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


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Birth of John Martin, Irish Nationalist Activist

John Martin, Irish nationalist activist, is born on September 8, 1812, into a landed Presbyterian family, the son of Samuel and Jane (née Harshaw) Martin, in Newry, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland. He shifts from early militant support for Young Ireland and the Repeal Association, to non-violent alternatives such as support for tenant farmers’ rights and eventually as the first Home Rule MP, for Meath (1871–75).

Martin first meets John Mitchel while attending Dr. Henderson’s private school in Newry. He receives an Arts degree at Trinity College Dublin in 1832 and proceeds to study medicine, but has to abandon this in 1835 when his uncle dies and he has to return to manage the family landholding.

In 1847 Martin is moved by the Great Famine to join Mitchel in the Repeal Association but subsequently leaves it with Mitchel. He contributes to Mitchel’s journal, United Irishman, and then following Mitchel’s arrest on May 27, 1848, he continues with his own anti-British journal, The Irish Felon, and establishes “The Felon Club.” This leads to a warrant for his arrest, and he turns himself in on July 8, 1848. He is sentenced on August 18, 1848 to ten years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.

Martin arrives on the Elphinstone with Kevin Izod O’Doherty in Hobart, Tasmania, in November 1849. He accepts a “ticket of leave” which allows him to live in relative freedom at Bothwell, provided he promises not to escape.

While in Tasmania, Martin continues to meet in secret with his fellow exiles Kevin Izod O’Doherty, Thomas Francis Meagher, William Smith O’Brien, and John Mitchel. He and Mitchel live together before the arrival of Mitchel’s wife, Jenny. He chooses not to join Mitchel when Mitchel revokes his ticket of leave and escapes. Instead he remains in Tasmania until he is granted a “conditional pardon” in 1854. This allows him to leave for Paris, and he returns to Ireland on being granted a full pardon in 1856.

On return to Ireland Martin becomes a national organiser for the Tenant Right League. He begins to write for The Nation in 1860. He forms the National League with others in January 1864 – it is mainly an educational organisation but Fenians disrupt its meetings. He remains in contact with Mitchel in Paris through 1866. He opposes the Fenians’ support of armed violence, yet, together with Alexander Martin Sullivan in December 1867, he heads the symbolic funeral march honouring the Manchester Martyrs as it follows the MacManus route to Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. He is briefly arrested for these activities but the charges are dropped.

Martin is in the United States in December 1869 when he is nominated by Isaac Butt and his nationalists as the Irish nationalist Home Rule candidate to oppose Reginald Greville-Nugent, who is supported by the Catholic clergy, in the Longford by-election. Greville-Nugent initially wins the vote but the result is nullified by Judge Fitzgerald on the grounds that voters had been illegally influenced in the non-secret voting process. In the May 1870 re-run, Butt’s second candidate, Edward Robert King-Harman, like Martin a Protestant landlord, is also defeated, but this time legally.

Contradictions and factionalism are symptomatic of the struggle for influence and leadership at the time between the waning Church of Ireland and the rising Irish Catholic Church. Hence a secular Protestant land-owning, non-violent elite reformist nationalist who desires Home Rule like Martin, can find himself both sympathetic to and at odds with a militant organisation like the Fenians with their Jacobin– and American-influenced ideas of revolutionary republicanism and different social roots. Until Charles Stewart Parnell, the Isaac Butt-originated Home Rule forces could not obtain the support of the Catholic Church under the anti-Fenian Cardinal Paul Cullen or manage to achieve more than short-term tactical alliances with Fenians, leading to a split and uncoordinated opposition to British rule. Protestants such as Martin and John Mitchel, with their early political roots in Young Ireland, are, whatever their political ideals, not part of the majority Catholic mainstream, which consists largely of tenants rather than landlords.

In the January 1871 by-election, Martin is elected by a margin of 2–1 to the seat of Meath in the British parliament as the first Home Rule MP, representing first Isaac Butt’s Home Government Association and from November 1873 the Home Rule League. This is unusual for a Protestant in a Catholic constituency, and is a measure of the popular esteem Martin is held in. He retains his seat in the 1874 United Kingdom general election as one of 60 Home Rule members. He is commonly known as “Honest John Martin.” In parliament he speaks strongly for Home Rule for Ireland and opposes Coercion Bills.

Martin dies in Newry, County Down, on March 29, 1875, homeless and in relative poverty, having forgiven tenant fees during preceding years of inflation and low farm prices. His parliamentary seat of County Meath is taken up by Charles Stewart Parnell.

Martin marries Henrietta Mitchel, the youngest sister of John Mitchel, on November 25, 1868, after twenty years of courtship. She shares her husband’s politics, and after his death campaigns for home rule believing this to be a continuation of the Young Ireland mandate. After the split in the party, she sides with Charles Stewart Parnell. She dies at her home in Dublin on July 11, 1913, and is buried in Newry.


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Birth of Thomas Devin Reilly, Revolutionary & Journalist

Thomas Devin Reilly, Irish revolutionary, Young Irelander and journalist, is born in Monaghan, County Monaghan, on March 30, 1824.

Reilly is the son of a solicitor and completes his education at Trinity College, Dublin. From early on he espouses the republican beliefs of Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet and writes for The Nation and John Martin‘s The Irish Felon in support of economic and political improvements for the working class. He is more interested in the realities of the common man than high idealism.

As a member of the Irish Confederation during the Great Famine, Reilly together with John Mitchel and James Fintan Lalor advocate the refusal to pay rents, retention of crops by small tenant farmers and labourers to feed their own families, and the breaking up of bridges and tearing up of railway lines to prevent the removal of food from the country.

Reilly is involved in the failed Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 and is forced to flee to the United States where he becomes active in U.S. political affairs in support of Irish independence. He is reported to be the founder of The People newspaper in New York City which folds after six months in 1849.

James Connolly claims that as the editor of the Protective Union labour rights newspaper for the printers of Boston, Reilly is a pioneer of American labour journalism and that Horace Greeley believed of his series of articles in The American Review on the European situation “that if collected and published as a book, they would create a revolution in Europe.”

It is possible that Connolly confuses The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, which is known for its political activism, with The American Review, which for a time had Edgar Allan Poe as an editorial assistant. Other sources refer to Reilly as being editor of the New York Democratic Review and later the Washington Union.

Thomas Devin Reilly dies at the age of 30 on March 5, 1854. He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C., together with his infant child Mollie and wife Jennie Miller from Enniskillen.


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Birth of Fenian John O’Leary

john-o-learyJohn O’Leary, Irish republican and a leading Fenian, is born on July 23, 1830 in Tipperary, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned in England during the nineteenth century for his involvement in the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

O’Leary, born a Catholic, is educated at the local Protestant grammar school, The Abbey School, and later the Catholic Carlow College. He identifies with the views advocated by Thomas Davis and meets James Stephens in 1846.

He begins his studies in law at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1847, where, through the Grattan Club, he associates with Charles Gavan Duffy, James Fintan Lalor and Thomas Francis Meagher.

After the failure of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, O’Leary attempts to rescue the Young Ireland leaders from Clonmel Gaol, and is himself imprisoned for a week from September 8, 1849. He takes part in a further attempted uprising in Cashel on September 16, 1849, but this proves abortive.

O’Leary abandons his study of law at Trinity College because he is unwilling to take the oath of allegiance required of a barrister. He enrolls at Queen’s College, Cork in 1850, to study medicine, later moving to Queen’s College, Galway, then on to further studies at Meath Hospital in Dublin, in Paris and in London. In 1855, he visits Paris, where he becomes acquainted with Kevin Izod O’Doherty, John Martin and the American painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler. He subsequently becomes financial manager of the newly formed Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and is joint editor of the IRB paper The Irish People.

On September 16, 1865, O’Leary is arrested and later tried on charges of high treason, eventually reduced to “treason felony.” He is sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude, of which five years are spent in English prisons, prior to his release and exile in January 1871. During his exile, he lives mainly in Paris, also visiting the United States, remains active in the IRB and its associated organisations, and writes many letters to newspapers and journals.

On the expiration of his 20-year prison term and therefore of the conditions associated with his release in 1885, O’Leary returns to Ireland. He and his sister, the poet Ellen O’Leary, both become important figures within Dublin cultural and nationalist circles, which include William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Rose Kavanagh, Rosa Mulholland, George Sigerson, and Katharine Tynan. He also functions as an elder statesman of the separatist movement, being active in the Young Ireland Society, and acts as president of the Irish Transvaal Committee, which supports the Boer side in the Second Boer War.

John O’Leary dies at his residence in Dublin on the evening of March 16, 1907. He is referred to famously by W.B. Yeats in his poem September 1913: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone/It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

(Pictured: Painting of John O’Leary, a favorite subject of John Butler Yeats (1904). The National Gallery of Ireland owns three oil portraits of O’Leary.)


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Birth of Landscape Painter Francis Danby

Francis Danby, Irish painter of the Romantic era, is born near Killinick, County Wexford, on November 16, 1793. His imaginative, dramatic landscapes are comparable to those of John Martin. Danby initially develops his imaginative style while he is the central figure in a group of artists who have come to be known as the Bristol School. His period of greatest success is in London in the 1820s.

The death of Danby’s father in 1807 causes the family to move to Dublin. He begins to practice drawing at the Royal Dublin Society‘s schools and, under an erratic young artist named James Arthur O’Connor, he begins painting landscapes. Danby also makes acquaintance with George Petrie.

In 1813 Danby leaves for London together with O’Connor and Petrie. This expedition, undertaken with very inadequate funds, quickly comes to an end, and they have to get home again by walking. At Bristol they make a pause and Danby, finding he can get trifling sums for watercolor drawings, remains there working diligently and sending pictures of importance to the London exhibitions. There his large oil paintings quickly attract attention.

Around 1819, Danby becomes a member of the informal group of artists which become known as the Bristol School, taking part in their evening sketching meetings and sketching excursions visiting local scenery. He remains connected with members of the Bristol School for about a decade, even after leaving Bristol in 1824.

The group initially forms around Edward Bird, and Danby eventually succeeds Bird as its central figure. The Bristol artists, particularly the amateur Francis Gold, are also important in influencing Danby towards a more imaginative and poetical style. George Cumberland, another of the amateurs, has influential London connections. In 1820 when Danby exhibits The Upas Tree of Java at the British Institution, Cumberland uses his influence to promote its favourable reception. Danby’s atmospheric work An Enchanted Island, successfully exhibited in 1825 at the British Institution and then back in Bristol at the Bristol Institution, is in turn particularly influential on other Bristol School artists.

The Upas Tree of Java (1820) and The Delivery of Israel (1825) bring him his election as an Associate Member of the Royal Academy of Arts. He leaves Bristol for London, and in 1828 exhibits his Opening of the Sixth Seal at the British Institution, receiving from that body a prize of 200 guineas.

In 1829 Danby’s wife deserts him, running off with the painter Paul Falconer Poole. Danby leaves London, declaring that he will never live there again. For a decade he lives on the Lake Geneva in Switzerland, becoming a Bohemian with boat-building fancies, painting only occassionaly. He later moves to Paris for a short period of time. He returns to England in 1840.

Francis Danby lives his final years at Exmouth in Devon, where he dies on February 9, 1861. Along with John Martin and J. M. W. Turner, Danby is considered among the leading British artists of the Romantic period.


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Founding of the Tenant Right League

The Tenant Right League, an organisation which aims to secure reforms in the Irish land system, is founded in Dublin on August 9, 1850, at a meeting attended by representatives of the Tenant Protection Societies. Formed by Charles Gavan Duffy and Frederick Lucas, the League unites for a time Protestant and Catholic tenants, Duffy calling his movement The League of North and South.

The political background to the movement is the Encumbered Estates Act and the resultant change in land ownership at landlord level. In the North of Ireland, Protestant and Presbyterian ministers fear that the new landlords will destroy the “Ulster custom” of tenancy, which compensates tenants for any improvement undertaken. Concurrently, in the South of Ireland politically minded young Catholic priests are agitating for the adoption there of the Ulster custom as a measure of reform.

Support for the League initially comes from the Ulster Tenant Right Association led by William Sharman Crawford. The support is short-lived because of the involvement of Catholic clergymen from the south. As a constitutional movement, the League seeks to secure the adoption and enforcement of the Three Fs, namely fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale. All of these would aid Irish tenant farms, all of whom lack them.

For the larger tenant farmers fixity of tenure is the priority. On the other hand the league never has the support of smaller tenants, whose prime concern is fair rents. The founders strive to establish a parliamentary party of Irish members who will oppose any government not prepared to grant “Tenant-right” also known as the Ulster Custom.

The Tenant Right League meets with considerable success under its national organiser, John Martin. It has the support of the surviving members of the Repeal Association in the British House of Commons as well as a number of English Radicals. It is agreed, all around, that a Land Act embodying the three F’s would be a real gain. In the 1852 general election, some fifty Tenant Right candidates, including Gavan Duffy, Lucas and John Sadleir, are returned to parliament, where they sit as the Independent Irish Party.

The League’s success is short lived and is ultimately destroyed and weakened when a number of prominent members break away and established the Catholic Defence Association. Supporters of the league are also intimidated by hostile landlords. The most serious blows to its success come when Lucas decides to take his complaint about the Archbishop of Dublin Paul Cullen to Rome, which alienates clerical support. Lucas dies in October 1855 shortly after the failure of his mission, a month later Gavan Duffy emigrates to Australia.

The League finally dissolves in 1859, and the Independent Irish Party disappears by 1860. The demand for tenants rights is however continued by Bishop Thomas Nulty of County Meath and taken up again as a popular cause by the Irish National Land League in 1879, when the “Three Fs” are anchored in the Land Law (Ireland) Act 1881, previously pursued rigorously by Michael Davitt.