Nally, Patrick William (1855–91), athlete and Fenian, was born 17 March 1855 in Rockstown House, Balla, Co. Mayo, fourth among eight children of William Nally, a prosperous farmer and former landlord's agent, and Bridget Nally (née Dolan). As a young man he joined the republican movement and achieved great fame in Ireland as an excellent all-round athlete, earning the nickname ‘Champion of the West’. A friend of Michael Cusack (qv) and Maurice Davin (qv), during the late 1870s he organised several sports events in Mayo and expressed a hope to establish a new, national amateur athletics organisation that would not exclude the poor. He also helped to organise the famous Irishtown meeting (20 April 1879) and thereafter became a secretary of the Land League of Mayo, speaking alongside his more extremist brother John ‘Scrab’ Nally (a notorious dandy and womaniser) at several league meetings in Galway and his home county. Unlike Matthew Harris (qv), whom he had replaced as Connacht IRB leader by the autumn of 1880, P. W. Nally did not make socialistic arguments on league platforms, but stated simply that tenants should pay no more than the rents specified in Griffith's valuation of 1854. Emphasising the league's nationalist credentials, he also expressed a hope that the RIC (generally sons of tenant-farmers) would join the league and thereby turn against the Dublin Castle authorities. For three months during the winter of 1880 he was based in Manchester, where he made arrangements for importing 300 rifles into Mayo. During his absence he wrote occasionally to the Mayo press condemning the agrarian outrages that had grown in number since his departure. In September 1881 he gave a favourable opinion of Gladstone's recent land bill, arguing that the public should accept it and henceforth focus on purely national goals.
The following year he became a poor law guardian in Castlebar and was granted a gun license by the RIC, which did not suspect his IRB connections since he came from a wealthy family. From information received in Manchester, however, the Crime Special Branch (CSB; est. August 1882) was well aware of his seniority in the republican movement and so pressed for his arrest. Acting on the information of Andrew Coleman, an unknown man introduced to the Mayo police by the CSB, P. W. Nally and six other IRB activists were arrested on 15 May 1883 and charged with being the leaders of a secret society of assassins based in the disturbed district of Crossmolina, Co. Mayo. On 1 June he stood trial in Castlebar, but as the local nationalist community strenously protested his innocence, the trial was postponed until December, when it reconvened in Cork. In the meantime the RIC was ordered by the CSB to carry out regular arms searches of his family home, but no material was found. On 28 March 1884, after eleven months in police custody and a four-month trial, he was convicted of the charge and sentenced to ten years imprisonment; the other prisoners each receiving a seven-year sentence. His imprisonment meant that he could not attend the inaugural meeting of the GAA (1 October 1884), of which he was generally considered an inspirational founder. In protest against his conviction, the Mayo National League nominated him for parliament the following year; this nomination was withdrawn only days before the general election after C. S. Parnell (qv), who also protested Nally's innocence, put forward J. F. X. O'Brien (qv) as an alternative candidate.
During the special commission (1888–90), Dublin Castle secretly offered Nally his release if he would give evidence that could be used against Parnell, but he refused. In mid October 1891 it was announced that, owing to his good conduct in prison, he would be granted early release on 27 November, and so a large testimonial and reception committee was organised to greet him. However, despite reports that he was in good health, he died in Mountjoy gaol on 9 November 1891 as a result of typhoid fever. An inquest by the Dublin city coroner concluded that he had become susceptible to the disease by the excessive labour and punishment inflicted on him for refusing to appear at the special commission. His family believed he was ill-treated merely for being an IRB man, while some took the view that he was effectively murdered by the prison authorities. There was a large attendance at his funeral, including eleven members of parliament as well as leaders of the GAA and the IRB. As a symbolic gesture, his coffin was covered with the same green flag that had covered Parnell's coffin the previous month. He was buried in the ‘Fenian plot’ in Glasnevin cemetery.
In his memory, a Celtic cross was erected in the centre of Balla in 1900, a new stand in Croke Park was named the Nally Stand in 1953, and some years later a monument was erected in Crossmolina in memory of all seven men convicted during the Cork trials of March 1884.