John Devoy (a love story)

Two Octogenarians a true love story

Recently while researching the history of the war of Independence, The Civil War and the Treaty Negotiations etc of over 100 years ago. I took a look at some of the love stories of the time .It is generally known about of the love triangle of Harry Boland , Michael Collins with the love of both men Kitty Kiernan. Who decided after much deliberation that she would marry Michael Collins? Of course Harry Boland was devastated when he found out. Probably the rational of Kitty’s decision was that Harry spent over 18 months in America with DeValera from 1919 to Dec. 1920. However one of the saddest love stories during those monumental times was a man who spent over 60 years of his life, working day and night for the country he loved “Ireland” the story of John Devoy who was engaged to Elizabeth Kenny. I hope you like this wonderful love story and some history about what 1 man choose to do for his country instead of marrying the woman he loved and was engaged to so many, many years ago. May both their gentle souls rest in peace forever.
John Devoy and the love of his life Elizabeth Kenny
John Devoy was born in Kill, County Kildare, Ireland on the 3rd September 1842 who Died on the 29th September 1928 aged 86 years.
Elizabeth (Eliza) Kilmurry Née Kenny From Tipper, County Kildare, Ireland Born 1846 Died 1927 aged 81 years.
Padraig Pearse said: John Devoy was the greatest of all Fenians.
Later in his life John Devoy wrote to Eliza, Deep regret at the misfortunes which separated us.
Having spent over 60 years of his life, working day and night to achieve his life’s ambition for the country he loved, an Irish Independent Republic. He joined the French Foreign Legion and stayed there for 1 year. He was a Fenian spy. He helped in the rescue of the Fenian “Chief” James Stephens from Richmond Jail in 1865. (Collins rescued De Velara form Lincoln Jail). For organising “cell’s” he was given 15 years imprisonment. Was amnestied having served 5 years on condition of his living outside the United Kingdom and so ended up in America! He led Clan na Gael and supported all anti- British movements thereafter. Including the Land War, The Easter Rising 1916, the war of independence and the Treaty which he supported. Devoy also met many of the main protagonists of that time. He owned his own newspaper ”Gaelic America”
When DeValera arrived in America in June 1919 and stayed just over 18 months until December 1920 promoting an Irish Republic and a “Bond “drive. For many years, John Devoy and Judge Daniel Cohalan controlled Clan na Gael and the (FOIF) Friends of Irish Freedom in America, but after the arrival of DeValera everything changed. John Devoy totally disagreed with DE Valera’s tactics and activities which proved to be extremely controversial. At that time Devoy was 78 years old while DeValera was 40 years his junior at 38 years old. DeValera used all the means at his disposal to bring Irish America under his control but ultimately in the end FAILED…………….

John Devoy said the Bane of my life is DeValera. “ I feel myself physically failing everyday” I can’t sleep and my legs are getting weaker. I blame it all on DeValera. He has done me more harm in the last 18 months than the English have been able to do through my whole lifetime. Often he found sleep a distant and often an unattainable goal. He found himself dwelling on the words of the Irish National Anthem “A Nation once again” written by the hero of the Young Ireland of his childhood Thomas Davis: and righteous men shall make our land, A Nation once again.
As he lay in his bed he asked himself, where were those righteous men?
DeValera created his own organisation while in America in the hope of smashing Devoy and Cohalan. The new organisation was called the (AARIR) The American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic, which John Devoy referred to as a growl because that’s what the letters of the acronym sounded like. Devoy also said “DeValera had tapped Irish America for 5 million dollars, some 3 million of which remained in American banks under his total personal control. On returning to Ireland DeValera himself told the Dail that “IF I were the president of the United States myself……I could not and would not recognise Ireland as a republic”
In 1866 John Devoy was engaged to Elizabeth (Eliza) Kenny. However Devoys arrest, conviction and transportation to America meant the marriage did not go ahead. Eliza waited 12 long years for Johns return but eventually married a Thomas Kilmurry in 1884
On an official visit when John Devoy returned to Ireland in 1924 he was under the assumption that Eliza had died but in fact it was Eliza’s sister who had died.. Having not seen each other for over 58 years, John went to visit Eliza in Naas, county Kildare John had worked and lived in Naas in the mid 1860’sand said it hadn’t changed a great deal since the two separated lovers had last seen each other. When he arrived at the house in South Main Street, not far from where he had toiled as a clerk at Watkins brewery. Eliza greeted him while leaning on the arm of her niece , the ravages of age ruled out an embrace, but neither Elizabeth Kenny – Kilmurry nor John Devoy attempted to hide their emotions . “John” she said in a loud voice, why didn’t you write? I waited 12 years for you. John said nothing for a moment then, at last, he replied “and I’ve been waiting for you all my life” He said “my heart has been in Ireland all the time I was in America. Like so many exiles he was following his heart across the Atlantic. None of his friends in America knew of Eliza, the young woman he left behind all those years ago. Both were now at an age that John and Eliza because of their frail health, marriage was NOT an option.
John Devoy was delighted with their re-union and spent all that afternoon with Eliza and during his six weeks in Ireland he found time to make several visits to Eliza’s home in Naas, including one Sunday dinner with his family and hers. Eliza was clearly delighted by the attention she got and welcomed the company. A few weeks after he returned to America, he wrote to Eliza” I often think of the good days we had when we were young, but they didn’t last long but I never forgot them.” Bad eyes and all, he frequently wrote to Eliza and she wrote to him. He sent her a photo and on the back he wrote “To Mrs E.Kilmurry (Née Eliza Kenny) in loving memory of our engagement when she was a fine girl of 20 years and with deep regret at the misfortunes which separated us. From, John Devoy. She returned the favour, sending a current photo of herself with her niece. Devoy inscribed the back of it “Mrs E. Kilmurry of Naas née Eliza Kenny of Tipper, county Kildare, Engaged to John Devoy at the time of his arrest………Waiting for 12 years after his release in 1871.

Letters arrived at regular intervals from Eliza, “with best love” “sincerely “over a touching two year correspondence period. She read Johns paper Gaelic America regularly but only commented on it when it contained mentions of John’s absences due to ill health, mostly related to his eyes. John promised Eliza in one of his letters that he would pay her another visit in 1927 and the news delighted her. By the fall of 1926 Eliza was bedridden and she died aged 81 on the 20 February 1927. John received the news from his nephew Peter. He cancelled his travel plans.
On the 21st September 1928 the now 86 year old John Devoy and his friend Harry Cunningham Journeyed to Atlantic City. The sea air often re-invigorated him but this time he could not shake off his assortment of ailments. By week’s end a doctor was summoned which there was little he could do. At about 1 A M on the 29th September 1928 John Devoy Irelands greatest of all Fenians died. His body was returned to New York for a funeral mass where thousands of mourners forced police to shut down adjacent streets; however he would not be buried in American soil. Instead, nine months later he made 1 final journey to Ireland. In Dublin Hundreds of thousands of mourners lined the streets on the 16th June 1929 John Devoy was accorded a state funeral. His casket borne atop a gun carriage and drawn by horses through the streets of the capital, O’Connell Street and past the GPO the headquarters of the Easter Rising 1916 and birthplace of a flawed but a free Ireland he had done so much to create.
He was interred in the Patriots plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, close to the graves of Parnell, O’Connell, O’Donovan Rossa, Harry Boland and Michael Collins. The Times Newspaper of London sent John Devoy to the next world with something of a salute. John Devoy the paper said was “the most bitter and persistent as well as the most dangerous enemy of this country which Ireland has produced. One thing of note” John Devoy never surrendered”
The love of his life Elizabeth (Eliza) Kenny would have been proud of him and the great send off the Irish people gave him to join her in Heaven.
Article written by Seamus Kiely Jan 31st 2022