At daylight, September 13, they landed at Naples. All signs pointed to imminent war. The docks were piled high with military supplies, and officials refused to let John Kenny or the seven other Americans off the ship. They had enough problems, as it was, with American citizens who had been stranded penniless in Europe at the outbreak of war, with now useless bank notes, without allowing any more Americans to enter. Disheartened by the prospect of early failure of the mission, John Kenny spent the night on board ship.
The next day the Americans were allowed to land. After intensive interrogation as to their plans, they were escorted to trains and ordered to go directly to the Swiss frontier. Safely out of British maritime jurisdiction, John Kenny sent the following letter to John Devoy, using a fictitious name:
On board S.S. Canopic,
10 A.M. Sept. 14?, 1914.
Dear Friend--Arrived Naples daybreak yesterday. Italians disembarked at once. Also our two American Cardinals. Next the Swiss reservists. Later the other "nationals" were escorted to trains for respective destinations. Eight American citizens, of which I am one, detained on board overnight. Now about to be placed on train with order to proceed without break to Swiss frontier. Every sign of war. No foreigners wanted here. Seemed yesterday as if we might be returned, but we were saved by the representatives of American Consul, coupled with lack of accommodation for the hosts of American citizens awaiting passage.
If possible will stop off at Rome. Will try return via Southern France to Bordeaux or via Marseilles to Barcelona, but developments might bring immediate and compulsory return or perhaps long detention. Italian papers report Germans 60 miles from Paris, also capture of 70,000 Russians on Polish front.
Ask M.J. O'Shea to see about N.T.C. meetings, and Matt Hartford save copies of G.A. [Gaelic American newspaper - John Devoy editor] with my articles on Frederick the Great and on John P. Holland.
Realizing that his mission could be aborted before he reached Germany, Kenny was determined to get a copy of the message to the German ambassador in Rome. The train stopped at Rome for a two-hour layover. Leaving his bag in the baggage check room Kenny strolled out with the passengers from the next incoming train. After the last evening train had departed he returned to collect his bag. He spent the next few days touring Rome with a fellow passenger he had recognized from the S.S. Canopic, getting the lay of the land.
On his fourth (last?) day in Rome, he made his move. Strolling casually past the German Embassy, with which he was by now familiar, he turned suddenly and went in the front gate. After handing an envelope with an endorsement on it to the official, he was quickly escorted into the Embassy and after a wait of only minutes, was shown into a small study where the German ambassador, von Flutow, sat. The Ambassador rose and partly crossed the room to greet him cordially.
Von Flutow read the message from John Devoy and listened to what John Kenny had to add to it. Von Flutow immediately brought up the subject of John Redmond's pledge of Ireland's support and loyalty to England during the war. Assuming he would have, at best, only a short interview with Von Flutow, Kenny had come prepared with a succinct answer to this foreseen question. He gave Von Flutow several examples from Irish history where the ostensible leaders were preaching reconciliation while the masses were planning rebellions.
Von Flutow, well-read in Irish history, saw his point.
Kenny assured Von Flutow that the Clan-na-Gael and the I.R.B. together formed a powerful enough force to sway the Irish towards armed rebellion when the opportunity presented itself. (A few weeks later in Dublin, though, Tom Clarke told John Kenny that actually "We [revolutionaries] are only a handful")
Von Flutow showed great interest when Kenny introduced Sir Roger Casement's pet scheme, the enlistment of Irish prisoners of war, captured in the English service, into the German service. He made notes continuously as Kenny spoke, questioning the loyalty of Irish soldiers enlisted in the British army, and why there were so many. On further reflection however, Von Flutow saw several problems - with international law, for example. Nevertheless, Von Flutow assured Kenny that all the points presented by the Irish leaders would be forwarded immediately.
Both Casement and Devoy wanted Kenny to meet personally with the Kaiser, although Devoy did not hold much hope that it could be arranged. Reports put the Kaiser somewhere near the front, although his exact whereabouts were never revealed, presumably as security against aerial attack. Devoy assumed that the Germans would prefer to take any messages to the Kaiser themselves. However, von Flutow offered to facilitate Kenny's meeting the Kaiser by communicating directly with Berlin and by issuing him a special Imperial pass (see picture). The pass would be recognized immediately by German officials yet to the uninformed it would appear to be simply a pass for ordinary state business.
As John Kenny left, the Ambassador accompanied him to the door, again assuring him that his messages would receive immediate and earnest attention.
"How much of the cordial reception accorded me, an unknown individual, was due to the ingrained natural politeness..., how much to the commendable European custom of deference towards elders, and how much to the importance which he, a German statesman, attached to the Irish alliance, I can only surmise." Kenny wrote.
Both Devoy and Casement were very anxious that Kenny should meet with the newly elected Pope, Benedict XV. Friends of Monsignor Brann, a relative and close personal friend of Kenny, managed to get him an invitation to an important function at the Vatican which he had to turn down for lack of appropriate clothes. They then tried unsuccessfully to get him an audience with the Pope. The Pope, although in sympathy with his cause, had to maintain an appearance of strict neutrality.
Before leaving Rome, Kenny mailed the following letter to Devoy, again under a fictitious name (and using the Clan code words) at an agreed-upon address:
Rome, September 2(?), 1914
My dear Friend:
Stopped off here. O.K. Did not try to see representative of the big house till today. Had long talk. Greatly impressed with our wares and will see that they receive full and early consideration. Could not undertake from here to get interview with the head of the establishment, who is busy with some customers in the West, but will facilitate my getting there. Am told that some other concerns are likely to join their trust and some the competing trust. Mailed one of your orders from Naples and several from this city; also one of Mr. C. Rogers [Sir Roger Casement].
Scarcely possible to return through Switzerland and France as the theatre of war is westward bound. Will try Switzerland, Tyrol, Bavaria, Rhineland to Rotterdam or maybe try to cross to London, Dublin, and Queenstown.