Regarding the Cardinal's connection with the Parish of
Clonegal, if we examine a baptismal record of St. Brigid's
Church, Clonegal we will find it states that a baby daughter
of Thomas and Kitty Kehoe, of the townland of Kilbride in
the parish of Clonegal, was baptised in the church. The
baby's name was Ellen, with Larry and Anne Fitzpatrick as
Like most children of her time. Ellen received a
fundamental education. She grew into a handsome girl,
enjoying the carefree life of a child in her beloved
Kilbride. At the age of 16 she left home to go to America.
After some time in the States she met and married a man
called Conway. A daughter of that marriage married a man
called William Spellman, a store owner of Whitman, Mass.
The Spellman’s had five children, three boys and two girls.
One of the boys, Francis Joseph was born on May 4,
1889 in Whitman, Mass. His father was a prosperous grocer
who, as well as running a large store, owned a big country
house where Francis, his two brothers and two sisters were
brought up. As a boy, Francis grew to have a special love
for his grandmother who told him stories of her home in
Ireland; She encouraged him to study, and lived to see him
enter Fordham University in 1911. One of the sad moments of
his life came in 1914 when the granny he loved died at the
age of 80 years.
It was this Francis Joseph who was later to become
Cardinal Francis Joseph Spellman of New York.
Once in Fordham, he quickly became prominent in the
college debating and dramatic circles. He entered the North
American College in Rome, where he was ordained in 1916 at
the age of 27. He celebrated his first Mass in his
hometown of Whitman.
He now moved rapidly up the promotional ladder of the
church. In 1922, he became Chancellor of Boston
Diocese. He returned to Rome in 1925 and was made a
Monsignor by Pope Pius XI. Pius XII consecrated him a Bishop
in 1932 and 1939 he became Archbishop of New York.
He was a man of direct ways and was prepared to meet
all creeds and classes. The fact that he could speak to some
of the emigrants in their own tongue made him popular with a
section of the populace that he might otherwise have never
What is not commonly known about the Cardinal is that
his knowledge of languages, and his ability to travel,
caused him to have some strange assignments. One of
the most interesting must surely have been in 1931 when he
was selected to smuggle the Pope's Encyclical out of Italy
to Paris. We must remember that at this time, Rome was under
Fascist rule and in trying to bring such an important
document out of the country, against the wishes of the
rulers, he was taking his life in his hands.
During the journey from Rome to Paris he was shot at
but escaped injury. When he eventually got to Paris he
translated the Encyclical and delivered it to the world.
He was involved with the American armed forces during
the Second World War. It was in this connection and while on
a trip to Europe in 1942 that he visited Ireland. He was now
53. It was during this visit that he mentioned to Fr.
Francis Hickey of St. Patrick's, Kiltegan, that he had
relations in County Carlow. With the help of some friends,
Fr. Hickey located who they were and, as a result of his
findings, some ten years later, on October 31, 1953, this
man of many talents, a prince of the Church, stood in the
wind swept Kildavin churchyard and said a silent prayer for
the grandmother he had known so well and the relations he
had never seen.
The Spellman Hall in Kildavin Co Carlow or Spellman
Park, home of the local football and hurling club, must be
known by thousands of people from many parts of Ireland. The
numbers who have passed through the doors of this
magnificent hall and took time to glance at the picture of
the Cardinal above the doorway must at some point have
wondered what he had to do with the hall or why did the hall
bear his name.
The same must surely be said of the splendid Spellman
Park sports complex. Not only is it one of the finest GAA
parks in Leinster but it also encompasses Tennis, Basketball
and a Pitch and Putt course. There are also Dressing rooms,
Showers, Function rooms and a Boardroom.
Situated in one of the most picturesque settings one
could imagine near the junction of the rivers Slaney and
Deny with the heather purpled slopes of the Blackstairs
Mountains to the South West, Spellman Park lies near the
heart of Spellman country.
To find out why the parish of Clonegal should consider
a New York Cardinal as one of its most illustrious sons we
must turn back the pages of time to September 16, 1934, when
the local GAA committee contacted the Cardinal by letter.
Like many other GAA clubs in the country at this time, the
members of the Kildavin club could be compared to the Irish
after the Seige of Limerick, the 'Wild Geese" who wandered
without a home.
They depended upon the generosity of the local farmers
to supply them with a pitch from year to year. It came to
their knowledge that a suitable area of land was for sale
near the village of Kildavin,
After some meetings it was decided that every effort
should be made to acquire this land, and it was then that
the suggestion was made. As Cardinal Spellman had
furnished a hall in Kildavin, his love for the parish of his
ancestors might once again lead to a gesture of generosity
to the club.
Upon this decision, club solicitor, Joseph A.
Cunningham was directed to contact the Cardinal and the
following letter was the result:
Greetings from South Carlow
and North Wexford. I act on behalf of the Kildavin
Gaelic Football and Hurling Club. As you are aware, the
only recreational facilities heretofore in Kildavin are
those provided by a magnificent hall donated, to the
parish by you. In recent months the members of the
Kildavin Gaelic Football and Hurling Club have decided
that the time had come when the district should be
provided with its own grounds for football, hurling and
It may be that their project
had its promptings in the expressed concern of the late
John F. Kennedy that the citizens of his country should
pay more attention to the matter of personal physical
fitness that appeared to be the rule during the period
of his presidency.
It is a noted feature in the
Ireland of today that there is a widespread concern,
even in remote parts of the country, for the providing
of swimming pools and other recreational facilities for
For example, the residents
of the village of Bunclody on the Carlow/Wexford border
are providing their own swimming pool by largely
voluntary efforts and the parishioners of the half
parish of Kildavin have rallied with fair enthusiasm
behind the committee of the Kildavin club in the
raising of the funds for their field, which would
comprise same seven acres and lies close to the banks
of the River Slaney.
I have been instructed to
enquire from your Eminence as to whether the Kildavin
Football and Hurling Club have your permission to name
their park, 'The Cardinal Spellman Park'. They feel
that this tribute to you is richly deserved because of
your unbounding kindness to the parish of Kildavin in
the provision of the magnificent hall.
Go Soirbhighiadh Dia Dibh,