John Devoy (1842-1928) was an Irish rebel leader and exile.
Devoy was born near Kill, County Kildare. In 1861 he travelled to France with an introduction from T. D. Sullivan to John Mitchel. Devoy joined the French Foreign Legion and served in Algeria for a year before returning to Ireland to become a Fenian organiser in Naas, County Kildare.
In 1865, when many Fenian leaders were arrested, James Stephens, founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), appointed Devoy Chief Organiser of Fenians in the British Army in Ireland. His duty was to enlist Irishmen in the British Army into the IRB. In November 1865, Devoy orchestrated Stephens' escape from Richmond Prison, Dublin. In February 1866, an IRB Council of War called for an immediate uprising, but Stephens refused, much to Devoy's annoyance as he calculated the Fenian force in the British Army to number 80,000. The British got wind of the plan through informers and moved the regiments abroad, replacing them with loyal regiments from Britain. Devoy was arrested in February 1866 and interned in Mountjoy Gaol before being tried for treason and sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude. In Portland Prison, Devoy organised prison strikes and was moved to Millbank Prison.
In January 1871, he was released and exiled to America, where he received an address of welcome from the House of Representatives. Devoy became a journalist for the New York Herald and was active in Clan na Gael. Under Devoy's leadership, the Clan na Gael became the most important Irish republican organization in the United States and Ireland. He aligned the organization with the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1877.
Devoy's fundraising efforts and work to sway Irish-Americans to physical force nationalism made possible the Easter Rising in 1916. In 1914, Padraig Pearse visited the elderly Devoy in America, and later the same year Roger Casement worked with Devoy in raising money for guns to arm the Irish Volunteers. Though he was skeptical of the endeavor, he financed and supported Casement's expedition to Germany to enlist German aid in the struggle to free Ireland from English rule, including Casement's "Irish Brigade". Also, before and during World War I, Devoy is also identified closely with the Ghadar Party, and is accepted to have played a major role in supporting Indian Nationalists, as well as playing a key role in the Hindu German Conspiracy which led to the trial that was the longest and most expensive trial in the United States at the time.
In 1916 he played an important role in the formation of the Clan-dominated Friends of Irish Freedom, a propaganda organization whose membership totaled at one point 275,000. The Friends failed in their efforts to defeat Woodrow Wilson for the presidency in 1916. Fearful of accusations of disloyalty for their cooperation with Germans and opposition to the United States' enterring the war on the side of Great Britain, the Friends significantly lowered their profile after April 1917. Sinn Féin's election victories and the British government's intentions to conscript in Ireland in April 1917 helped to revitalize the Friends.
With the end of the war, Devoy played a key role in the Friends' advocacy for not the United States' recognition of the Irish Republic but, in keeping with President Wilson's war aims, self-determination for Ireland. The latter did not guarantee recognition of the Republic as declared in 1916 and reaffirmed in popular election in 1918. American-Irish republicans challenged the Friends' refusal to campaign for American recognition of the Irish Republic. Not surprisingly, Devoy and the Friends' Daniel F. Cohalan became the key players in a trans-Atlantic dispute with de facto Irish president Eamon de Valera, touring the United States in 1919 and 1920 in hopes of gaining U.S. recognition of the Republic and American funds. Believing that the Americans should follow Irish policy, de Valera formed the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic in 1920 with help from the Philadelphia Clan na Gael.