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.