O'Connell, Kathleen (1888–1956), personal secretary to Éamon de Valera (qv), was born Catherine O'Connell on 5 October 1888 at Caherdaniel, Co. Kerry, one of the eleven children of John O'Connell, farmer, and Mary Ann O'Connell (née O'Sullivan). Educated locally, she emigrated to America in 1904 and trained as a secretary in Chicago. O'Connell's family had Fenian connections, but her association with the nationalist movement began in earnest in America. In 1912 she left a well-paid commercial position to become secretary to the American delegation of the Gaelic League in New York. Through fund-raising activities she worked closely with Diarmuid Lynch (qv) and Thomas Ashe (qv) during their stay in America and handled their confidential correspondence with the IRB. In 1915 she briefly returned to Ireland and attended the Gaelic League oireachtas and ard fheis and voted in favour of the politicisation of the organisation. She also brought messages and much-needed money from John Devoy (qv) to the Irish Volunteers. She attended the Irish Race Convention in New York and worked for the resultant Friends of Irish Freedom, organising and collecting for the ‘victory fund’ set up to aid the cause of Irish independence. She also acted confidentially as a typist for Clann na Gael. In response to news of the Easter rising she joined Cumann na mBan in the US and became active in collecting aid for the dependants of the men killed and wounded. Through this work she established a close friendship with Arthur Griffith (qv) and his family.
On 2 October 1919 she was requested by Éamon de Valera to join the ‘consular staff’ of his increasingly unwieldy tour of America. Throughout the tour she worked closely with him, travelling the country dealing with his public and private correspondence and assisting with his speeches. She also dealt with the correspondence of Harry Boland (qv) and was thus privy to the secrets of every aspect of the independence movement. Returning to Ireland with de Valera in November 1920, she immediately went into hiding, taking up residence at de Valera's secret headquarters at Strand Road only in February 1921. Until the truce she worked under perilous conditions. The lives of many depended on her efficiency and discretion. She moved with de Valera to Dr Farnan's house at Merrion Square and then to Blackrock, Co. Dublin. Arrested with him on 22 June 1921, they were released the following day. She joined the delegation to meet Lloyd George in July 1921 and was later to share de Valera's views of the treaty, joining him and her sister Teresa to work in Suffolk Street when civil war finally broke out (28 June 1922).
After fighting ended in Dublin in July 1922, she left for the south and worked closely with Robert Brennan (qv), Erskine Childers (qv) and Dorothy Macardle (qv) in the establishment of a publicity department in the southern republican stronghold and was instrumental in the publication of Poblacht na hÉireann. Following a period on the run in the south, she returned to Dublin in September 1922 and went into hiding at 11 Upper Mount Street. She followed de Valera loyally throughout the civil war and was present on the platform in Ennis at his arrest in August 1923. During his imprisonment she remained steadfast, acting as his agent and messenger throughout the country, working with him on a later abandoned Irish translation of a shorthand system. Devoted to the cause of Ireland, she identified service to the nation with service to de Valera. She followed him regardless of the friends she lost through civil war and through the split with Sinn Féin.
From the first candlelit meeting to establish a provisional organising committee, she was an indispensable servant of Fianna Fáil. Through opposition and government she was a constant at de Valera's side, both nationally and internationally. A malicious whispering campaign about the nature of her relationship with de Valera occasioned his vehement denial in Dáil Éireann in 1928. The tone of the remaining letters between Kathleen and Sinéad de Valera (qv) would seem to belie the rumours, which were most explicit during de Valera's tour of America in 1919–20. She quit the permanent civil service position of personal secretary to the taoiseach (which had been created in 1944) when de Valera was defeated in the 1948 election, but resumed it when he returned to power in 1951. Forced to retire in 1954 because of a cancer-related illness, her position was taken by her niece Maire O'Kelly. She never married. She died 7 April 1956 and was buried at Glasnevin cemetery, attended by a guard of honour drawn from the national executive of Fianna Fáil and the Old IRA. Seán MacEntee (qv) delivered the panegyric and she was accorded full military honours. Her diaries were used widely in the Lord Longford and T. P. O'Neill biography of Éamon de Valera: these are held in the Kathleen O'Connell papers in UCD archives.