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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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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)