The John Kenny Story

Part 14

The Second Secret Mission:

Delivers Over $350,000 to Irish Volunteers Headquarters to Fund Uprising

A few weeks later, in November, Kenny was asked to undertake another mission. This time, he was to deliver funds to the Irish Volunteers in Dublin, and bring back a full report on conditions in Ireland and the contingency plans in case the leaders were arrested.

McGarrity & GriffinChecks2

Known to the authorities since his previous mission to Ireland, Kenny risked arrest and detention. If stopped, he would need to alert Devoy and Clarke, so they could send someone to whom Kenny could secretly pass the funds. He jotted down the following note to Denis Spellissy, the treasurer of the Clan-na-Gael:

Mr. Spellissy

If held up at port of landing & it should appear to be indefinitely I may wire “arrived” & then if I succeed in the mission I shall wire as already agreed “arrived well”


Note explaining

New York, November 29, 1914, 1:20 a.m. the following telegram was received:


DUBLIN NOV 28 1914







59. Telegram Kenny sent - coded - to let Devoy know he had gotten through British customs with the money

In Dublin, Clarke and the other leaders expressed surprise that Kenny had gotten through the checkpoint in Liverpool. Clarke and MacDermott expected that the British would soon start enforcing conscription, starting with the arrests of the Irish Republican Brotherhood leaders. They came up with a second and third line of command, which Kenny was to bring to Devoy. However, MacDermott worried that Kenny would be searched when leaving the country, so it was decided to send the lists with a Father Liam O’Donnell. Kenny memorized the names of several people who held sums of gold as well as a list of names and addresses of a few trusted people in England.

The Irish Volunteers Headquarters on Kildare Street was being heavily watched by British policeman across the street and plainclothesmen hovering in the distance. Kenny met there with Professor MacNeill, The O’Rahilly, Diarmuid Lynch, and Bulmer Hobson.

He turned over the £3,000 ( over $355,000 in today’s dollars) to the O’Rahilly and received a receipt from MacNeill, along with receipts for money too risky to send through the mail.

70. Receipt from MacNeill

It was agreed that all money should be sent through MacNeill and the Irish Volunteers, as Irish Republican Brotherhood money was liable to be confiscated. The following understanding  was reached:

            8th December, 1914

Dear Mr. Kenny – With regard to the funds you brought over from the Irish Volunteer Committee of America, what I understand from you is that the £3,000 is to be placed to one account, £2,000 to be dealt with by me personally and £1,000 by (unreadable), with the (unreadable) of Mr. MacDermott, but the whole fund (unreadable) supervision of the Irish Volunteer Executive. This understanding has been carried out so far and will be carried out completely.

Yours faithfully,

Eoin MacNeill


80. note from Eoin MacNeill


Kenny waited until he was on board ship to write down notes. Several years later, his New York apartment was raided, and the contents were tossed about, leaving his papers in disarray. He was able to retrieve most of the notes, although they were incomplete and out of order. Some of his notes:

Newspapers, except ultra-loyal ones, suppressed. Printers warned that their plants would be confiscated if they printed matter for secret distribution. A suggestion was made to use the Zeppelin or airplanes to drop bundles of leaflets throughout the country. An issue of The Gaelic American newspaper was not delivered. The wrappers with the addresses on them were torn off at GPO and sent to London.

Mail between Irish Volunteers Headquarters and local companies throughout the country is not being delivered. Codes are not to be sent through the mails; telegrams in code are paraphrased to appear meaningless.

Communication from now on between America and Ireland should be by messenger only, and only by memory – nothing in writing. Useless for anyone known to be sent. Anyone not yet known can be sent only once. Civil service men warned not to attend Irish events, even non-political ones. Passport regulations more stringent: secret orders issued as needed to block Irish Republican Brotherhood members.

Dummy war vessels being built in Belfast: any disclosures will result in death penalty.

Queenstown closed to shipping; two powerful search lights sweep the sky at night.

A sum of gold is held by two people, known only to MacDermott, Tom Clarke and his wife Kathleen.

A secret Marconi installation in Dublin has so far defied government discovery, but they are closing in on it.

A German force of any less than 25,000, adequately equipped, is not worth considering. What’s more important is to obtain ammunition.

An estimated 94,000 territorials in Ireland, mostly of doubtful fighting quality. A non-Irish Republican Brotherhood source says this estimate is too high – a great number have been quietly sent abroad.

Machine guns require a great supply of ammunition. Automatic pistols are preferable. Even though they require a lot of ammunition, both pistols and their ammunition are less bulky. All pistols and rifles should be of a type that fits the English service cartridge.

Estimated 10,000 rifles in the country, the O’Rahilly has an offer for more. The rifles purchased by Redmond in Italy are good but no ammunition is available, therefore, it was money squandered.

Suggestions for running guns into the Blasket Islands or Achill, the inhabitants in both are reliable. Or hide guns in over-consignments of oil – customs official avoid the unpleasant task of examining oil shipments.

The government has unknowingly supplied ammunition by way of small raids. The Howth landing of arms was assisted by members of one of the great English parties, for political reasons.

Men with explosives experience needed – hand grenades are expected to be used extensively, and are easy to make.

Officers & drill instructors needed. All ex-non-coms have been called into service; the Irish Republican Brotherhood will look into US ex-army men now living in Ireland.

Clarke thought many of the Redmond men would come over quickly if any encouraging event occurred, or any sign of action.


Kenny carried back the Council’s descriptions of the active men, any one of whom might end up in a position of trust. Kenny felt that since he and Clarke had known each other for so long, Clarke was more open about his opinions than he would have been otherwise. Hobson was, according to Clarke, likable, with a good deal of ability, and had sacrificed a lot for the cause. But he had deceived them by voting for Redmond despite having assured them he would vote against Redmond. Initially Clarke thought Hobson had, like Casement, decided that since Redmond was the accepted leader of the country, any other course would have hurt the Volunteers. But a letter of Hobson’s turned up showing that he had promised in advance to vote for Redmond’s man. Clarke added that “if Hobson’s record had not been so good he would be summarily fired.” As it was he was being merely tolerated.

Clarke had faint praise for Larkin, and considered Connolly to be the Labor representative with whom the Irish Republican Brotherhood had relations.

Kenny traveled to the north, but spent most of his time in and around Dublin, until he was warned that he was an “undesirable alien” and that he should leave. “I must say that although the attentions of the officials were persistent they were most polite, even after I got word to leave.”

During his time in Ireland, Kenny met often with Clarke, MacDermott, MacDonagh, MacNeill, the O‘Rahilly (who was also a personal friend), Pearse (at his home as well as at St. Enda’s, meeting Mrs. Pearse as well), and Plunkett. Meetings with Griffith and with Connolly were both called off at the last minute. The night before the appointment with Griffith, his office was raided, his plant seized, and his newspaper suppressed. The day before Kenny sailed, he received a message to meet Connolly at his relative’s house in Oxford Road at 1:00 p.m. After Kenny had waited there some time, Maeve Cavanaugh arrived with the news that Connolly was on the run, having been warned of a warrant for his arrest for an alleged treasonable speech in Liberty Hall the night before. Kenny also called on Countess Markievicz who was out at the time, but he was unable to wait until she returned.

Having met people from all walks of life, Kenny remarked that the popular impression that certain political opinions prevailed in certain circles exclusively, was wrong. There were, he wrote,

“many separatists among the so-called garrison, many shoneens among the workingmen, and so on.”

Kenny met with Clarke and MacDermott for the last time in Wynn’s Hotel. That evening, just before Kenny left for the Liverpool boat, the O’Rahilly called on Kenny at his sister Margaret’s house on a personal matter. That was the last Kenny was to see of the men of Easter week.

Kenny met socially or on business with nearly all the men who were then active in any kind of public work in Dublin. Besides those already mentioned, he had “pleasant recollections of having met Walter Foley, Maeve Cavanagh, Biasli, Ryan, Seamus O’Connor, Tobin, Lester, Byrne, Sean Connolly, Mallin, Judge, O’Hanrahan, and others equally well known.” He wrote:

 “These men, I am sure, were fully sensible of the fate that awaited them in the event of an unsuccessful rising; yet they went calmly yet earnestly on. Some of them had serious responsibilities which must often have made them pause, warm attachments perhaps, prospects and ambitions which they would have wished to live for or to attain. They were the stuff of which were made the heroes and martyrs whose statues adorn our public squares and whose names are canonized in our churches. Yet they were condemned as little less than criminals by some who now profess that their greatest desire is to emulate them. They were derided as visionaries, yet Ireland is well on the way towards which they would have led.”


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