in Boston’s oldest neighbourhood of Charlestown, which today proudly displays a Hammerbeam ceiling, personally hand carved by Keely.

Keely was the second man to receive a gold medal annually awarded by the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, in recognition of his architectural genius. His design for the Jesuit church in Sixteenth Street, New York, is still considered as the best example of Roman ecclesiastical architecture, anywhere in today’s America.

Keely’s funeral took place after 9.30am Mass, from St. John’s chapel, Clermont and Greene Avenues, with the Rev. J.H. Mitchell, chancellor of the diocese, being celebrant followed by interment in the family plot in the cemetery of The Holy Cross. At the time of his death Patrick Charles Keely was survived by eight children, (Two sons, one unmarried daughter and five married daughters).

Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam dílis.


3 comments to Thurles Man Architect of Roman Catholic America

  • Proinsias

    Great idea about the plaques, in fact I think you should be completely involved in the re-design process even as an ‘ideas consultant’

  • Andy Golebiowski

    I’m looking for a larger-sized image of Patrick Keely that I may use in a documentary about a church he designed. Might you be able to point me in the right direction ?

    Thank you,

    Andy Golebiowski
    Daybreak TV
    Buffalo, N.Y.

  • George Willoughby

    Hi Andy,
    Word has gone out and one of my best bloodhounds has been given the scent. Hope to talk soon.

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