James Peter Kelly of Bailieborough’s Kelly Cards.

Kelly Cards celebrate 30 years in business

Which came first, the card company or the professional painter? It’s a question that causes James Peter Kelly of Bailieborough’s Kelly Cards to pause. “I’ve always been a painter,” he muses, before reflecting further that he started the card company at only aged 18 years in an attempt to better promote his own work.

James almost exclusively paints in a “triangle” cornering between Bailieborough, Cootehill and Shercock. It’s an area he believes to be “special” in how it encapsulates all an artist should need in terms of inspiration.

“You have beautiful landscapes, picturesque forests, lake and laneways,” gushes James holding up a large stack of cards mirroring a framed oil painting on a desk nearby. The painting - ‘Dappled Road’ - is of a country laneway, fresh and verdant green, filled with summer warmth and sunlit shade. It attracts the viewer to look closer, smell the rendered softness of the air, and elicits a nostalgic affection for a period of reflective peace, surrounded by nature.

“I have to say, that’s probably one of our best sellers,” he states proudly. “Fundamentally I’m a painter, who also publishes greeting cards.”

James is fifth generation Bailieborough. His father was former Irish Army intelligence officer, Captain James Kelly. “I created the company around the art, and my love of art,” James explains. “I’m trying to paint in Cavan as well, which I feel is important. I was at the funeral of Tom McIntyre, a family friend, and got chatting to Michael [Harding] who told me that Tom was absolutely fascinated about this triangle of Cavan caught between Bailieborough, Cootehill and Shercock, and that’s where he did a lot of his writing development. It’s funny I find myself drawn to that same space. There’s a quietness there, between the Drumlins, where inspiration spills forth.”

First establishing the business almost three decades ago, spending the first half of that lifetime in Dublin, Peter and his wife Katie moved back to Bailieborough 15 years ago. The couple have four girls and they run the family business from office space rented at the Bailieborough Business Centre, a community-owned project serving local entrepreneurs.

They publish high-quality greeting cards using images by Irish artists and photographers otherwise only visited in country’s finest galleries and archives including The National Gallery of Ireland, The Ulster Museum, The Hugh Lane Gallery, and The Gorry Gallery.

Their primary target is the tourist market, visitors and the diaspora who yearn for a high-quality memento. Obviously the market took a hit with the advent of technology such as emails and instant messaging, but James regards that people will always appreciate a card that will be remembered as much for the thoughtfulness as its beauty and craftsmanship. “We come up with good ranges, and they sell.”

One interesting quirk is that Kelly’s cards have also become a niche collector item in some circles, with some customers feverishly searching out new prints. It makes James smile when he thinks about these owners embracing the cards with the same degree of care that they themselves put into producing them. “We meet people all the time at trade fairs and events like that who say they love our cards, and have a drawer full of them at home.”

The latest feather in the Kelly cap however is their push to become more environmentally friendly.

The Bailieborough business is phasing out old plastic packaging to make way for recyclable or biodegradable wrapping.

“We’re not there completely yet. We’ve sourced two bags, one is recyclable and the other is biodegradable. The recyclable one is better because it can be recycled, but also it last longer.”

For more information about Kelly Cards, their products and the company, visit: