Roger Kiely – The Men of the South

Roger Kiely (principal of Cullen National School 1938-1961) is the central figure on the cover of a new book from UCC entitled the “Atlas of the Irish Revolution“, but for some reason best known to the editors they did not have the courtesy to identify him. He was an intelligence officer with the Millstreet Battalion.

They might have included the description of him by the artist Sean Keating: “Roger Kiely was about the best and finest man I ever knew.  A few years ago I went to look for him in County Cork. I found him a poor school-teacher in a poor little school near Kanturk. I asked him about the others and found that death, poverty and America had claimed them – the Unknown Soldiers.”  (BMH Witness Statement 505). – Jack Lane


Roger’s father John Kiely was a native of Feenagh, Co. Limerick, and taught in Cullen School. He married a local girl, Elizabeth O’ Keeffe in 1884 and they lived in Mullaghroe [4]. Roger was born on June 4th 1896 at Molloghroe, one of eleven children [1][2]. He married another teacher, Hanoria Buckley of Rathduane in 1922 [3]. Roger later became a teacher and was a principal of the Boys School in Cullen from 1938 to 1961 (his wife was the girls principal from 1938-1960). He had a great interest in the Irish Language and in Irish music and formed a school band. He was a member of Sean Moylan’s famous Flying Column. He founded a fife and drum band in Cullen. He edited and got the poems of Dónal Ó Conchúr published. He was Dermie Kiely’s father [1].

There were some nice stories on Roger on the Cullen National School website.


The picture is a part of a larger picture, the famous ‘The Men of the South’ – by Sean Keating

Sean Keating’s Oil on Canvas Painting – ‘The Men of the South’ (1921)

Presented as a heroic frieze with strong nationalist themes, this painting depicts a ‘Flying Column’ of the Irish Republican Army poised in readiness for action. Set within the Irish landscape and based on the artist’s own sketches and photographs of several members of the North Cork Brigade, it is symbolic of courage, heroism, and the long wait for Irish independence. The landscape expresses subtle hints of the Irish tricolour as a nationalist backdrop to the assembled male group. United in purpose and direction, the men look towards the evergreen bay laurel, symbol of victory.
The artist Seán Keating invited his friend Seán Moylan (1888-1957), leader of the North Cork Brigade, and his men to sit for this group portrait in late 1921. This was a period of ceasefire in the Irish War of Independence during which the Anglo-Irish Treaty was being negotiated and out of which the Irish Free State was born. Some of the tension of the time can be sensed in both the atmosphere of the painting and the circumstances surrounding its creation. Arriving at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art where Keating’s studio was located, the group frightened the porter who had not been expecting their visit and who suspected that either he or the artist were in danger. Keating, however, immediately took quick studies of the men and used his time with them fruitfully over the following two weeks. Although recognisable, the six men in the painting – Jim Riordan, John Jones, James Cashman, Denis (Denny) O’Mullane, Roger Kiely, and Dan Brown – are depicted as being older than their years at the time. Notably, Moylan does not feature in the painting as he was a wanted man at the time.
Men of the South was well-received when it was first shown at the Munster Arts Club Exhibition (1922) in Cork. Given its importance, the painting was subsequently purchased from the artist for £200 in 1925 by the Crawford Art Gallery’s Gibson Bequest Committee. [ref: The Crawford Art Gallery]

Keating actually made two versions of the painting. The above painting (which was painted second) hangs in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, and the below version hangs in the Hugh Lane Gallery:

There is a nice audio on RTÉ here on Keating and his paintings: here.


Atlas of the Irish Revolution won the  ‘best Irish published book of the year‘ at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards 2017. [1]




[1] 1911 census
[2] 1901 census
[3] Marriage of Roger Kiely and Hanoria Buckley, 19th September 1922
[4] Marriage of John Kiely and Lizzie O’Keeffe, 9th September 1884

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