By Joe Burns

The subject of the world’s first feature film, which was made in 1906, was of the life and death of the Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly. Since then his story has been told and retold in print and film many times. The latest film, True History of the Kelly Gang (released January 2020), is based on the 2001 Booker Prize winning novel of the same name by Peter Carey, and is the nineteenth motion picture interpretation of what became known in official circles, as the ‘Kelly Outbreak’.

Ned Kelly, the eldest of eight children, was born in 1854, to Irish parents, his father, Red John Kelly had been transported from County Tipperary, and his mother Ellen Quinn’s family immigrated from near the Glens of Antrim, when she was a girl. Red John Kelly died in 1866, when Ned was 12 years old, leaving the Kelly family destitute.

The Kelly Gang, Joe Byrne, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Ned took part in many daring, thrilling and dreadful exploits, including, the Stringybark creek shoot out, the robbing of the bank in Euroa, the taking over of the town of Jerilderie, imprisoning the local police before dressing as the police and robbing the town’s bank.

They also attempted an armed rebellion against the Victoria government, which led to the siege of Glenrowan and the killing of Joe Byrne, Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and the capture of Ned.

To the Victoria state authorities of the late 19th century the Kelly Gang were viewed as outlaws, but for many of the gang’s fellow Irish Catholics they were looked on as champions of the exploited, standing up to a system which seemed devised to kept them in a subjugated state.

The public and everyday face of this oppression was often associated with the Victoria Police force, and it was for the killing of three members of this force that Ned Kelly was executed, 140 years ago, in Old Melbourne Gaol on the 11th November 1880, aged 25.

The three policemen killed were, Sergeant Michael Kennedy from County Westmeath, Constable Thomas Lonigan, from County Sligo, and Constable Michael Scanlan from County Kerry.
They died in what became known as the, ‘Stringybark Creek Shootings’, which took place on the 26th October, 1878.
In October 1880, Judge Sir Redmond Barry sentenced Ned Kelly to be hanged for the murders of Sergeant Michael Kennedy, Constable Thomas Lonigan, and Constable Michael Scanlan.

In the majority of the depictions in film of Judge Sir Redmond Barry, he is portrayed as a one-dimensional autocrat. However, the evidence would suggest otherwise.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own