Amelia Gardner Kelly was born in Agra, India, in 1882. Her father, Frederick Searle Gardner, worked for one of the major tea companies prior to becoming a Protestant Missionary with the British Army. Amelia was educated by Catholic nuns in India and secretly converted to Catholicism at about the age of 14. When her conversion was discovered by her father, she was thrown out of the family home. She received training from the British Field Surgeon in India and worked as a nurse, as well as governess to Frederick Gough (House of Gough). She met and married my great-grandfather, John Kelly, (born in Westport, Co Mayo), while he was serving as a Connaught Ranger in India, 1907 (2nd Battalion, 88th Reg.). Amelia and John moved to Ireland in 1908, and lived in The Curragh, Co Kildare (1911 Census).
Sometime between 1911 and 1915, John and Amelia moved to Dublin. They lived at Tarview Cottages, located very near Glasnevin Cemetery. One of Amelia’s sisters was married to the live-on caretaker of Glasnevin. The sister and brother-in-law’s house is believed to be where the museum stands today. In December 1915, Amelia was certified as a nurse midwife at The Rotunda Hospital. In February 1916, she gave birth to her fifth child, my grandmother Theresa while John was sent to France to fight in World War I.
The night of the Easter Rising, Amelia found several young Irish lads hiding in the cemetery at Glasnevin. They had been participating in the Rising and had just run from the City Center in fear for their lives. They begged Amelia to hide them. As she had access to the keys of the crypts (via her sister and brother-in-law), she hid the men down in the crypts at great risk to herself and her family. She spent the next 3 weeks carrying food and weapons into the crypts for the men. She carried the pistols by strapping them to her legs and body, hidden under her midwife nurses uniform (The Rotunda was a hub of information so it’s quite possible that is where she received the weapons). She also used her baby’s pram and nurse’s bag to carry papers and food. She transported dispatches right in front of the British guns downtown, hidden in the pram and her bag. She was never stopped or questioned once the soldiers saw her uniform and pram.
Two of the men died during the Civil War of 1922. Amelia wrote to a third man sometime later asking if he remembered when she had hidden him in the crypts. To no one’s surprise, he wrote back saying that he was nowhere near Dublin at that time.
Like many other people who had emigrated to Ireland, Amelia had quickly adopted Ireland, it’s people, and it’s cause as her own. We felt it was time to share the story of her brave actions. Amelia and John moved back to The Curragh, where they had four more children. She was known as “The Healing Woman” and people would bring their children from miles around to receive medical care. Amelia and John moved back to Dublin in 1947. Amelia died in March 1963, at the age of eighty and John lived another two years, dying in 1965 at the age of ninety.
Footnote: We do not know if Amelia ever shared this information with her husband John; of course at the time he had no idea what she was up to while he was in France.
Photo: Amelia Kelly in her official midwife portrait