Keeping it Kelly
The Kelly Family’s Celtic folk-pop and vagabond image won them a cult following – and not a little derision. A decade after the band broke up, the siblings say their American, Irish and German roots make them feel at home everywhere and nowhere
Kathy, Patricia and other siblings agree their father wasn’t perfect, but say he was more free spirit than tyrant, more artist than businessman. Kathy, who managed much of the family’s business affairs in the later years, suggests this independent streak was both their strength and downfall. “We got too big too fast, we should have cut things down sooner or handed over to professional management.”
After a difficult decade the Kelly castle was sold off last year, liberating family members financially and leaving them free to pursue their own careers. Now aged between 31 and 51, they live with their own Kelly families in the US, Germany and Ireland. All who spoke to The Irish Times were forthcoming and friendly.
The Kelly family have been handed, twice over, a fate familiar to both emigrants and touring musicians; they feel at home everywhere and nowhere. And what of their much vaunted Irish connection? Maite says she feels closer to her mother’s Finnish-German roots.
“As a child, my father’s typical Irish-American nostalgia for his Irish roots annoyed me,” she said. Her older siblings say they feel closer to Ireland. Their lack of success in Ireland then means they enjoy the anonymity there now.
“I am European: I feel comfortable in France and Spain, but I have an Irish passport and that is my heritage,” says Patricia. “I can see how it gets on people’s nerves but, long before we had our success, we always said we were Irish.”
After weathering decades of success and derision, the Kelly Family have mothballed the successful Irish vagabond image, but their connection to their spiritual home remains alive – and deeply felt.
Puffy shirts and tartan: The Kelly Family on YouTube
YouTube is a treasure trove for anyone curious about the Kelly Family’s legacy. The most-watched video (15 million hits) is their biggest hit: power ballad An Angel. The video showcases the puffy shirts and the long hair aesthetic they favoured in the mid-1990s, as well as their stadium-filling appeal.
Their earliest hit, Who’ll Come With Me, is there too, an explosion of green tartan with a rare performing role for the bearded patriarch Daniel Kelly.
Another cult favourite is a young Angelo Kelly channelling Elvis in the novelty song Ain’t Gonna Pee-Pee my Bed Tonight.
As in life, the Kelly Family divide YouTube opinion. One response to Pee-Pee is: “Once you get past the polio dance and the creepy Father Time figure [Dan Kelly], this song has an incredibly focused and important message.”
For an overview of the Kelly Family oeuvre, watch Live at the Lorelei on the banks of the Rhine, at the peak of their popularity. All the big hits are here, as well as the euphoric, often hysterical fans.