Miss Annie Kelly

Annie Kelly, 19, was a deported third-class passenger from County Galway, Ireland, who had been detained at Ellis Island after she was discovered to have a heart condition on her  previous passage aboard Lusitania from Ireland to America. Her family in Boston appealed to Boston Mayor James Michael Curley and Massachusetts Congressman James Gallivan for an exemption. Both Curley and Gallivan acted on Annie's behalf, but the Commissioner General of Immigration would not budge. Annie was sent back to Ireland aboard the Lusitania on 1 May 1915, which ended in the loss of her life when the ship was torpedoed on 7 May.


Annie was born in Newgrove, near the village of Newbridge, Mountbellew, County Galway, Ireland on 27 September 1895 as one of twelve children, six brothers and five sisters, born to John Francis Kelly and Margaret Brannelly. Annie was the ninth child. Annie's Uncle Patrick Brannelly, Margaret's brother, had immigrated to Roxbury, Massachusetts in the United States, and one by one Annie's siblings followed. First her second-oldest brother Thomas, then brothers Michael and John. Annie's father died in 1905, and her oldest brother, Matthew, died of pneumonia in 1908 at age 30, prompting Thomas to return to Ireland. According to the 1911 census, their mother Margaret, at age 57, was already a widow and worked as a farmer. Older brother Thomas was 34, Mary was 20, Bridget (Delia) was 18, Annie herself was 16, Patrick was 14, Sarah was 12, and James, the youngest, was 11. All in the household could read and write and spoke Irish and English. Mary eventually emigrated to America in April 1911 and Delia followed in September 1912. According to the Boston Evening Transcript of 8 May 1915, Thomas returned to Boston and made his home with Patrick, while Mary and Delia made homes of their own (although in actuality they did not marry until 1919 and 1917, respectively). Delia and Annie often wrote letters to each other. Six of these letters from Annie have survived, in which she expressed her desire to join her sister in Boston and needed funds from their brother John to make the trip possible. Annie was set to make the trip in autumn of 1914, but the war and its dangers prompted a delay in travel plans.


She sailed for America aboard Lusitania on 17 April 1915, which arrived in New York on 24 April. Due to the war, Lusitania no longer stopped in Ireland on the westbound crossing, so Annie had to sail from Liverpool. She and had listed her occupation as a housekeeper and was planning to first stay with her Uncle Patrick on 116 Greenville Street, Roxbury, Massachusetts. Annie did not have the legally required $50 to land in America, but she hoped that this would be overlooked, as it often was. Annie's family presumes that Annie traveled aboard Lusitania with Nora Doyle from Boherbannagh, Newbridge, near to Annie's hometown. Nora was the second youngest of ten children born to Pat and Bridget Doyle. Nora was traveling to join her sister Delia Doyle in America. Lusitania's surgeon Dr. James McDermott was in charge of examining third-class passengers en route as part of the quarantine requirements for entry into the United States. Dr. McDermott discovered that Annie had a valvular disorder in her heart, and she was denied entrance to the United States at Ellis Island when Lusitania arrived in New York. The report of her personal interview says that she was planning to support herself, even though Uncle Patrick had promised to assist her. The report also stated her appearance as being frail, that she was certified to have a physical defect that would affect her ability to work, and that her passage was paid by another and not herself. Therefore she was ineligible to land. The American Government's rationale was that her heart defect would prevent her from making a living and she would become a liability to the taxpayers. On 27 April 1915, the Board of Special Inquiry held a hearing in the presence of Annie, her sister Delia, her brother John, and her uncle Patrick. The board reaffirmed the decision to bar her entry to the United States. The board decided that sending her back on the same ship on which she came would not be considered a hardship because her mother and other siblings still lived in Ireland. Furthermore, Annie herself did not even have the $50 needed to land and her family in the United States was not legally obligated to assist her. Annie's appeal against that decision failed, and she was told that she would be deported back to Ireland.

Petitions and deportation

Annie's family sought the help of Mayor James Michael Curley of Boston and US Congressman James A. Gallivan of Massachusetts. Mayor Curley sent a telegram on 30 April to the Commissioner General of Immigration in the Department of Labor affirming that Annie would not become a "public charge" and that her uncle Patrick was a worthy and deserving man whom he knew personally. Congressman Gallivan also sent a telegram on Annie's behalf on 28 April stating his deep interest in the issue. Despite their best efforts, Gallivan received a telegram on 1 May confirming Annie's deportation for that day. Mr. Hampton, the Acting Commissioner General of Immigration, confirmed this decision to Gallivan. While held on Ellis Island, Annie still expressed hope that she would be allowed into the United States and join the family in Boston. Her brother John visited her daily for two hours and brought her pen and paper to write to her sister Delia. Sadly, her wish was not fulfilled, and Annie was deported back to Ireland aboard Lusitania on the voyage that ended in a torpedo, ending both her life and that of the doctor who examined her.

Popular myths

Among the stories that have circulated about Annie since her death included the story of a boyfriend, William Murphy, who had emigrated to the United States before Annie, and that the two were planning to get married when she arrived. No William Murphy likely to have known Annie has been found in either the 1901 or 1911 Census of Population for Ireland. Furthermore, none of the letters to Delia refer to any boyfriend by that name. Her immigration file also shows no evidence that she intended or planned to marry. The immigration file also does not support the popular, often-told story that her brother Thomas had succeeded in having Annie to be allowed to enter the country but were late when they arrived in New York, missing Annie's departure on the Lusitania's last and fatal crossing by half an hour. While it is true that Cauley and Gallivan acted on Annie's behalf, neither of them had the authority to overrule Immigration's decision.

Links of interest

"The True Story of Annie Kelly" by Michael A Martin and James M Farrell
Contributors: James M. Farrell (grandnephew of Annie Kelly) Michael A. Martin (grandnephew of Annie Kelly) Senan Molony, Ireland Eric Sauder, USA References: Martin, Michael A. and James M. Farrell. "The True Story of Annie Kelly." Online. <http://wfha.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/2015-01-AnnieKelly.pdf> Accessed 11 March 2015. Boston Evening Transcript. 8 May 1915, page 15.

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