Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is born Jeremiah O’Donovan at Reenascreena, Rosscarbery, County Cork, on September 10, 1831. Rossa becomes a shopkeeper in Skibbereen where, in 1856, he establishes the Phoenix National and Literary Society, the aim of which is “the liberation of Ireland by force of arms.” This organisation later merges with the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), founded two years later in Dublin.
In December 1858, Roosa is arrested and jailed without trial until July 1859. He is charged with plotting a Fenian rising in 1865, put on trial for high treason, and sentenced to penal servitude for life due to previous convictions. He serves his time in Pentonville, Portland, and Chatham prisons in England.
In an 1869 by-election, Roosa is returned to the British House of Commons for the Tipperary constituency, defeating the Liberal Catholic Denis Caulfield Heron by 1054 to 898 votes. The election is declared invalid because Rossa is an imprisoned felon.
After giving an understanding that he will not return to Ireland, Rossa is released as part of the Fenian Amnesty of 1870. Boarding the S.S. Cuba, he leaves for the United States with his friend John Devoy and three other exiles. Together they were dubbed “The Cuba Five.”
Rossa takes up residence in New York City, where he joins Clan na Gael and the Fenian Brotherhood. He organises the first ever bombings by Irish republicans of English cities in what is called the “dynamite campaign.” The campaign lasts through the 1880s and makes him infamous in Britain. The British government demands his extradition from America but without success.
In 1885, Rossa is shot outside his office near Broadway by an Englishwoman, Yseult Dudley, but his wounds are not life-threatening. He is allowed to visit Ireland in 1894, and again in 1904. On the latter visit, he is made a “Freeman of the City of Cork.”
Rossa is seriously ill in his later years, and is finally confined to a hospital bed in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Staten Island, where he dies at the age of 83 on June 29, 1915. His body is returned to Ireland for burial and a hero’s welcome. The funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery on August 1, 1915 is a huge affair, garnering substantial publicity for the Irish Volunteers and the IRB at time when a rebellion, later to emerge as the Easter Rising, is being actively planned. The graveside oration given by Patrick Pearse remains one of the most famous speeches of the Irish independence movement stirring his audience to a call to arms.