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
The IRB was a secret oath-bound organization, founded on St.
Patrick’s Day in 1858 in Dublin by James Stephens,
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
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
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
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
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
Thomas J. Clarke and other prominent figures in the
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
the highest honor that Limerick City and County Council can
bestow on any individual.
removed the Royal coat of arms from the Town Hall and added a
link to the mayoral chain depicting Irish revolutionary symbols.
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.
Tomás Ó Coısdealbha
St Lawrence Cemetery
The Gables, Limerick City, Co. Limerick,
Click on above image to view
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