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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Founding of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language

The Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language (Irish: Cumann Buan-Choimeádta na Gaeilge), a cultural organisation which is part of the Gaelic revival of the period, is formed in Dublin on December 29, 1876.

Present at the initial meeting are Charles Dawson, High Sheriff of Limerick City, Timothy Daniel Sullivan, editor of The Nation, and Bryan O’Looney. Writing in 1937, Douglas Hyde also remembers himself, George Sigerson, Thomas O’Neill Russell, J. J. McSweeney of the Royal Irish Academy, and future MP James O’Connor as being present. Its patron is John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam, its first president is Lord Francis Conyngham and its first vice-presidents include Isaac Butt and Charles Owen O’Conor.

Unlike similar organisations of the time, which are antiquarian in nature, the SPIL aims at protecting the status of the Irish language, which is threatened with extinction at the time. Its mission statement says that it is “possible and desirable to preserve the Irish Language in those parts of the Country where it is spoken, with a view to its further extension and cultivation.” Hyde writes that the formation of the society can truly be said to be the first attempt made to recruit the common people to the cause of the Irish language. The society succeeds in having Irish included on the curriculum of primary and secondary schools and third-level colleges in 1878.

The membership of the SPIL includes Protestant Ascendancy figures such as John Vesey, 4th Viscount de Vesci, and Colonel W. E. A. Macdonnell. Horace Plunkett represents the Society at the 1901 Pan-Celtic Congress in Dublin. It takes a conciliatory approach to the British government and civil service in pursuing its aims, in contrast to the later Gaelic League, which is anti-British in character.


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First Issue of “The Irish People” Printed in Dublin

The Irish People, a nationalist weekly newspaper supportive of the Fenian movement, is first printed in Dublin on November 28, 1863. It is suppressed by the British Government in 1865.

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.

(Pictured: The masthead of the first issue of The Irish People | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license)


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Imprisonment of Fenian Charles Kickham

charles-kickhamSentenced to fourteen years hard labour for treason, Irish nationalist and Fenian Charles Kickham is incarcerated in Pentonville Prison on February 10, 1865. He is released in 1869, partly due to ill health. He is a contributor to The Irish People and the organiser of the Fenian movement and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), which the English authorities deem seditious. He also authors a number of novels including the critically acclaimed Knocknagow (1873).

The revolutionary movement which comes to be known as Fenianism is unlike that of 1848 in the character of its leaders. The older political agitation is associated with a brilliant outburst of intellectual effort. The majority of the leaders have left behind high intellectual heritage, or asserted under other skies, and in more favourable circumstances, their possession of great intellectual powers. The Fenian movement, on the other hand, is poor in its literary products. Few of its leading spirits reach to any lofty position since its collapse. The best part of Fenian literature is found in The Irish People, the journalistic organ of the association. Along with Kickham, the chief contributors to the journal are Thomas Clarke Luby and John O’Leary.

Kickham is born at Mullenahone, County Tipperary on May 9, 1828. At the age of thirteen he meets with an accident that deprives him of his hearing. He probably owes the many fine productions of his pen to this accident. At around 18 year of age he begins to contribute poems and tales to Irish journals and magazines and when The Irish People is started he becomes one of its chief lead writers. As a result of his involvement in the Fenian movement, he draws the attention of the government and is tried, convicted and sentenced to fourteen years of penal servitude. His comment at the conclusion of the trial is terse: “I have endeavoured to serve Ireland, and now I am prepared to suffer for Ireland.” Four years after his conviction he is released.

Kickham publishes two complete stories, Sally Cavanagh, or The Untenanted Graves, and Knocknagow, or The Homes of Tipperary. These stories have been read wherever there is an Irish home, and have made sad or joyous thousands of Irish hearts. They have also found approval in the columns of English and not friendly journals, which have found themselves able to meet him in friendliness on the impartial ground of literature. His books deserve their popularity with the peasant and the approval of the critic. His pictures of life, especially of peasant life, are wonderfully true to nature, full of keen observation, humour, and fidelity. In his attention to minute details and homely incident he resembles in a great degree the style of Erckmann-Chatrian.

Kickham’s ballads are equally popular, and are just what ballads for the people should be – simple in language, direct in purpose, and in an easy and common measure. A collected edition of his works is published by Duffy & Son of Dublin.

Charles Kickham dies at the age of 54 on August 22, 1882 at the house of James O’Connor, a former member of the IRB and afterwards MP for Wicklow, 2 Montpelier Place, Blackrock, Dublin, where he had been living for many years and had been cared for by the poet Rose Kavanagh. He is buried in Mullinahone, County Tipperary.

(From: The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 4, edited by T. P. O’Connor)


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Birth of Thomas Clarke Luby, Irish Revolutionary

thomas-clarke-lubyThomas Clarke Luby, Irish revolutionary, author, journalist and one of the founding members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, is born in Dublin on January 16, 1822.

Luby is the son of a Church of Ireland clergyman from Templemore, County Tipperary, his mother being a Catholic. He is educated at Trinity College Dublin where he studies law and puts in the necessary number of terms in London and Dublin where he acquires a reputation as a scholar and takes his degree. He goes on to teach at the college for a time.

Luby supports the Repeal Association and contributes to The Nation newspaper. After the breach with Daniel O’Connell he joins the Young Irelanders in the Irish Confederation. He is deeply influenced by James Fintan Lalor at this time. Following the suppression of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, he with Lalor and Philip Gray attempt to revive the fighting in 1849 as members of the secret Irish Democratic Association. This, however, ends in failure.

In 1851 Luby travels to France, where he hopes to join the French Foreign Legion to learn infantry tactics but finds the recruiting temporarily suspended. From France he goes to Australia for a year before returning to Ireland. From the end of 1855 he edits the Tribune newspaper founded by John E. Pigot who had been a member of The Nation group. During this time he remains in touch with the small group of ’49 men including Philip Gray and attempts to start a new revolutionary movement. Luby’s views on social issues grow more conservative after 1848 which he makes clear to James Stephens whom he meets in 1856.

In the autumn of 1857 Owen Considine arrives with a message signed by four Irish exiles in the United States, two of whom are John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny. The message conveys the confidence they have in Stephens and asks him to establish an organisation in Ireland to win national independence. Considine also carries a private letter from O’Mahony to Stephens which is a warning, and which is overlooked by Luby and Stephens at the time. Both believe that there is a strong organisation behind the letter, only later to find it is rather a number of loosely linked groups. On December 23 Stephens dispatches Joseph Denieffe to America with his reply which is disguised as a business letter dated and addressed from Paris. In his reply Stephen’s outlines his conditions and his requirements from the organisation in America.

On March 17, 1858, Denieffe arrives in Dublin with the acceptance of Stephens’s terms by the New York Committee and the eighty pounds. On that very evening the Irish Republican Brotherhood is established in Peter Langan’s timber-yard in Lombard Street.

In mid-1863 Stephens informs his colleagues he wishes to start a newspaper, with financial aid from O’Mahony and the Fenian Brotherhood in America. The offices are established at 12 Parliament Street, almost at the gates of Dublin Castle. The first issue of the Irish People appears on November 28, 1863. The staff of the paper along with Luby are Charles J. Kickham and Denis Dowling Mulcahy as the editorial staff. Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and James O’Connor have charge of the business office, with John Haltigan being the printer. John O’Leary is brought from London to take charge in the role of Editor.

On July 15, 1865 American-made plans for a rising in Ireland are discovered. Superintendent Daniel Ryan, head of the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police at Dublin Castle, has an informer within the offices of the Irish People who supplies him with an “action this year” message on its way to the IRB unit in Tipperary. With this information, Ryan raids the offices of the Irish People on Thursday, September 15, followed by the arrests of Luby, O’Leary and O’Donovan Rossa. Kickham is caught after a month on the run. Stephens is also caught with the support of Fenian prison warders. The last number of the paper is dated September 16, 1865.

After his arrest and the suppression of the Irish People, Luby is sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude. He is released in January 1871, but is compelled to remain away from Ireland until the expiration of his sentence.

Upon his release Luby goes first to the Continent and later settles in New York City. He lectures all over the country for years, and writes for a number of Irish newspapers on political topics. At the memorial meeting on the death of John Mitchel, he delivers the principal address in Madison Square Garden.

Thomas Clarke Luby dies at 109½ Oak Street, Jersey City, New Jersey of paralysis, on November 29, 1901 and is buried in a grave shared with his wife in Bayview Cemetery in Jersey City. His epitaph reads: “Thomas Clarke Luby 1822–1901 He devoted his life to love of Ireland and quest of truth.”