John Kenny played an important but little-known part in Ireland’s journey to freedom. Born in County Kildare in 1847, he spent most of his adult life in New York (he moved back to Ireland for several periods), working tirelessly in the Irish American organizations that kept alive the fight for Irish freedom and dignity.
As president of many of the organizations, he provided a platform for highly successful lecture- and fund-raising platforms for Michael Davitt and the Land League, Charles Stuart Parnell and Home Rule, Patrick Pearse and St. Enda’s, among the Irish Diaspora in America. He actively agitated for United States political stands that ended American favoritism towards Britain at Ireland’s expense.
He played a major role in the brilliant and daring rescue mission of six Fenian prisoners form the British prison in Freemantle, Western Australia.
But his most dramatic contribution was the series of secret missions he ran in 1914, at the outbreak of World War. Sent by John Devoy and Sir Roger Casement to propose a deal with Germany (German guns and military leaders in exchange for an Irish Uprising), he traveled through Europe as country after country was pulled into one of humanity’s most destructive calamities. He delivered his message to the Germans, then traveled to Dublin to apprise Tom Clarke, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the Irish Volunteers. On his return to New York he was asked to make one more trip back to Ireland to deliver the money for the guns, and to bring back as much information on conditions in Ireland. He met many times with the leaders of 1916: Clarke, Pearse, MacNeill, The O’Rahilly (add others). He was personal friends with Clarke, Pearse and The O’Rahilly. His name became known to the British secret service, who insisted he leave the country.
He watched the fruits of his many years of labor from afar: he was never able to return to Ireland.
He died in 1924, and is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York.