Dan Kelleher MBE MC


Daniel Kelleher was born in Rathmore, County Kerry, in 1909, and ordained in the Archdiocese of Liverpool in 1934. He was commissioned as a 'Padre' in the Royal Army Chaplains Department (RAChD) on 26 March 1941 and in August of that year embarked for Egypt with the 1st Armoured Division. He was present during almost every major battle fought by the Eighth Army throughout the North African Desert campaign. After serving with a Beach Group during the invasions of Sicily and Italy, he was posted to 38 (Irish) Brigade in early December 1943.

The padres with the Irish Brigade were Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic and Methodist. Following its fighting north of the River Sangro, Father Dan was attached to the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers. The Faughs appear to have claimed Father Dan as their own rather than him being appointed specifically to the Battalion. He served with the Faughs for the next 18 months as the Irish Brigade advanced from the central Apennine mountains to the River Po.

Dan Kelleher was described as a fine priest and a man of indomitable courage whose motto was 'Put your trust in God'. He appeared to practise what he preached as in the thick of battle he would be seen, blackthorn in hand and, forsaking a helmet, wearing his caubeen while moving around the positions offering comfort to the wounded and consolation to the dying. Mass was an important and consoling ritual for many men of the Irish Brigade and Father Dan was the first to remind them as such. He celebrated Mass for 6 Inniskillings on Monte Castellone on 9 April 1944 in full view of the Germans who respected the occasion, whereas the Church of England chaplain of 11 Brigade reported that he could expect German fire while celebrating Holy Communion elsewhere in the mountains. During one Mass, Father Dan was preaching to the men, apparently with his eyes closed in concentration and said:

When things are bad and you are up the line you go out of your way to find me and make your peace with God. But when you are out of danger I never see you at all. Believe me, (his voice rising at this point) if it takes a good 'hefty' shell to bring you to the Sacraments, then it is a gift from God, (continuing with a faint smile) even if it does come from a German 88'.

On 6 April 1944, close to the village of Cáira to the north of Monte Cassino, Father Dan Kelleher was at Battalion Headquarters when a platoon in Cáira came under German artillery fire and sustained casualties. The Padre quickly moved forward to the village and, despite the heavy shelling, carried wounded men to shelter in a ruined building. As always, Dan Kelleher, was quick to comfort the badly wounded men and also assisted the stretcher bearers and medics in dressing wounds. The citation describing his actions on that day included the following:

His cheerfulness and practical assistance undoubtedly saved the lives of two men and gave fresh proof of his unfailing devotion to duty.

For his actions in Cáira, Father Daniel Kelleher was awarded the Military Cross (MC) with confirmation published in the Supplement to The London Gazette, dated 24 August 1944.

Following visits to liberated Rome, Father Dan had enlisted several young curates in the Vatican to serve as additional RC padres in the Brigade; one of them later recalled his time with the Brigade as an outstanding experience. These were men who had studied at the Pontifical Irish College and, having been ordained in Rome, couldn't make their way back to Ireland.

After the war, his peacetime service as Padre earned the award of Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Year's Honours List on 1 January 1954. Sadly, on 15 June, 1956, Father Kelleher died as the result of a traffic accident in Berlin.

[This article includes input kindly presented by Richard Doherty, military historian, author and broadcaster.]