Woman who reported atrocities by Black and Tans denied pension and medal

Kathleen Mary Napoli was so trusted during the War of Independence that she accompanied the treaty delegation to London

A Cumann na mBan protest outside Mountjoy prison during the  War of Independence. Kathleen Mary Napoli was informed she was not eligible for a pension because she was not a member of the organisation

A Cumann na mBan protest outside Mountjoy prison during the War of Independence. Kathleen Mary Napoli was informed she was not eligible for a pension because she was not a member of the organisation

 

A woman whose work was considered vital in countering British propaganda during the War of Independence was turned down for both a pension and a war medal, newly released documents show.

Kathleen Mary Napoli (née MacKenna) was so trusted during the War of Independence that she accompanied the treaty delegation to London as Arthur Griffith’s personal secretary.

Napoli is among the 313 women included in the latest release from the Military Service Pensions Collection which includes 1,540 individuals. Such pensions were awarded to those who participated in the Easter Rising (1916) and the War of Independence (1916-1921).

She had to resign from her position as a clerk in Dáil Éireann in 1931 when she married an Italian general Vittorio Napoli. She later moved to Rome, where she spent the rest of her life.

During the War of Independence, MacKenna, as she was then known, produced The Irish Bulletin on a daily and then weekly basis. The bulletin, which was originated by Desmond FitzGerald (father of Garret FitzGerald who would later become taoiseach), was set up to counter the British accounts of what was happening in Ireland.

It was the official underground bulletin of Dáil Éireann. It regularly reported on atrocities carried out by the Black and Tans, and was sent to international journalists regarded as sympathetic to the Irish cause.

Napoli was described by Piaras Béaslái, the director of publicity for the IRA, as somebody who held a position of “great trust” and was “engaged in work of a highly confidential, important and dangerous character”.

In her application for a military pension Napoli said at one stage she was alone in a house in Molesworth Street, Dublin, producing the bulletin and surrounded by a party of British Auxiliaries who were seeking entry into the building.

“I remained alone, utterly terrified, turning out the bulletin. I knew what the consequences would be if the Auxies captured me in that moment and I was frankly terrified.” She managed to escape.

Unwanted attention

She was informed by the pensions’ board that she was not eligible for a pension because she was not a member of Cumann na mBan. However, she pleaded that she was told not to join the organisation as it would bring unwanted attention on her from the authorities.

Instead she asked for a service medal. In 1978 she wrote to the Department of Defence: “Wouldn’t it be a grand thing now that the Tánaiste is in such a generous mood if he would strike his hand to his heart and concede a different type of recognition of service rendered.

“I was in the thick of the fray when as a firebrand in my early twenties, my comrades then, for the most part, were older; now I am in my early eighties and the men of them have almost all marched on; it won’t be long before I join them.”

The department said that she could not be given a service medal either for the same reasons that she couldn’t be awarded a pension, but she was given a free travel pass for herself and her husband.

The Irish Times will be publishing a special supplement on the Military Service Pensions Collection on October 14th entitled The Revolution Files.