The Harp Without the Crown – John J. O’Kelly


The Irish World, was a widely read newspaper published and edited in New York by Irish American Patrick Ford. The newspaper reported about social and political events in Ireland for people living outside of that country, and noted that John J. O’Kelly’s “history of Ireland is regarded as the most comprehensive and reliable work ever issued on the subject.”

Hello this is John Conlan, host of The Rocky Road to Dublin, here on KBMF, and welcome to this episode of the Harp Without the Crown where I will be discussing John J. O’Kelly’s visit to Butte, Montana in April,1922.

O’Kelly was an Irish Nationalist and advocate for Irish independence who was born in County Kerry, Ireland in 1872. He believed that Ireland should become an independent Republic and not remain a colony of England. O’Kelly had an impressive career in politics and was a member of the first Irish Parliament. He was a prolific writer and published twenty historical pamphlets, several books written in Irish and ten poems under the pen name “Sceilg.” As a member of the Gaelic League, he promoted the study of the Irish language and was a teacher of Irish language classes at several institutions of higher learning, and edited the Catholic Bulletin.

As editor of the Catholic Bulletin from 1911 to 1922, he transformed the family centered content of the publication to one of focusing on the political struggle for Irish independence. The Bulletin not only advocated for Irish independence but also became an important source of information defending the methods and motives of the people involved in the Dublin Easter Rising in 1916. The Bulletin had a large circulation in Ireland and was an important source for recording the historical record of the Easter Rising for future generations.

In 1922, Eamon de Valera, President of Ireland, appointed O’Kelly to chair a delegation to America to gain support for Irish independence and refute the negative British propaganda concerning the Irish independence movement, and its leaders, including de Valera. The delegation also used their tour to criticize the recently passed Irish Free StateTreaty, which didn’t grant full Irish independence and continued to keep Ireland part of the British empire.

Members of the delegation also included two prominent Irish women activists, Constance Markievicz, and Katherine(Kathleen) Barry. Markievicz was known and celebrated for her political career and bravery as a military officer with the Irish Volunteers during the 1916 Easter Rising. Barry’s eighteen year old brother Kevin was executed by the British for Irish Republican paramilitary activities. Kevin Barry was considered by many Irish Americans a martyr and his imprisonment and execution was a topic that Katherine shared with Butte audiences..

The delegation arrived from Minneapolis and was met at Three Forks, Montana by several prominent Butte Irish American citizens. There were speaking events scheduled at the Butte High SchoolAuditoriumandAnacondaAOHHall. Markieviczand Barry were guests of the Butte Irish Cumann na mBan, a radical Irish women’s organization, while Kelly was hosted by Father Michael Hannan, pastor of Butte St. Mary’s Church and outspoken advocate for Irish independence. Accommodations were at the Butte Thornton Hotel.

While in Butte, O’Kelly asked for moral and financial support for Irish independence and discussed “the glorious cultural past of Ireland.” He had an incredible knowledge of important underreported historical events in Irish history and shared these events in great detail with audiences; such as the plight of Irish prisoners who had been sent by the English to the West Indies in the 14th century.

Throughout his stay in America he reminded audiences the conflict happening in Ireland after passage of the Irish Free State Treaty, “is not a Civil War but a continuance of England’s age-long war and will be continued until the Irish Republic by its resistance has developed the country from its last vestige of English domination.”

It is important to remember that O’Kelly and many of the Irish activists profiled in this series, wanted the Butte Irish community to view the Irish Free State Treaty as a failed piece of legislation. The fact that Butte welcomed these Irish delegations indicates that the Butte Irish were extremely supportive of an Irish Republic independent from England. The Butte community continually provided a platform for Irish activists and politicians to inform their audiences about Irish current events and gather moral and political support. Irish delegations always stopped in Butte as part of their visits to the larger cities of America, thereby recognizing the important role that Butte played in the support of Irish independence.

Upon O’Kelly’s return to Ireland, he had many political differences with de Valera, who in 1922 trusted O’Kelly as his representative in America. He took over the Presidency of the more radical Sinn Fein political party after de Valera resigned and

went to form the Fianna Fail political party. Fianna Fail dominated 20th century Irish politics while Sinn Fein has gained significant support in recent Irish elections. Both parties are important in Irish politics today.

This is John Conlan and thanks for listening to this episode of The Harp Without the Crown.