The green, white and orange Ireland and the “Erin Go Bragh” flags are tangible links to Delaware County’s Irish at the Delaware County Historical Society, although the articles and books in its collections share a fuller story.
And key to the growth of the Irish community in Delaware County were Dennis and Charles Kelly and John P. Donohue, as found in articles at the DCHS.
A native of County Donegal, Dennis Kelly came to the United States poor in 1806 and worked as a day laborer, saving enough to open a mill in the area of Eagle Road in Haverford. He hired many Irish who were having a hard time getting hired in Philadelphia.
He prospered after manufacturing woolen goods for the Army and Navy.
His daughter, Margaret, married Charles Kelly, another Donegal native who opened a mill along Darby Creek in Clifton Heights.
Charles Kelly donated the land and helped finance the construction of St. Charles Borromeo, the oldest Catholic church in Upper Darby, in 1849. This church provided a place of worship for the many Irish Catholics who fled from Philadelphia after the anti-Catholic riots in 1844.
In 1869, the first parochial school in Upper Darby was opened for the children of the parish.
Before St. Charles was built, a priest from St. Denis in Haverford would conduct services in the Kelly Mill in Clifton Heights.
John P. Donohue operated a funeral home with his brother in Philadelphia but had a vacation home at West Chester Pike and Lynn Boulevard at the end of the 19th century.
As more of the Irish community moved out of West Philadelphia, they’d ask if they could use Donohue’s Upper Darby home for viewings rather than going to the city.
By the late 1960s, the requests had become so much, Donohue decided to move his business to Delaware County, and the Donohue family now owns six funeral homes in Delaware and Chester counties.
Besides information about the Kellys and Donohues, the Delaware County Historical Society owns a host of books on Irish genealogy, such as Henry Farrar’s “Irish Marriages, 1771 — 1812.”
Information on Delaware County’s Irish as well as the two flags are housed at the home of the Delaware County Historical Society, located at 408 Avenue of the States in Chester. It is open to the public Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; and the second Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Appointments are also available upon request. Parking is free in the lot behind the building or across the street in the city’s municipal lot.
For more information or for ways to get involved, call 610-359-0832.