The British, in a general amnesty, release 33 Fenian prisoners on January 5, 1871. Most of these prisoners are men who have either been swept up by the British in 1865, when they suppressed the Fenian newspaper The Irish People for taking part in the Fenian Rising of March 1867, or had been rounded up after the “Smashing of the Van” rescue of Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasy in September 1867.
The British penal system of the period is brutal under normal circumstances, and the Fenians receive much harsher treatment than that received by the normal inmates. Those Fenians still on the outside agitate constantly for the release of their comrades. The man most responsible for the release of 1871 is John “Amnesty” Nolan, who thus earns his sobriquet.
The names of many of the men released by William Ewart Gladstone’s government are well known to those who have studied the Irish Republican movement. One of them is Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, as steadfast an enemy of English rule in Ireland as any who has ever lived. After Rossa’s death in the United States, his body is returned to Ireland for burial, and his funeral in 1915 includes the famous eulogy by Patrick Pearse, one of the seminal moments in the renewal of armed struggle for Irish freedom. Another Fenian released that day is John Devoy, who perhaps more than any other man keeps the struggle for Irish freedom alive among Irish exiles in America.
The British government releases the Fenians on condition that they exile themselves to the country of their choice and not return until their sentences have expired. Many chose to go to Australia, but Rossa, Devoy, John McClure, Henry Mulleda, and Charles Underwood O’Connell, who have all been imprisoned together, chose to go to the United States and ship together from Liverpool on board the Cuba. The so-called Cuba Five arrive in New York City to a hero’s welcome from the city’s large Irish community and even receive a resolution of welcome from the United States House of Representatives.
(Pictured: “The Cuba Five” – John Devoy, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Charles Underwood O’Connell, Henry Mulleda and John McClure)