The following story is taken from the first-person account written by John Kenny. It tells of his historical mission to Europe in 1914, at the request of John Devoy and Roger Casement, to meet with the Germans and secure the promise of guns for the Irish rebels.
Kenny, John. “John Kenny’s Interview With Prince Von Beulow” The Gaelic American. 3/5/1924.
Mission: The Easter Uprising
HOPES FOR A REVOLUTION
For over forty years, the exiled leaders of the failed Irish rising of 1869 had been lying in wait in New York City, hoping for another chance to strike a blow against England for Irish freedom. Their organization, the Clan-na-Gael (or "Irish clan") included thousands of Irish-Americans willing to give moral and financial support to the fight for Irish freedom - and to use force, if necessary. In Ireland, the Clan-na-Gael's brother organization The Irish Republican Brotherhood (or "I.R.B."), headed by Tom Clarke, was by necessity a secret organization. To increase their influence, I.R.B. members had infiltrated the various Irish organizations and societies. There were also the Irish Volunteers who were busy training for military action, although they, so far, lacked arms and ammunition. The time for action came in the summer of 1914, when England and Germany went to war.
John Devoy, the 71-year-old driving force behind the Clan-na-Gael in New York, saw his opportunity. He and Sir Roger Casement, a former British consul dedicated to Irish freedom, arranged a meeting between the Western Hemisphere's top-ranking German diplomat, Count von Bernstorff, and a delegation of Clan-na-Gael men at the German Club in New York City. There the Clan-na-Gael presented their plan to the Germans. Their friends in Ireland, they told von Bernstorff, were planning to use the opportunity provided by the war to mount an insurrection against England. They did not have an adequate supply of guns or of military leaders but the Clan-na-Gael was ready to pay for these. It would be mutually beneficial for the Germans to supply guns and military leaders so the Irish could stage an uprising, and thus divert England's military away from Germany.
Von Bernstorff listened with close attention and with what Devoy took to be sympathy. After asking many questions, von Bernstorff promised to send the clan's proposal on to Berlin. However, von Bernstorff's wireless, sent soon afterwards to Berlin, was not enthusiastic. He believed that the Irish were in accord with Redmond, the leader of the Irish Nationalists MPs, who had pledged Ireland's loyalty to England for the duration of the war.
Devoy realized that more direct communication with Berlin was needed. He decided to send the Clan's own written statement, hand delivered by someone who could present it persuasively and answer any questions. Also, England's control of the seas made it virtually impossible to communicate with the "Central Powers" by postal or cable communications.
It was difficult, however, to find someone high enough within the Clan-na-Gael organization to be able to carry out such a sensitive and crucial mission, who could pass undetected through British security, carrying messages to an enemy country.
Devoy chose New Yorker John Kenny, an Irish-born 67-year-old native of John Devoy's own home county, Kildare. Kenny had arrived in New York around 1870, after a short stay in Australia. He had served the cause of Irish freedom in many ways - as president for several terms of the Clan-na-Gael (Napper Tandy Club), as well as in taking an active part in all the Clan-na-Gael activities of the time, from the famed Catalpa Rescue of six leaders of the 1867 uprising from an Australian penal colony to the starting of the Land League and the Friends of Irish Freedom. During his tenure as president, a young (23 year-old) Tom Clarke had arrived from Ireland, and joining the Clan, was quickly elected Secretary. When the call went out for volunteers for a special mission in London, Clarke approached Kenny to offer his services and Kenny accepted. The mission ended in Clarke's capture by the British and fifteen years in a British prison. Shortly(?) after his release from prison, Clarke returned to New York, to John Devoy and the Clan-na-Gael. In 1907 Clarke went back to Dublin to prepare Ireland for an armed uprising, becoming the hub of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood.
Over the years, Kenny had made many trips between New York and Ireland - for both business and pleasure, and for a period - 1885 to 1891- moved his family back to Co. Kildare to work on the Land League. Over the years he had stayed in close contact with the I.R.B., carrying messages between the Clan and the I.R.B.
Kenny was also a writer, his poetry and articles on current and historical matters appearing often on the Gaelic American, along with articles featuring his presences or speeches at Irish events in New York.
When Devoy approached Kenny in 1914, Kenny was again the president of the Clan-na-Gael, as well as vice president of the Irish Republican Brotherhood Veterans Association, a member of the American Provisional Committee Irish National Volunteers (formed to arm the Irish National Volunteers in Ireland), a delegate and contributor to National Volunteer Fund Committee, a founder of the Friends of Irish Freedom and a member of the American Irish Historical Society, the United Irish-American Societies of New York, the Catholic Writers Guild and the Kildare Archeological Society.
A naturalized American citizen and frequent traveler, Kenny technically would be within his rights to carry a communication to a then-friendly country (the United States had yet to enter the war). Yet no doubt his capture could well mean detention and imprisonment.
Only Devoy and Casement knew of the plan. Kenny agreed to undertake the mission, arranging for a passport to Switzerland with ' the benefit of his health' given as the purpose of the trip.
NEXT: Getting There