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BARTHOLOMEW BROSNAN KELLIHER 1862 – 1929 ‘GOD BLESS THE BRIDGE BUILDER’

John D. Kelliher married Johanna (nee Brosnan) and they had seven children; three boys and four girls. Some of these children were born in bad times. The nation was reeling from the tragic events of the Great Famine from 1848 onwards – in which at least one million Irish people died from either starvation or disease. This was an all-time peak time of emigration, with one quarter of a million people leaving Ireland in the year 1858. In that year the emigration rate from County Kerry was a staggering 40%. Queen Victoria was officially the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. In Dublin, James Stephens formed the Irish Republication Brotherhood, the forerunner of the Fenians, the Irish Volunteers and the I.R.A. of 1916 Easter Rising. The population of Ireland as a whole was approximately 6,000,000.

1862: Bartholomew Brosnan Kelliher is born in a little cottage at Ballyplimoth, Cordal, Castleisland, on December 26th – the third son of John and Johanna Kelliher.

1866-1886: Educated at Kilmurry National School, and Castleisland Boys National School. Further education under Jesuit Fathers and Dublin University. Served as an apprentice to James Dillon, a civil engineer in Dublin. Kelliher was engaged on railway surveys in Ireland for the Mitchelstown, Fermoy and the Galway and Clifden railway lines and on improvements to the River Barrow.

1886: At the age of 24, Kelliher leaves his native country and goes to the United States to join the Union Pacific Railway, where from January 1887 to October 1890 he works as a topographer and assistant engineer.

1890: Kelliher joins the Northern Pacific Railway for six years as he acts as Resident and Assistant Engineer, (mainly on the Cascade and Pacific Divisions) until September 1896.

1896: Returning to the Union Pacific Railway for a short period, he works as assistant engineer until July, 1897.

1897: B.B. abandons his work on the railroads for about a year and a half, joining the Annaconda Copper Mines of Butte, Montana where he works as a mining engineer until October, 1898.

1898: Kelliher is again working on the Union Pacific Railway System, this time as Division Engineer on the Oregon Short Line, where he stays for over three years until February, 1903.

1903: For over ten months Kelliher holds the position of Resident Engineer in charge of location on the Denver North Western and Pacific Railway. He stays there until December, 1903 when he prepares to go to Canada.

1904: In January, B.B. Kelliher joins the ranks of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway of Canada and is quickly promoted from assistand engineer to district engineer to division engineer. On June 1st, 1904 Kelliher marries his first wife, Miss Anna Isabel Souter.

1905: August, 1905 Bartholomew B. Kelliher, at the age of 42 is appointed Chief Engineer of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway of Canada. The GTP Railway line is completed under his direction. On April 7th, 1914 Kelliher drives the last spike on the Grand Trunk Pacific line.

1908: In September, 1908 a personal trauma strikes Kelliher as his wife Anna dies.

1909: The Village of Kelliher is born – named after the Chief Engineer B.B. Kelliher. The Village is located on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway line, in the province of Saskatchewan, Central Canada. Its population today is about 400.

1914: Due to ill health, Kelliher resigns as Chief Engineer from the Grand Trunk Pacific. He returns to Ireland for three years.

1917: B.B goes back to the United States to supervise the construction of the Spruce Railroad on the Olympic Peninsula for the United States government.

1921-1923: Kelliher serves as assistant t the President of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railway.

1923: B.B. Kelliher retires from railway service and returns to live in Ireland. By this time it seems he had married his second wife, Miss Creusie O’Connor from Wexford. They were married in London but the date is not known. Little information is available to date on his later years, but it is believed that he resided at Sandycove in Dublin. It is also believed that Kelliher lost a considerable amount of money during the Wall Street crash of the 1920’s.

1929: On November 7, B.B. Kelliher (aged 68) died in a London nursing home. He is buried in Crosstown Cemetary, Crosstown, Wexford, Ireland. Carved on his headstone are the words: ‘God Bless the Bridge Builder.”

It should be remembered that B.B. Kelliher was hailed as the greatest railroad engineer of his time – mainly for his work on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and his greatest engineering skill in the mountains. Through merit & ability alone he worked his way to the top of a very tough and demanding profession. He achieved world wide recognition, yet his life and work remained fro many years, somewhat a mystery.

The fact that he left no family and his work took him half way across the world is perhaps the reason why his life story has remained unfinished. Perhaps, someday we will fully know and appreciate, - ‘The Master of Mountains” – B.B. Kelliher.

Written and researched by Con Quinlivan, August, 1988

Note: B.B. Kelliher’s nearest relative grand nieces are Bea (Mary) Breen and Daisy o’Connor of Castleisland and Joseph O’Connell of Ohio, USA.

Story donated to the Kelliher Museum by Grand Niece Mary (Bea) Breen, Great Grand Niece Shirley Higgins and Great, Great Grand Nieces Christine, Rosaleen & Patricia Higgins from their visit to Kelliher, SK in July, 2007 to learn more about their relative B.B. Kelliher.

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