John Daly (1845 – 1916)

Irish Patriot, Fenian, 1867 Rising Veteran, Political Prisoner and Mayor of Limerick.

John Daly, the sixth of seven children, was born to John and Margaret Daly, née Hayes in Limerick City, on October 18, 1845. His entry into the world coincided with the onset of the Great Hunger, a cataclysmic event in Irish history that spawned evictions, death and inhumanity, in a land of plenty. It also resulted in the banishment of over one million refugees to England, Scotland, Wales, North America, and Australia. For many, the ships that carried them to North America and Australia, became their coffins, and the seas they crossed became their graves.

It was during that ongoing tragedy that John lived his infancy and early childhood years; too young to grasp what was happening around him. He came of age in its aftermath, a period of widespread emigration, stepped-up British army recruitment for the Crimean War, the Catholic Churches recruitment for the Papal Wars, and the ongoing institutionalized exploitation of tenant farmers and agricultural workers by landlords and their agents. Nothing had changed for the underclass who survived the Great Hunger; life continued as before.

John received his primary education at the local national school and, afterwards, at the Sexton St. Christian Brothers School.  As Irish history and the Irish language were not subjects taught at school; after all, such subjects would be a hindrance to the ongoing effort by the British government to anglicize the Irish people. What John and his siblings learned of Irish history was from his parents, whose families were staunch Irish Republicans. John’s paternal grandfather was a member of the Society of United Irishmen of 1798.   
On reaching the age of sixteen John joined his father at the James Harvey & Son's Timber Yard as lath splitter.

In 1863, at the age of eighteen John joined the Limerick Circle of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). From the very beginning he was dedicated to the aims of the organization and worked tirelessly recruiting and training new members, manufacturing and procuring weapons and ammunition for a future rising.  

The IRB was a secret oath-bound organization, founded on St. Patrick’s Day in 1858 in Dublin by James Stephens, Thomas Clarke Luby, James Denieffe, Garrett O'Shaughnessy and Peter Langan, most, if not all, were veterans of the abortive 1848 Rising. The aim of the IRB was to make Ireland an independent Democratic Republic by any means possible including by armed force. A sister organization, named the Fenian Brotherhood, was founded in New York around the same time by John O’Mahony, Michael Doheny and other exiled veterans of the 1848 Rising.  

[The name “Fenian” was an umbrella term used to describe the transatlantic partnership of the Fenian Brotherhood in America and the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Ireland. A member of either organization was generally referred to as a “Fenian”.  It will be used interchangeably in this narrative.]

Once committed to the cause of Ireland’s freedom, John never wavered nor walked away from the challenges and danger that were part and parcel of that commitment. From the onset, he was fully involved despite the Catholic Church’s stance of denouncing organizations and excommunicating their members who opposed British rule in Ireland. As a victim of that dictum, John decided to go around the Church and intercede directly with God.

After the failed United Irishmen Rising of 1798 and the subsequent retaliatory enactment of the 1801 Act of Union by England, most Irish nationalists believed that national independence would never be achieved through constitutional means. The Young Ireland Rising of 1848 and the aforementioned rising of 1798, took place after constitutional means failed to achieve a modicum of freedom for the usurped Irish people.  Based on that fact, the IRB concluded that British would never grant Ireland independence and that physical force was the only alternative available to them to achieve independence and free the people from serfdom. They did so, knowing that physical force used against the British Empire would be considered treason under the Empire’s so-called rights and laws of conquest. Despite that, the IRB was willing to use force to reclaim Irish ownership of the land based on the principle of prior ownership as well the rights of the Irish people to citizenship based on their standing as people of an island nation with their own language and other unique cultural traits.  

The rising, originally scheduled to take place in 1865, was foiled by the British after they came in possession of documents lost by an emissary from the Fenian Brotherhood in America that contained details for the planned Rising. They were also in possession of collaborating information provided by the informer, Pierce Nagle, who worked in the IRB’s newspaper office. Acting on that information, the British raided the newspaper office and arrested several of the IRB leaders including John O’Leary, Thomas Clarke Luby and Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.  Shortly afterwards, Stephens and several other leaders were arrested.

After the arrest and imprisonment of the IRB leadership, the organization regrouped and continued to plan and prepare for a Rising, with the help of the Fenian Brotherhood in America. In support of that resolve, the Limerick City Circle set up a workshop, near where the Daly’s lived, where they manufactured ammunition and various handheld weapons. The location of the workshop and the men who worked there was given to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) by an informer, probably for a mere pittance or a pat on the back; a commonplace happening  in Irish history. Consequently, Daly and his brother, Edward, and others were arrested on November 22, 1866, and imprisoned in Limerick Jail. On February 23, 1867, they were released on bail, after having tortured their jailers for three months with a continuous cacophony of Irish rebel songs.

On March 5, 1867, two weeks after Daly’s release from jail, the Rising that was foiled in 1865 commenced with outbreaks in Dublin, Drogheda, Cork and Limerick. From the onset, nothing went right for the IRB volunteers and their Fenian comrades from America who had crossed the Atlantic to fight in common cause. Unbeknownst to the men in the field, General Massey, who was in command of the uprising was betrayed by the traitor J. J. Croydon, arrested and imprisoned. Without a central command the uprising failed to spread as anticipated.

In Limerick City, Daly took charge of the IRB volunteers mustered there. Aware that they could not successfully attack the British forces stationed there, whose numbers and armament dwarfed theirs, they headed south to join with other volunteers to attack the Kilmallock RIC barracks and capture the weapons housed there. That maneuver was consistent with the Rising’s overall strategy i.e., attack RIC barracks and coastguard stations, capture weapons and engage in a widespread guerilla campaign. Lacking guns or explosives they were unable to breach the fortified barracks and had to withdraw under heavy fire, when RIC reinforcements  arrived. Three volunteers were killed and many more captured, seven of whom were transported to Fremantle in Western Australia aboard the Hougoumont the last convict ship to sail to Australia.

Daly evaded capture and went into hiding while planning his escape out of Ireland. With the help of allies, he was smuggled aboard a vessel departing Limerick for Liverpool. From there he made his way to London where he booked passage to New York.

Daly spent the next two years in the United States. He worked at several menial jobs until he met up with some of the American Fenians who helped him find a job as a brakeman on the railroad system.

In 1869, an amnesty campaign to free political prisoners, had taken root in Ireland. The campaign was fronted by Isaac Butt, an Irish member of the British Parliament as well as the barrister who defended several of the Fenian leaders during the so-called Fenian trials. By October of that year the campaign was gaining momentum, attracting tens of thousands to meetings throughout the country.  The rhetorical skills of the speakers in describing the role of packed juries, schooled witnesses and biased judges at play during the Fenian trials was exposing the British colonial judicial system in Ireland to international condemnation. With few options to counter the campaign’s momentum the British relented and started to release prisoners. Daly believed that the amnesty campaign had severely damaged the British government’s ability to continue arresting Fenians, thus, clearing the way for his return to Ireland.  

Once back in Ireland, he returned to his old job at the timber yard. He also resumed his activities as an organizer and agitator former for the IRB, particularly to affect the release of Fenians still languishing in prisons in Ireland, England and Australia.

In 1871 he was appointed the IRB’s organizer for Ulster.  In 1872 he was elected representative for Ulster on the IRB Supreme Council and shortly thereafter was appointed National Organizer. It was in that position that he helped elect John Mitchel as a Member of Parliament for Tipperary.  He was also responsible of enlisting Thomas J. Clarke and other prominent figures in the IRB ranks.

He was intolerant of anyone or any group with an agenda that did not include the release of Fenian prisoners. In November of 1869 he, rightly or wrongly, prevented a demonstration by a tenants rights group from taking place in the city because the release of Fenians was not on their agenda. He was arrested and acquitted in 1876 for disturbing a Home Rule meeting being held to honor Isaac Butt, even though Butt was a prominent defender of Fenian prisoners. His rationale was that Home Rule campaign conflicted was the aims of the IRB.  

Circa 1880, a group of dissident members within Clan na Gael (the successor to the Fenian Brotherhood) in the United States had opted to wage war against British military and industrial target --- not in the Irish countryside as before, but on the British mainland.  Led by the American based Fenian, Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, the group took part in a Dynamite Campaign that started in January of 1881 when a bomb exploded at a military barracks in Salford, Lancashire and ended four years later, in January of 1885 with a series of bombs exploding in the House of Commons, in Westminster Hall and in the Banqueting Room of the Tower of London

In August of 1882 Daly delivered the oration at the grave of Charles J Kickham in Mullinahone, Co. Tipperary.  Shortly afterwards he went to the United States where he gave speeches, spent time with, John Devoy, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and other Fenian leaders. After a year, or so, in The United States he departed for Birmingham in England where he met up with James Egan, an old Fenian friend from Limerick.

By then, having been in the forefront of the Fenian movement for a considerable length of time, Daly had earned himself a place on Britain’s intelligence services watch list. He was under surveillance from the moment he arrived in Birmingham. It’s unknown if he was there to participate in the Dynamite Campaign or not, but, having met with O’Rossa in the U. S. would suggest that he had.

Irrespective of his intent, he was arrested on April 11, 1884 at Birkenhead railway station in Liverpool, in possession of four parcels of explosives.  Following his arrest, James Egan’s home in Birmingham was searched and, allegedly, nitroglycerine was found buried in his backyard. Daly and Egan were tried at Warwick Assizes on August 30, 1884, on treason felony charges, found guilty and sentenced to penal servitude ---  Daly for life and Egan to 20 years.  

He began his life sentence in Chatham prison in Kent. He was later moved to Pentonville Prison in London and eventually to Portland Prison in Dorset. During the twelve years he spent in prison, he suffered cruel and inhumane treatment at the hands of the prison authorities as did other Fenian prisoners. He was released in 1896 after going on hunger strike.  James Egan was released in 1893.

While in prison he was nominated by the Irish Parliamentary Party to contest the Limerick City seat in the 1885 General election. He was elected but barred from taking his seat.

After his release from prison in August of 1896, Daly joined Maud Gonne, the English-born Irish revolutionary, suffragette and actress, who was campaigning in England for the release of Fenian prisoners held in British prisons. The campaign was arranged by the Irish National Amnesty Association. After completing that tour, he departed for the United States where he went on a lecture and fundraising tour organized by John Devoy of behalf of Clan na Gael. A percentage of the proceeds were given to Daly for his efforts and to help him start a new life after his many sacrifices and years of lost freedom for the Irish Republic that Wolfe Tone gave his life for.

On his final return to Limerick city in 1898 he set up a bakery on Williams Street with his share of the proceeds from his lecture and fundraising tour in the United States. The signs over his store front and his delivery vans were in Irish.  Being a realist and a feminist, he left the running of the business to his deceased brother's daughter, Madge.  Once the business was up and running and in good hands he turned his attention to politics.

As a working-mans politician, he served on the Limerick City Council from 1809 to 1906 and was the Major of Limerick from 1899 to 1902. During his term as Major he granted Thomas J. Clarke and Maud Gonne the Freedom of Limerick, the highest honor that Limerick City and County Council can bestow on any individual.  He also removed the Royal coat of arms from the Town Hall and added a link to the mayoral chain depicting Irish revolutionary symbols.

John remained forever faithful to the Fenian cause that he dedicated his life too. Ever willing to help, he funded the Irish Freedom newspaper founded by Thomas J. Clarke in 1910. He also funded a drilling hall for Na Fianna Eireann on his property.

His home in Limerick became a place of pilgrimage to the new generation of Fenians including Thomas J. Clarke, his nephew Edward Daly, Sean MacDiarmada, Ernest Blyth, Bulmer Hobson, Padraic Pearse and many other heroes of the 1916 Easter Rising. Confined to a wheelchair, he lived through the anxious days of the Rising worried about the young men and women manning the garrisons and frustrated that he was could not take part. 

John Daly, the Fenian, died at his home in Limerick on June 30, 1916. 

Contributor:  Tomás Ó Coısdealbha


NAME:     Mount St Lawrence Cemetery                                            

ADDRESS:   The Gables, Limerick City, Co. Limerick,  Ireland



Click on above image to view headstone inscription


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Posted  02/08/2018