Scandal and Murder
By the early 1880’s, John Kenny was president of the New York chapter of the Clan na Gael, known as the Napper Tandy Club. It was a tumultuous time in the Clan’s history, when the Clan struggled to find its direction: whether to back “action” in the way of bombing missions into Britain, or to support agitation for land reform and home rule. It was marked by internecine warfare, scandal and corruption, and even murder.
In his personal life, John suffered a great tragedy, losing his toddler son Joseph. In the years to come, as he moved to Ireland and back again to America, John would insist that Joseph’s body be moved as well.
These were turbulent years in Ireland as well. The rent strikes, boycotts, and ostracism of the land league pitted tenants against landlords and sparked violence on both sides. In 1881, the Land League was outlawed. The Coercion Act went into effect, allowing the government to suspend Habeas Corpus. Parnell and other Land League leaders were arrested and imprisoned in Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol.
In 1881 the Clan na Gael was also heading into serious problems. It was taken over at the national level by Alexander Sullivan, a Chicago lawyer and politician, who, like Rossa, backed “action.” Sullivan maneuvered himself into controlling the Land League in America as well as the Clan na Gael, thus gaining control over the considerable funds of both the Clan na Gael and the Land League. When the I.R.B. objected to the bombing missions being run by Sullivan’s men, Sullivan responded in 1884 by cutting the historic ties between the Clan na Gael and the I.R.B. John Kenny’s chapter of the Clan na Gael protested in writing and was summarily expelled from the Clan na Gael.
But Devoy was not about to give up the Clan na Gael. As other Clan na Gael chapters protested Sullivan’s actions and were expelled, Devoy travelled across the country to meet with them. He arranged a meeting in Brooklyn to take place in January, 1887.
John likewise was not about to give up on the Land League. Deciding to return to Ireland so that the children could enjoy an Irish childhood and he could support the league, he leased a horse farm, The Mount, back home in Kilcock, Co. Kildare. He sent his family ahead in the summer of 1886, and after the January meeting of the expelled Clan na Gael chapters in Brooklyn, he joined the family in Co. Kildare.
In Ireland, John settled into the life of a gentleman farmer, sending his children to the local schools, arranging for piano and horse-back riding lessons for them, and buying them their own pony cart to use for trips to town. He used the cover of the horse farm to channel funds secretly from America to support the Land League movement in Ireland.
The secret meetings held at The Mount, in support of the now-outlawed Land League movement, began to affect the family. Fearing the house and the family were being closely watched by government agents, John and Annie instructed the children never to mention anyone they had seen coming or going at The Mount, and never to repeat anything they may have overheard there. Their daughter Margaret was used for sending important messages: the sight of young Margaret walking through town carrying a cake to a neighbor was a signal that a meeting would be held that night, at the house receiving the cake. Annie’s concern for the effects on the children was growing.
Devoy, meanwhile, had moved to Chicago where he began to fight openly against Sullivan, accusing him of, among other thing, embezzling Clan funds.
As difficult as things were, they were about to get worse.