seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Catalpa Rescue

catalpaThe whaling ship Catalpa is given a tumultuous welcome as it sails into New York harbor on August 19, 1876. She has no whales on board, but a far more valuable cargo, six Fenian prisoners from the British penal colony of Western Australia.

Clan na Gael‘s John Devoy, with the help of his friend John Boyle O’Reilly, a Fenian who had once escaped from Australia himself and editor of the Boston newspaper The Pilot, plan the escape. Somehow maintaining the secrecy of the mission, the two arrange to buy and crew the whaler Catalpa, purchased in New Bedford, Massachusetts, for the attempt.

The Catalpa sets out in April 1875 with most of the crew unaware of their actual mission. They reach western Australia in March 1876.

The first intended day for escape from the penal colony is April 6, but the appearance of HMS Convict and other Royal Navy ships and customs officers quickly lead to a postponement. The escape is rearranged for April 17, when most of the Convict Establishment garrison is watching the Royal Perth Yacht Club regatta.

Catalpa drops anchor in international waters off Rockingham and dispatches a whaleboat to shore. At 8:30 AM, six Fenians, Thomas Darragh, Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hassett, Robert Cranston and James Wilson, who are working in work parties outside the prison walls abscond. They are met by Fenian agents John Breslin and Thomas Desmond and picked up in horse traps. A seventh Fenian, James Kiely, is left behind. The men race 12 miles south to Rockingham pier where Captain George Smith Anthony awaits them with the whaleboat. A local named Bell he had spoken to earlier sees the men and quickly alerts the authorities.

As they row to the Catalpa a fierce squall strikes, breaking the whaleboat’s mast. The storm lasts until dawn on April 18 and is so intense that Anthony later states that he did not expect the small boat to survive. At 7:00 AM, with the storm over, they again make for the Catalpa but an hour later spot the screw steamer SS Georgette, which has been commandeered by the colonial governor, heading for the whaler. The men lay down in the whaleboat and it is not seen by the SS Georgette. The SS Georgette finds the Catalpa, but in Captain Anthony’s absence the First Mate refuses to allow the colonial police to board as the ship is outside the colony’s three-mile limit. The steamer is forced to return to Fremantle for coal after following the Catalpa for several hours.

As the whaleboat again makes for the ship a police cutter with 30 to 40 armed men is spotted. The two boats race to reach the Catalpa first, with the whaleboat winning, and the men climbing aboard as the police cutter passes by. The cutter turns, lingers briefly beside the Catalpa, and then heads to shore.

Early on April 19 the refuelled and now heavily armed SS Georgette returns and comes alongside the whaler, demanding the surrender of the prisoners and attempting to herd the ship back into Australian waters. They fire a warning shot with the 12-pounder cannon that had been installed the night before. Ignoring the demand to surrender, Anthony raises and then points towards the U.S. flag, informing the SS Georgette that an attack on the Catalpa will be considered an act of war against the United States, and proceeds westward.

Governor William Cleaver Robinson has ordered the police on the SS Georgette not to create an incident outside territorial waters. After steaming around threateningly for about an hour, the SS Georgette heads back to Fremantle and Catalpa slips away into the Indian Ocean.

The Catalpa does its best to avoid Royal Navy ships on its way back to the United States. O’Reilly receives the news of the escape on June 6 and releases the news to the press. The news sparks celebrations in the United States and Ireland and anger in Britain and Australia, although there is also sympathy for the cause within the Australian population. The Catalpa arrives in New York Harbor on August 19, 1876. Clan na Gael and the Fenians achieve one of their greatest victories over the British Empire.

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British Release of Fenian Prisoners

cuba-fiveThe 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)


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Execution of Irish Republican Liam Mellows

liam-mellowsLiam Mellows, Irish republican and Sinn Féin politician, is executed by firing squad by Free State forces on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of Teachta Dála (TD) Seán Hales.

Mellows is born at Hartshead Military Barracks, Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire, England, to William Joseph Mellows, a British Army non-commissioned officer, and Sarah Jordan, of Inch, County Wexford. His family moves to 10 Annadale Avenue, Fairview, Dublin, in February 1895 when Sergeant Mellows is transferred there, however Liam remains in Wexford with his grandfather Patrick Jordan due to ill health. He attends the military school in Wellington Barracks in Cork and the Portobello garrison school in Dublin, but ultimately refuses a military career much to his father’s disappointment, instead working as a clerk in several Dublin firms, including the Junior Army & Navy Stores on D’Olier Street .

A nationalist from an early age, Mellows approaches Thomas Clarke, who recruits him to Fianna Éireann, an organisation of young republicans.

Mellows is introduced to socialism when he meets James Connolly at Countess Markiewicz’s residence, recuperating after his hunger strike. He is active in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and is a founder member of the Irish Volunteers , being brought onto its Organising Committee to strengthen the Fianna representation. He is arrested and jailed on several occasions under the Defence of the Realm Act. Eventually escaping from Reading Gaol, he returns to Ireland to command the “Western Division” of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Easter Rising of 1916.

Mellows leads roughly 700 Volunteers in abortive attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary
stations at Oranmore and Clarinbridge in County Galway and takes over the town of Athenry. However, his men are very badly armed and supplied and they disperse after a week, when British troops and the cruiser HMS Gloucester are sent west to attack them.

After this insurrection fails, Mellows escapes to the United States, where he is arrested and detained without trial in The Tombs in Lower Manhattan, New York, on a charge of attempting to aid the German side in World War I. After his release in 1918, he works with John Devoy and helps to organise Éamon de Valera’s fund raising visit to America in 1919–1920.

Mellows returns to Ireland to become Irish Republican Army “Director of Supplies” during the Irish War of Independence, responsible for buying arms. At the 1918 general election of December, he is elected to the First Dáil as a Sinn Féin candidate for both East Galway and for North Meath. He considers the Anglo-Irish Treaty as signed to be a betrayal of the Irish Republic. A conference of 9 TDs is deputed to meet privately on January 5, 1922 to resolve the dispute and to achieve a unified front by compromise. The four other anti-Treaty TDs say there is agreement but Mellows does not, and is seen thereafter by pro-Treaty TDs as one of their most implacable opponents. The following day the Dáil votes to approve the Treaty by a majority of 64 to 57.

Mellows is one of the more strident TDs on the approach to the Irish Civil War. In June 1922, he and fellow republicans Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett, among others, enters the Four Courts, which has been occupied by anti-Treaty forces since April. However, they are bombarded by pro-Treaty Free State forces and surrender after two days. Mellows has a chance to escape along with Ernie O’Malley, but does not take it. Imprisoned in Mountjoy Gaol, Mellows, O’Connor, McKelvey and Barrett are executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of TD Seán Hales. Mellows is buried in Castletown cemetery, County Wexford, a few miles from Arklow. An annual commemoration ceremony is held at his grave site, in which a wreath is laid by a member of the Liam Mellows Commemoration committee.

Mellows is commemorated by statues in Oranmore and Eyre Square in Galway, in the official name of the Irish Defence Forces army barracks at Renmore and in the naming of Mellows Bridge in Dublin. Mellows Avenue in Arklow is named in his honour. He is also commemorated in the names of two hurling clubs, one in Galway and one in Wexford, and by Unidare RFC in Ballymun and their “Liam Mellows Perpetual Cup.”


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New Departure

Fenians propose a “New Departure,” an alliance with the Parnellites, on October 27, 1878. The term New Departure is used to describe several initiatives in the late 19th century by which Irish republicans, who are committed to independence from Britain by physical force, attempt to find a common ground for co-operation with groups committed to Irish Home Rule by constitutional means. The term refers to the fact that Fenians are to some extent departing from their orthodox doctrine of noninvolvement with constitutional politics, especially the British parliament.

In January 1877, James Joseph O’Kelly, a journalist with the New York Herald persuades John Devoy to meet with Irish parliamentarians. In January 1878, Devoy meets with Charles Stewart Parnell in Dublin. In March the exiled senior Irish Republican Brotherhood member John O’Leary and Supreme Council secretary John O’Connor meet secretly in London with MPs Charles Stewart Parnell, Frank Hugh O’Donnell, William Henry O’Sullivan and O’Kelly. The meeting is sought by Parnell or by William Carroll of Clan na Gael to consider co-operation between the IRB and Parnell. Parnell apparently merely listens and does not commit himself.

John O’Connor and Dr. Mark Ryan, both members of the IRB’s Supreme Council, believe O’Connor Power has some hand in the new departure. John O’Connor suspects that Michael Davitt of the IRB has been influenced by O’Connor Power, and that the new departure proposals conceal some sinister scheme of Power’s devising, assumptions that Davitt hotly rejects. The precedent for constitutional agitation set by Power is not lost on orthodox Fenians such as Dr. Ryan, who sees behind the new departure the nefarious influence of the member for Mayo.

In late 1878 Michael Davitt makes a fund-raising political lecture tour of the United States, promoted by William Carroll and John Devoy of Clan na Gael. On October 13 in Brooklyn, New York, Davitt first presents, in a lecture titled “Ireland in parliament from a nationalist’s point of view,” a doctrine that Irish republicans can not prevent Irishmen voting or being elected to the British parliament, but they can influence who is sent to that parliament. He states that the Home Rule League, especially Isaac Butt and John O’Connor Power, are failing to prevent Ireland from being “imperialised” or “West Britainised.” Davitt however believes that Parnell and Joseph Biggar are acceptable Irish MPs, and Irish republicans should ensure that more such strong nationalists are voted in. John Devoy follows and points out that if Irish republicans are to gain the support of Britain’s potential enemies, such as Russia, they need to provide far stronger opposition to Britain both inside and outside parliament. He points out that Russia has not yet seen the Irish as providing any such meaningful opposition, in fact to Russia they appear loyal to Britain. Hence it is necessary to replace representatives in all Irish public bodies with suitable committed nationalists. Both Davitt and Devoy at this meeting stress that resolution of the Irish land question by transfer of ownership to the farmers themselves is integral to Irish demands on Britain.

On October 27, 1878, Devoy, without first consulting Davitt, summarises these ideas in what he terms a “new departure” in the New York Herald, and it is reported in Ireland on November 11. He also states that Irish participation in the British parliament is to be temporary, and that at a suitable time Irish nationalist MPs will withdraw to Dublin and form an independent Irish legislature. Davitt is at first worried that perceived connections to the Fenians will threaten Parnell in parliament, but Devoy convinces him that Parnell will not be affected. IRB leaders John O’Leary and Charles Kickham reject the overture to constitutionalists and Parnell gives no comment. He does however adopt the militant rhetoric of land ownership to be transferred to the Irish farmers themselves in various public speeches in Ireland. Hence the stage is set for the successful collaboration in 1879 over the Land War.

(Pictured: John Devoy)


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The Funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

The funeral of Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa is held before a huge crowd at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on August 1, 1915.

Rossa’s body had been returned from New York City where he died June 29. He had been exiled by the British for his Fenian activities in 1871. While in exile, Rossa manages to alienate many of his former Fenian colleagues, including his good friend John Devoy, with his uncompromising advocacy of violence to end British rule in Ireland. Perhaps his attitude is due in part to the harsh treatment he receives in British prisons as well as scenes he witnesses while helping to distribute relief in his native County Cork during the Great Hunger.

In the late 1870s, he organizes the “Skirmishing Fund,” which finances the infamous Fenian dynamite campaign in England. When he dies in New York on June 29, 1915, he is estranged from most in the Irish republican movement.

Rossa’s funeral is one of the seminal events in the revival of the Irish republican movement in Ireland. During the three days when Rossa lays in the vestibule of the City Hall, encased in a coffin with a plate glass lid, thousands of citizens pass by to pay their final respects.

The coffin is conveyed from the City Hall in the four-horse bier in waiting at 2:25 PM and fifteen minutes later the cortège starts, headed by a guard of honour of the Irish Volunteers with rifles, a mounted guard being supplied by the same body. The coffin is thickly covered with wreaths and an open carriage behind is also filled with floral tokens, while many of the contingents carry wreaths to be placed on the grave.

The procession, in marching four deep at a slow pace, takes a little over fifty minutes to pass the corner of Dame Street into George’s Street. A conservative estimate of those who actually take part in the procession give the numbers as exceeding 6,000 and there must be at least ten times that number lining the streets.

The funeral comes into College Green at about 3:00 PM, headed by a body of Volunteers with the St. James’s Band. It is nearing 6:00 PM when the hearse passes through the main gates of Glasnevin Cemetery. The avenue leading to the mortuary chapel is lined by detachments of Volunteers. The prayers in the chapel are said by the Rev. D. Byrne, chaplain. Several priests then accompany the coffin to the grave, which is situated just beyond the eastern fringe of the O’Connell circle, close to the graves of two other prominent Fenians, John O’Leary and James Stephens.

Patrick Pearse gives an address at the graveside which has resounded with republicans down through the years. The final words of his oration provide them with one of their most enduring slogans, “Ireland unfree will never be at peace.”

A firing party then fires a volley, the Last Post is sounded and wreaths are laid on the grave.


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Birth of Irish Rebel Leader John Devoy

john-devoyJohn Devoy, one of the most devoted revolutionaries the world has ever seen, is born in Kill, County Kildare, on September 3, 1842. Dedicating over 60 years of his life to the cause of Irish freedom, he is one of the few people to have played a leading role in the Fenian Rising of 1867, the 1916 Easter Rising, and the Irish War of Independence (1919 – 1921).

After the Great Famine, the family moves to Dublin where Devoy’s father obtains at job at Watkins’ brewery. Devoy attends night school at the Catholic University before joining the Fenians. In 1861 he travels to France with an introduction from Timothy Daniel Sullivan to John Mitchel. Devoy joins the French Foreign Legion and serves in Algeria for a year before returning to Ireland to become a Fenian organiser in Naas, County Kildare.

In 1865, when many Fenians are arrested, James Stephens, founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), appoints Devoy Chief Organiser of Fenians in the British Army in Ireland. His duty is to enlist Irish soldiers in the British Army into the IRB. In November 1865 Devoy orchestrates Stephens’ escape from Richmond Prison in Dublin.

In February 1866 an IRB Council of War calls for an immediate uprising but Stephens refuses, much to Devoy’s annoyance, as he calculated the Fenian force in the British Army to number 80,000. The British get wind of the plan through informers and move the regiments abroad, replacing them with regiments from Britain. Devoy is arrested in February 1866 and interned in Mountjoy Gaol, then tried for treason and sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude. In Portland Prison Devoy organises prison strikes and, as a result, is moved to Millbank Prison in Pimlico, London.

In January 1871, he is released and exiled to the United States as one of the “Cuba Five.” He receives an address of welcome from the House of Representatives. Devoy becomes a journalist for the New York Herald and is active in Clan na Gael. Under Devoy’s leadership, Clan na Gael becomes the central Irish republican organisation in the United States. In 1877 he aligns the organisation with the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Ireland.

In 1875, Devoy and John Boyle O’Reilly organise the escape of six Fenians from Fremantle Prison in Western Australia aboard the ship Catalpa. Devoy returns to Ireland in 1879 to inspect Fenian centres and meets Charles Kickham, John O’Leary, and Michael Davitt en route in Paris. He convinces Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell to co-operate in the “New Departure” during the growing Land War.

Devoy’s fundraising efforts and work to sway Irish Americans to physical force nationalism makes possible the Easter Rising in 1916. In 1914, Patrick Pearse visits the elderly Devoy in America, and later the same year Roger Casement works with Devoy in raising money for guns to arm the Irish Volunteers. Though he is skeptical of the endeavor, he finances and supports Casement’s expedition to Germany to enlist German aid in the struggle to free Ireland from English rule. Also, before and during World War I, Devoy is also identified closely with the Ghadar Party, and is accepted to have played a major role in supporting Indian Nationalists, as well as playing a key role in the Hindu-German Conspiracy which leads to the trial that is the longest and most expensive trial in the United States at the time.

In 1916 Devoy plays an important role in the formation of the Clan-dominated Friends of Irish Freedom, a propaganda organization whose membership totals 275,000 at one point. The Friends fail in their efforts to defeat Woodrow Wilson for the presidency in 1916. Fearful of accusations of disloyalty for their cooperation with Germans and opposition to the United States’ entering the war on the side of Great Britain, the Friends significantly lower their profile after April 1917. Sinn Féin‘s election victories and the British government’s intentions to conscript in Ireland in April 1917 help to revitalize the Friends.

With the end of the war, Devoy plays a key role in the Friends’ advocacy for not the United States’ recognition of the Irish Republic but, in keeping with President Wilson’s war aims, self-determination for Ireland. The latter does not guarantee recognition of the Republic as declared in 1916 and reaffirmed in popular election in 1918. American-Irish republicans challenge the Friends’ refusal to campaign for American recognition of the Irish Republic. Not surprisingly, Devoy and the Friends’ Daniel F. Cohalan become the key players in a trans-Atlantic dispute with de facto Irish president Éamon de Valera, touring the United States in 1919 and 1920 in hopes of gaining U.S. recognition of the Republic and American funds. Believing that the Americans should follow Irish policy, de Valera forms the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic in 1920 with help from the Philadelphia Clan na Gael.

Devoy returns to Ireland and in 1919 addresses Dáil Éireann. He later supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Devoy is editor of the Gaelic American from 1903 until his death in Atlantic City on September 29, 1928. His body is returned to Ireland and buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. A large memorial to him stands on the road between his native Kill and Johnstown.


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Death of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

jeremiah-odonovan-rossaJeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Irish Fenian leader and prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, dies suddenly in Staten Island, New York, on June 29, 1915.

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.