Joan Kelly (c.1820 – 1898), Irvine-born poet.

Very little is known about Joan Kelly.

She was born in Irvine about 1820 to John Kelly, from the Isle of Man and Mary Allan from Kilwinning.  Joan’s father died not long after her birth and Joan lived with her mother for over 50 years at Bridgegate and at High Street.  Joan was a muslin sewer and her mother a small grocer.  Mary died in 1870 aged 84, and shortly after that, in 1874, Joan was admitted to Cunninghame Combination Poorhouse for the first time. Over the next 25 years, until her death, Joan was admitted and discharged from the Poorhouse several times.

Irvine High Street in the Early 19th Century

Joan was clearly an intelligent women interested in both local and world events, and this shows through her poetry which included tributes to many local and national events, including the death of Prince Imperial, Napoleon IV, who was killed by the Zulus during the Anglo-Zulu war in 1879.  Joan was living in the Poorhouse at this time and yet she received a letter of thanks from his mother, Empress Eugenie.

Joan’s poem “A Christmas wish to a Lady” was written for Lady Jane, Countess of Eglinton and Winton, who life of privilege at Eglinton Castle was in sharp contrast to Joan’s.

‘In Memory of the Late Countess of Eglinon and Winton’ by Joan Kelly

Sadly, Joan died in the Poorhouse on 4th October 1898.  Her death certificate records her as dying of “Senile Debility” (old age) aged 70. Joan was uncomfortable at being called a poetess and said “call me not by that empty name, to please is all I ask, a kindly look, a gentle word, will repay me for my task.”