Lily Kempson McAlerney and the 1916 Easter Rising

The story of Lily (Kempson) McAlerney and her role in the 1916 Easter Rising.

What do we know about Lily’s time in prison during the 1913 Dublin Lockout?

Lily was sent to Mountjoy Gaol on Nov. 14, 1913, given prison number 3066.

Upon intake, she gave her name and said her age was 17, even though she was a year younger. It’s believed she gave a different age to avoid reform school, which was required at the time for people age 16 or less who were sentenced.

Lily's 1913 prison intake number.

Lily's 1913 prison intake number.

Lily was small, only 5-foot-1 and 104 pounds with brown eyes, light brown hair and a sallow complexion. She had no scars, tattoos or distinguishing marks. Prison records show Lily listed her father James as her next of kin and said he lived at the same address: 8 Piles Buildings, Dublin. She also told the prison staff she was born in Wicklow.

Lily’s occupation was listed as servant. It’s not clear if that’s because Lily had already lost her job at Jacobs Biscuit Factory or if she wanted to conceal her role in the Dublin Lockout while at Mountjoy. Lily was listed as a single person, and a Roman Catholic who could read and write.

Lily was booked for “assault on Jane Timmons.” Timmons (whose name also was spelled Temmon on one record) was presumed to be a Jacobs Biscuit Factory worker, though it's not know if she was a temporary one.

"I went to picket at the Jacobs factory and I tried to get the girls to come out with me, and the police said to leave them alone," Lily said in a 1992 interview. "Well I wasn't touching them, I just asked them if they'd come along outside. I got one gal to come with me. The other one didn't come, and the police said to go away and leave them alone. I said, 'I'm not touching them.' And with that he picked me up and put me in the car and I got sent to jail."

Parts of Lily's Mountjoy prison records. She was there from Nov. 14-28, 1913.

Parts of Lily's Mountjoy prison records. She was there from Nov. 14-28, 1913.

Lily's sentence was 14 days imprisonment with another 14 days in which to find bail. Her sentence was scheduled to finish Dec. 11, 1913, but Lily raised completed her sentence on Nov. 28, 1913. The Mountjoy record shows bail was posted. In that same 1992 interview, Lily said she was let out for good behavior. (However, she also recalls her age as 14.)

Two other women precede Lily in the November 14 jail register: Sarah McDonogh and Mary Clynch, a factory worker. McDonogh was booked for “riotous behaviour” and Clynch was booked for “assault on Christine Fox.”

Details of Lily’s sentence and intake appear in two record books: the Mountjoy Prison General Register Female 1916-1920, and the Mountjoy Female Prison General Register of Prisoners.

Follow this link to hear an audio clip of Lily talking about her time at Mountjoy Gaol.

 

Did Lily destroy the portrait of Queen Victoria in the Royal College of Surgeons?

Lily told family members she did.

In a 1996 interview, Lily’s oldest daughter, Alice McCullough, recalled her mother telling her: “‘That old witch. I took care of her. I got up there with a knife and just gouged it.’”

Alice recalled her mother telling the story in the late 1930s.

The portrait of Queen Victoria that was destroyed in the Royal College of Surgeons. “‘I took care of her,’” Lily’s oldest daughter, Alice, recalled her mother saying. “I got up there with a knife and just gouged it.’” (College of Surgeons photo)

The portrait of Queen Victoria that was destroyed in the Royal College of Surgeons. “‘I took care of her,’” Lily’s oldest daughter, Alice, recalled her mother saying. “I got up there with a knife and just gouged it.’” (College of Surgeons photo)

Lily was part of initial group of seven that took the Royal College of Surgeons, located near the northeast section of St. Stephen’s Green. The others were Constance Markievicz, Mary Hyland, Frank Robbins, Fred Ryan, John Joe Hendrick, and David O’Leary.

Michael Mallin had given strict orders that no wanton damage was to be done inside the College. When he arrived and saw the portrait of Queen Victoria slashed, he was furious. The blame went to a 14-year-old who claimed he needed to make leggings.

The slashed portrait was the only piece of art destroyed in the College of Surgeons.

Margaret Skinnider, who fought with Lily during Easter Week, wrote in her memoir that the rebels didn’t see anything wrong with slashing the portrait. It was Queen Victoria who, when referring to the 1848 Irish rebellion, said “the Irish should receive a good lesson or they will begin it again.”

There isn’t a recording of Lily talking about slashing Queen Victoria’s portrait. But Lily’s granddaughter, Margaret McCullough, also recalls hearing Lily tell the story. 


How old was Lily during the Easter Rising?

Lily was 19. She was born Jan. 17, 1897, in County Wicklow and was the fifth of nine children in her family.


What can you tell me about Lily’s relatives in Ireland?

Lily’s father was James Kempson, and her mother was Esther (Moore) Kempson. In the 1901 Census of Ireland, James is listed as 36 years old, and Esther is listed as 30. In the 1911 census, James is listed as 48, and Esther is listed as 42.

James was a railway porter – someone who assists passengers or handles baggage on trains – and he was born in Carlow, roughly two hours southwest of Dublin. James also served in World War I, part of the British Army. James died May 19, 1940. He was living in Dublin with his youngest daughter, Josie, at the time.

According to family in Ireland, Esther was born April 24, 1870, in Wicklow, about an hour and a half south of Dublin. Esther died Feb. 19, 1919, during the flu epidemic.

Lily and six of her nine siblings. From top left: James, Martin, Patrick, Lily. From bottom left: Esther (Kempson) Delaney, Mary Jane (Kempson) Daly, and Josie (Kempson) Spain. Not pictured: William (died 1922) and Jane Kempson (died 1923).

Lily and six of her nine siblings. From top left: James, Martin, Patrick, Lily. From bottom left: Esther (Kempson) Delaney, Mary Jane (Kempson) Daly, and Josie (Kempson) Spain. Not pictured: William (died 1922) and Jane Kempson (died 1923).

Lily had several brothers and sisters. The 1901 census list three brothers in the home: James, age 13; Martin, age 11; and Patrick John, age 6. It also lists two sisters: Mary Jane, age 9; and Esther, age 2. Lily is listed as Elizabeth Anne, age 4.

The 1911 Census of Ireland lists five siblings in the home: older sister Mary, age 18; younger sister Esther, age 12; younger sister Jane, age 8; younger sister Josephine, age 6; and brother William, age 3. Lily is listed as “Lizzie,” age 14.

Lily’s grandmother, Mary Moore, also lived with the family. She was born in 1821, and died Feb. 2, 1926, according to family in Ireland. Mary is listed as a widow in the 1901 census, but family in Ireland said her husband was James Moore, born April 24, 1840. James died Feb. 19, 1910. 

The information below about Lily’s siblings comes from decedents in Ireland:

Lily’s brother James Kempson was born April 20, 1887. He died April 30, 1978, in Liverpool and was married to Aileen. He also served in the British Army in World War I.

Lily’s older brother Martin was born June 9, 1889, and died August 21, 1979, in San Diego, Calif. He was married to Elizabeth (Dec. 1, 1891-May 14, 1975) and also later had a partner, Ruth Hughes.

Mary Jane Kempson, Lily’s oldest sister, was born July 28, 1891, and died in 1970. Her partner was James Daly (1890-1922).

Lily’s younger brother, Patrick, was born April 30, 1894, and died Dec. 3, 1970. His wife was Elizabeth. Patrick also served with the British Army in World War I. Patrick was the only brother to stay in Ireland as an adult. Patrick had five children: James, Brigid, Monica, Marie and Lily. Patrick also has two stepsons, John and Michael.

Lily’s younger sister, Esther Delaney, was born March 29, 1899, in County Wicklow and died July 4, 1972, in Dublin. She was married to Michael Delaney, who died in 1959. Esther had four children who lived to be adults: Constance Bridget (Pat), William (Liam), Brendan and Mary Madeline. 

Jane Kempson, was born Dec. 11, 1901, and died May 28, 1923.

Lily’s other younger sister was Josephine Spain, born March 3, 1905. Josephine died April 16, 1983, and was married to Patrick Spain, who died in 1999.

Lily’s youngest brother was William Kempson, born March 22, 1908, in Dublin. He died there Dec. 23, 1922.

 

When did Lily work for Seattle Public Schools?

In the late 1950s, Lily worked at John Hay Elementary School between Fourth Avenue North and Bigelow Avenue North, off Boston Street in Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill neighborhood. The school was nearly a mile walk from where Lily and Matt lived at 3rd Avenue West and West Galer Street. Family in Seattle recall Lily worked at Hay only a few years, though it’s not clear exactly how long she was there.

The Seattle Public Schools archive doesn’t have records for Lily’s employment in the cafeteria, which isn’t uncommon for food staff at the time. Seattle Public Schools keeps teacher records for at least 60 years, and some other district staff records are kept as well. But Lily and the other cafeteria staff don’t appear in district staff directories of the 1940s, 50s or 60s.

The only notes in the John Hay files regarding the cafeteria and staff are ones about increasing milk prices, reminder newsletters for parents to add names on sack lunches, and the name of the 1958-59 lunchroom manager, Mrs. Aspen.

 

Who is putting this website together? 

Casey McNerthney, one of Lily's great-grandsons, is collecting and verifiying this information. He works as an executive producer at KIRO 7 News in Seattle and previously was a reporter with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Follow this link to send Casey an e-mail.