Real Life Historical Figures in Irish Above All

By Jennifer McClelland-Smith

Inspired by the life of her great aunt, Mary Pat Kelly continues the incredible saga of Nora Kelly in Irish Above All (now available in paperback). Maybe it’s the real life inspiration, or maybe it’s just a mark of great historical fiction, but this novel had us raring to read up on its wild real life inspiration.

In Irish Above All, it’s 1923 and Nora Kelly has returned to the United States after ten years abroad in Paris, where she established herself as a photographer (quite the feat for a woman in 1923!). Her life only gets more exciting as she witnesses history and encounters some of the twentieth century’s most notable figures. Here’s a glimpse at the real life characters that color Irish Above All, plus a sneak peek at how they and Nora cross paths!

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, distant cousin to former president Theodore Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt – Nora Kelly is a witness to history as she photographs the attempted assassination of FDR. Roosevelt was less than a month away from his inauguration when he gave a fateful impromptu speech in Miami, Florida; fueled by his “hate for all rulers,” Giuseppe Zangara shot at and missed the newly elected president, mortally wounding Chicago mayor Anton Cermak instead.

Joseph “Joe” Kennedy – While accompanying Roosevelt on his trip to Florida, Nora finds herself in the company of Joseph Kennedy. Not just a leader in the Irish-American community and the Democratic party in the early twentieth century, he was the patriarch of a storied political dynasty that continues to this day. Kennedy would work closely with FDR as the first head of both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Maritime Commission, as well as the US Ambassador to the UK.
Joe Kennedy, father of the political dynasty
Ed Kelly – Nora’s cousin Ed Kelly succeeded Anton Cermak as mayor of Chicago after his untimely death. He remained in office from 1933 to 1947 and oversaw the 1933 World’s Fair and the completion of Soldier Field.
General Italo Balbo – Nora Kelly’s camera captured figures on the right side of history—and the wrong side as well. General Italo Balbo was a top general and “heir apparent” to Benito Mussolini. The National Fascist Party leader still has a presence in Chicago today: Mussolini gifted the city with a monument after Balbo’s visit to the 1933 World’s Fair. There is currently an effort to remove the monument and rename Balbo Drive, which runs through downtown Chicago.
Al Capone – Since he was at her cousin Ed Kelly’s side during his rise through Chicago’s political machine, it was inevitable that legendary gangster Al Capone would become a presence in Nora Kelly’s story. Capone was also a major factor both times Big Bill Thompson was elected mayor of Chicago (after Thompson hinted that he’d reopen illegal saloons).
Al Capone, infamous American gangster

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