02 SEPTEMBER 1899
Just now when the English and Scottish uitlanders of the Transvaal are engaged in boycotting the Irishmen out there, the favourite term of reproach they use, I understand, is ‘Aylwards.’ When you ask the average British jingo in Africa who Aylward was he will inform you he was a Fenian, a traitor, a conspirator, an adventurer, and a soldier of fortune, and feel quite indignant if you don’t look shocked.
Alfred Aylward was a Dublinman, the son I believe, of a Protestant clergyman. In Ireland he worked as a telegraphist and joined the I.R.B. He was arrested and some compromising documents found on him, but nevertheless he was shortly afterwards released, and this fact, apparently, led some persons to regard him as a spy, for he was, a little later shot at in the streets. Some time afterwards he made his way to Africa and joined in the rush to the diamondfields, where he established and edited the first paper ever issued there. The treatment of the diggers by the British authorities was oppressive in the extreme; they were consistently tyrannised over and plundered. Aylward, who was a master of biting sarcasm, incurred the hatred of the corrupt Government gang by his scathing articles, but they did not cease to oppress and extort. Eventually he called on the diggers to assert their manhood and they answered splendidly to his call. Armed with rifles and pistols they thronged in and with unanimous voice called on him to lead them, and he placed himself at their head. The British governors fled, and Aylward, amidst the enthusiastic cheers of the diggers, hauled down the Union Jack and ran up in its place a green flag with a crownless harp as the standard of the Diggers’ Republic.
That green flag irritated the British Government so much that they gathered every piece of artillery they could find handy round Capetown and sent their troops up with them to blow it down. The diggers, of course, had no artillery and not too many rifles, their main weapons were pistols and revolvers, so they could make little stand against the troops. The Union Jack was re-erected and Aylward fled and was declared an outlaw.
Later on, however, the decree of outlawry was withdrawn, owing to the discontent it excited amongst the diggers and Aylward returned to the fields and was enthusiastically welcomed. Some years later, when the Transvaal was engaged in the Secocoeni war, he answered President Burgers’ appeal for aid by raising 250 men and marching to the assistance of the Boers. Amongst other things he built a celebrated fort which he named the ‘Faugh-a-ballagh,’ and held it even after the annexation of the Transvaal by the English, flying the Vierkleur and the Irish flag over it until, on being assured by the Boers that they did not intend at the time to dispute the annexation by force of arms, he capitulated honourably. His sympathy with the Boers induced him to go to Europe to plead their case and seek assistance for them. To this end he wrote his powerful book on the Transvaal and besought assistance from the Fenian organisation. This he was successful in obtaining and he returned to Natal to await events, working there as a journalist. On the outbreak of the War of Independence he crossed the frontier and joined the Boers, acting as war secretary to Joubert. He was present at the battles of Ingogo, Lang’s Nek, and Amajuba, and was the principal leader, after Joubert, in the two later engagements. After the war he came to Europe, passing through Natal where a conspiracy existed to murder him. From Europe he proceeded to the United States, whence he crossed into Canada, where he interviewed the French-Canadian and half-breed leaders. The latter he found ready and eager for revolt; the former, sympathetic to revolution, but unwilling to stir until they saw a clear chance of success. Aylward returned to the States and explained matters to the Clan-na-Gael. He was promised assistance in men, arms, and money. He hastened back to Canada and found that Louis Riel, who had assumed command of the half-breeds, had prematurely started the fighting. This blunder destroyed the movement, and after a brief and gallant struggle the insurgents were defeated. Aylward fought beside Riel to the end and a body of forty or fifty Irish-Americans, commanded by two officers of the American army, crossed to their assistance, but owing to the initial mistake nothing more could be done.
Aylward got back to the States on the termination of the insurrection. Two or three years later he was accidentally killed in the Rocky Mountains.
Such, roughly is an outline of Aylward’s career. An adventurer—no! He never sought to acquire wealth for himself, and he was always a generous, open-hearted fellow. A soldier of fortune—no! His sword was not for sale. A traitor—Yes, according to British law. A conspirator—Decidedly, all his life, in three continents, against the British Empire. Half-a-dozen men as courageous, as determined, as able and as resourceful as he would go well-night to wiping it out.