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ÉAMON DE VALÉRA’S INDISPENSABLE SECRETARY: KATHLEEN O’CONNELL, 1888–1956 PATRICK MURRAY born in October, 1888, in Caherdaniel, County Kerry, Kathleen O’Connell dedicated herself to the cause of Irish independence early in her life.1 Her family background was strongly nationalist. Her maternal grandfather , a teacher in Caherdaniel, was dismissed temporarily for his Fenian activities. Her great-uncle Jeremiah O’Sullivan, a signiWcant Wgure in the history of Fenianism, led the party responsible for the Clerkenwell prison explosion of 1867.2 The atrocity caused large-scale loss of innocent life, which O’Sullivan regretted to his dying day.3 It had, however, a paraEAMON DE VALÉRA’S INDISPENSABLE SECRETARY: KATHLEEN O’CONNELL 111 1 My principal sources for Kathleen O’Connell’s life are as follows: (a) the account of her American years compiled at her own request by Fionán MacColuim in 1955; (b) her own evidence given in 1945 to the Advisory Committee on Military Pensions; (c) detailed information supplied orally and in writing by her niece, Marie O’Kelly; (d) notes she dictated to Marie O’Kelly on October 1, 1955, the year before her death; (e) her diaries and letters from 1921 to 1956; (f) an obituary article by Fionán Mac Coluim, The Irish Press, April 14, 1956; (g) recollections of her sister Teresa, given to the author in 1993 and 1994; (h) transcript of Kathleen O’Connell’s sworn evidence given before the referee to the Advisory Committee on Military Pensions, 1945, with de Valéra’s detailed comments on these and referred to in subsequent notes as Pensions Evidence; (i) the Kathleen O’Connell Wle in the Franciscan Archive, Killiney, County Dublin. 2 There is a good account of Jeremiah O’Sullivan in “The Explosion that Shook Britain,” an article by his great-nephew, Maurice F. O’Connell, in The Irish Press, December 13, 1938. The obituary of O’Sullivan in The Evening Telegraph, November 30, 1922, is also informative . John Devoy, in Recollections of an Irish Rebel (1929), pp. 248–51, reprints The Evening Telegraph piece. 3 K. R. M. Short records that “The destruction of life and property in this workingclass neighbourhood was unprecedented. Six people were killed outright; six died from the eVects of the explosion according to later inquests; Wve died indirectly; one young woman was judged insane; forty women gave birth prematurely. . . . At least 120 people were seriously injured, of whom Wfteen suVered permanent disabilities.” See The Dynamite War (1979), p. 11. Short nowhere mentions Jeremiah O’Sullivan, the principal agent of this destruction. doxically beneWcial inXuence on British policy towards Ireland, one of its immediate eVects being to impel British political leaders to reconsider their attitudes to Irish grievances.4 Kathleen O’ Connell’s association with Irish nationalism can be traced to her early days in the United States, to which she had immigrated in 1904 at the age of sixteen. Eight years later, she abandoned a successful commercial career to become secretary to the American Delegation of the Gaelic League in New York, a move which involved a considerable reduction in her income. She raised funds in America for the Gaelic League in Ireland, became close to Diarmuid Lynch and Thomas Ashe during their tour of America on behalf of the league, and dealt with conWdential correspondence between them and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). In July, 1915, she attended the Oireachtas and Ard Fheis of the Gaelic League in Dubdalk, when Douglas Hyde resigned from the presidency . She is listed as a Munster delegate, and de Valéra as one of those representing Leinster. Both approved of the new political orientation of the Gaelic League as representing a happy uniWcation of cultural and political aspirations.5 The Easter Rising had a major inXuence on Kathleen O’Connell’s thinking. One of her earliest responses was to join Cumann na mBan in the United States. Just before the Rising, she had attended the Irish Race Convention in New York organized by the leaders of Clan na nGael— Devoy, Cohalan and McGarrity—and this convention led to the foundation of the Friends of Irish Freedom, whose main object was “to encourage and assist...


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