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


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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 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.)