Despite the appearance of a successful life, things were not going well for John and Annie. Annie was tired of the strain which John’s work placed on the family. In 1896 tragedy struck again, when their 13-year-old daughter Mary died. John and Annie decided to separate, agreeing to stay together only until the youngest child, Josephine (born 1888), went away to school. The 1900 New York census shows John still living with the family, but the 1910 New York census reveals Annie listing herself as widowed, head of household, and John living at 310 West 20th Street in New York. John traveled frequently to Ireland between 1907 and 1914, at times staying with his sister Margaret in Fairview Terrace, Clontarf, Dublin.
Around 1900 Tom Clarke returned to New York. He had been released after fifteen
grueling years in British prisons. That he emerged from prison with his mind intact, unlike most of his fellow Irish prisoners, was a miracle. He had endured fifteen years of the relentless physical and psychological torture – lack of sleep, food, and – probably most damaging – human interaction – that was reserved for the Irish rebel prisoners. He had left on his mission a young man and returned forty-two years old and looking decades older.
To their surprise, Kathleen Daly, the 22-year-old niece of Clarke’s fellow prisoner John Daly, and the 42-year old Clarke, fell in love. Unable to find work in Ireland, Clarke contacted John Devoy and moved to New York, hoping to find employment. After several frustrating delays, Clarke was able to send for Kathleen. She arrived in New York on July 15, 1901, and they were married the next day (John Devoy was a guest). Kathleen’s luggage had been delayed but rather than postpone the wedding until it arrived, she wore a borrowed dress that was much too small. Together they eked out a living at various jobs, at one point owning a farm on Long Island.
In 1903, Clarke and Devoy founded the Gaelic American newspaper, the mouth-piece of the Clan na Gael. Clarke served as Business Manager, a role John Kenny would later hold. Presumably John and Clarke spent much time together, as they were both close associates of Devoy.
In Europe, tensions were mounting as Germany successfully drove England out of more and more markets. Sensing the possibility of war – and the opportunity it would provide for an Irish uprising – Clarke and Kathleen headed back to Dublin in 1907. They opened a small newsagents shop, and there Clarke presided over a secret inner circle of revolutionaries.
John writes later that between 1907 and 1914,
“I visited Ireland several times for longer or shorter periods on business or pleasure. I met Clarke and his immediate associates frequently during those visits.”
John lived in Ireland for six months in 1911..
While in Dublin, John witnessed the events that steered Clarke and the other members of the I.R.B. towards an uprising. The kindling had been set; John would soon join in lighting the spark that would ignite an uprising.