Sunday, 23 Jun 2024

Profile: 'Elizabeth was kindness herself' – the woman who left €30m to charities

Orphaned at two years of age, married at 21 and widowed less than 20 years later, Elizabeth O’Kelly was fondly remembered for her “tennis parties and splendid teas”.

As of today, she will be remembered for a level of generosity that is rarely or ever seen.

She was 93 when she died in December 2016. However, the details of the staggering amount she has left to five Irish charities have only just emerged.

The five charities, who will receive €6m each, are the Irish Cancer Society; Irish Heart Foundation; Irish Kidney Association; the Irish Society for Autistic Children; and the RNLI in Swords.

Ms O’Kelly, who had family links in France, Markree Castle in Co Sligo, Yorkshire and Maynooth, was married to Major John O’Kelly, who passed away in 1962.

The Irish Cancer Society said her “generosity will provide hope to so many people affected by cancer and deliver improvements in cancer care that would have been impossible otherwise”.

Ms O’Kelly was a very private individual, living her last remaining years in a house on Market Square in Stradbally, Co Laois.

Read more: Laois woman bequeaths €30m to five different charities in her will

Born in France on January 14, 1924, she was the daughter of Yorkshire man Otway Richard Sykes. Her paternal grandmother hailed from Markree Castle, Co Sligo. Her mother’s parents were from Tours in France, where she was born.

A toddler when both of her parents passed away, her paternal aunt Annette Sykes, of Dublin, became her guardian, rearing Elizabeth in French culture. Ms Sykes died in 1944, when Elizabeth was just 20.

A year later, she married Major John William O’Kelly. The couple lived in Ballygoran, Maynooth, Co Kildare, where she was remembered for her “tennis parties and splendid teas”.

Major O’Kelly passed away in 1962. She lived in Leixlip for a period of time, before moving to the Dower House in the grounds of Emo Park, in Co Laois.

According to a biography, she “entertained with an open hand and was kindness herself”. “Her cooking was maintained to be French country cooking at its best.”

Ms O’Kelly had a long association with the County Kildare Archaeological Society, and she “never missed an outing or lecture”. She served on its governing council, and was made an honorary life member.

She was present at Carton House in Maynooth for the relaunch of the Georgian Society, in which she was to become active.

Ms O’Kelly was a “silent partner” in the ‘Leinster Leader’ newspaper group, owning 22pc of shares.

In 2005, the group was sold and it was reported she enjoyed a windfall of €30m.

In Christmas 2005, the 180 staff of the group each received a cheque from an anonymous source for €3,000. When asked about the cheque, Ms O’Kelly told the Irish Independent she couldn’t possibly comment as it was an anonymous donation.

In the last years of her life, Ms O’Kelly moved to Stradbally where she was looked after by her carers. She was 93 when she died on December 11, 2016.

She stated in her will that she wished to be interred alongside her late husband at Moyglare Cemetery, Maynooth.


The CEO of the Irish Kidney Association, Mark Murphy, said this morning that they will be using some of the money to build a support centre in Cork.

“The first thing is we bought a house in Cork recently. I’ve to meet the architects next week and we’re going to convert it into a support centre,” Mr Murphy said on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.

“It backs on to the campus of CUH. It’s accommodation for the family as well as the patients who don’t need to be in hospital.”

Mr Murphy said that they are in negotiations with the HSE to complete a dialysis unit in Tramore, next to their holiday complex.

The charity has also donated some of the money to kidney research, Mr Murphy confirmed.

“We’ve already given some money to renal medical research and given them promises for the next 5 years. 

“We’ve a long way to go, it’s an awful lot of money.”

The other charities to receive donations were the Irish Heart Foundation, the RNLI, the Irish Society for Autism and the Irish Cancer Society (ICS).

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