Other republican newspapers namely, the United Irishman, The Irish Tribune, The Irish Felon, and then the Repeal Association-supporting paper, The Nation, are suppressed in 1848 after their writers, Young Irelanders and members of the Irish Confederation, are accused of promoting sedition. James Stephens is a Young Irelander and part of the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 that follows the closures of these newspapers. He flees to France after the rebellion’s failure. In 1856, he returns to Ireland and makes connections with former rebels. Two years later, he founds the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).
In 1863, Stephens tells friends he is to start a newspaper. With funds through John O’Mahony, founder of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, he sets up an office at 12 Parliament Street. John O’Leary becomes the editor, with Thomas Luby, Charles Kickham, and Denis Mulcahy as editorial staff and Luby as a proprietor. Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is the business manager and James O’Connor his assistant and bookkeeper. The newspaper is printed by John Haltigan. Most of the articles are written by O’Leary and Kickham. The first issue comes out on Saturday, November 28, 1863. Its sympathies are clear. A front-page advertisement offers to ship old copies of the United Irishman and The Irish Felon to any address in the UK and editorial content is critical of the political status quo. Superintendent Daniel Ryan of G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, which is largely concerned with Fenianism, notes the new publication’s birth and comments on its low circulation.
Plans for a rising in Ireland, hatched in the United States, are found at Kingstown station in July 1865 in an envelope containing a £500 New York bankers’ draft payable to Stephens’ brother-in-law. This is handed over to Dublin Castle and the link proves to be decisive for what follows. Later, a letter to the Tipperary IRB calling for a nationalist uprising is found by Pierce Nagle, a police informer working for The Irish People. Nagle had visited British officials while in New York in 1864 and offers his services after being upset by Stephens’ manner. After Nagle provides the information, the offices of The Irish People are raided on September 15. The last issue comes out the following day.
The paper is suppressed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, John Wodehouse. Luby, O’Leary, O’Donovan Rossa and O’Connor are arrested and held at Richmond Bridewell prison. Stephens and Kickham join them a month later. Stephens escapes from prison on November 24. A Special Commission is opened on November 27 and forty-one people are charged are ultimately charged. Luby, O’Leary, O’Connor, O’Donovan Rossa and Kickham are charged with the most serious crime of treason felony, first used against the republicans of 1848. Evidence used for the prosecution includes the letter found by Nagel and his testimony about Fenian connections, articles from The Irish People as far back as the first issue, in which Irish Catholic judges including one of the presiding judges, the current Attorney-General for Ireland and Privy Councillor William Keogh, had been strongly criticised, and a devastating secret document from 1864 written by Stephens and entrusted to Luby granting Luby, O’Leary and Kickham executive powers over the IRB. Kickham is unaware of the document. The conflicts of interest, also with the other judge, John David FitzGerald, who is involved in the defendants’ arrest, are highlighted by the defending counsel, former Tory MP Isaac Butt. Also noted is the striking, if not unusual, jury packing, an act where in a mostly-Catholic land, some of the juries involved are entirely Protestant.
Luby, O’Leary and O’Connor receive sentences of twenty years. O’Donovan Rossa is sentenced to life imprisonment because of his previous convictions. The frail Kickham, lifelong near-blind and deaf, gets twelve years. Judge Keogh praises his intellect and expresses sympathy with his plight, despite having refused his request for a writ of corpus to bring Luby and Charles Underwood O’Connell to his trial concerning his ignorance of the “executive document,” as Luby had already begun his sentence in Pentonville Prison.