A GENERAL’S ROMANCE – A VALENTINE’S DAY CONTRIBUTION FOR EHISTORY!

by mariocorrigan on February 14, 2008

Famous General’s Romance Revealed.
 
He Went To Egypt Broken-hearted
 
By E. TRAVERS-HUTCHIN
 
 
            IN AN OLD GREY FARMHOUSE IN COUNTY KILDARE, MILES FROM THE NEAREST TOWN, LIVES THE WOMAN LORD KITCHENER OF KHARTUM WANTED TO MARRY.
 
            All through his later life he was reputed to be a woman-hater. He never married. He was brief to the point of rudeness with women he had to meet. But his love for Miss Katie Kelly, farmer’s daughter whom he met when stationed at the Curragh in the late seventies, was never forgotten.
 
Now I can reveal their story – for the first time.
 
“My dear little Katie” he called her in his letters to her after they were parted. “I am only happy when I breathe the same air as she does,” he once told a friend.
 
HIS STERNNESSS VANISHED
 
With her, his sternness vanished. The rather solemn young officer relaxed, became gay, as they rode together down the green lanes that led from her home at Hill of Rathbride, near the great military plain where he was serving.
Now she lives alone, her only companion a single maidservant, in the ivy-covered farmhouse where the great soldier came to visit her, a little old lady of nearly 80.
The garden is overgrown with weeds. The paddock where they jumped the splendid hunters for which Miss Kelly and her brothers were famous needs mowing. Hens and ducks are the only inhabitants of the stables. No laughing visitors come up the lane to Hill of Rathbride now, except perhaps a distant cousin during the Curragh race week.
 
How They Met.
 
Miss Kelly had just come home from her Paris education when Kitchener arrived to join the 24th Regiment at the Curragh, then one of the principal camps of the British Army.
Her father, a gentleman farmer who had himself been a student of the Irish College in Paris, had just died. Her mother and her brothers John and Joseph were running the farm.
To Katie the brothers gave the mare Charter, daughter of the famous sire King John.
The foals of Charter were worth 100gns. a time to her. She sold them to the young officers at the nearby camp – among them the man who was to become Lord Kitchener.
That was how they met. They had been introduced by Dr. James Kavanagh, who had formerly been in Cairo, and who gave the young officer his first knowledge of the country in which he was to build up his reputation as soldier and builder of Empire.
Day after day Kitchener rode over to Hill of Rathbride from the camp. He formed a strong friendship for the brothers Kelly. For their sister his feelings soon exceeded mere friendship.
Life was gay for these tow young people.
But there was one shadow in their lives. Miss Kelly’s mother disapproved of young Kitchener paying court to her daughter. Indeed, she did not approve at all of their friendship.
For the Kellys were Catholics – and devout ones. Miss Kelly’s father had originally been intended for the Church himself. The family had a tradition of devoted loyalty to the Church of Rome.
Kitchener was a Protestant.
It was on that rock that the romance was to founder.
Mrs. Kelly’s opposition became an increasing barrier between the lovers.
The soldiers’ love for the pretty Irish country girl became more and more hopeless.
Finally he accepted an opportunity to transfer to Egypt. There, at least, was a chance of forgetting his unhappy romance in work that excited his interest.
He wrote to Katie Kelly to tell her of his decision. In some way or other the letter was withheld from her until after he had departed from the Curragh.
She first heard the news when she rode over one day and met the wife of the Provost-Marshal, Captain Burrows. She was broken-hearted, could not understand how it could have happened that he had gone with apparently, no word of explanation.
It was not until much later that she discovered that he had indeed written to her. She never discovered why the letter was delayed.
Later, too, she heard that as he flung himself on to cushions of the cab that drove him to the station the future general said bitterly that his heart was broken. For he, in his turn, could not understand why she has not replied to his letter.
 
They Never Met
 
Kitchener went to Egypt, achieved honour, fame, title.
Katie Kelly stayed in the County Kildare. Her horses brought her local fame. She was able to smile bravely.
They never met again, although after the mystery of Kitchener’s farewell letter had been cleared up they wrote to each other.
And now the British camp at the Curragh has bone; it is a new race of soldiers, the soldiers of Eire, who ride down the lanes past Hill of Rathbride. They wear uniforms that are strange to the old lady who lives there, the sole survivor of her family.
Kitchener is dead. John Kelly has been dead for three years; Joseph for 18 months.
Only Katie Kelly is left – alone with memories.

A hint of romance on the edge of the Curragh is a worthy contribution for Valentine’s Day. 

 

[From an article donated to the library from Colette McCormack; typed and edited by Breid Kelly courtesy of Cill Dara Historical Society]

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