Though I spoke of the McManus funeral before, I have now to speak of it again. I find among my papers a letter written by James Stephens to John O’Mahony, the week after the funeral took place in Dublin. It deals trenchantly with the milk-and-water Irish patriots of that time and even of this time who are ever telling us that “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity,” and ever calling upon us to “bide our time,” and do nothing until that time comes.
This is that letter:
Brother—Your last letter (30th Nov.) was placed in my hand yesterday by Lieut. O’Connor. On the whole it is the healthiest, and consequently the most pleasant communication I have had from you for years. This is owing to its freedom from what looked like a chronic disease in you—fault-finding in general and a proneness to advice, and even lecturing, men of ripe years who have proved themselves the only practical workmen this country has produced in our time. I say this without the most remote intention to hurt you in any way, and solely that you may henceforth avoid what has been not alone irritating to me, but calculated to lower you in the estimation of men who would otherwise think highly of you. Now, if ever, there should be a thorough understanding and union between us, and to this end it is incumbent on us to cut as little as possible against the grain. A word to the wise. Even in this last letter, you complain of not having been written to; from which it follows that you had not received a letter of mine written immediately after the funeral.
If the post office has not begun to play on us, your complaint has been proved a vain one long ago. The letter of mine alluded to was a hurried answer to this constant complaint of yours anent non-correspondence; but, if necessary, I could say a great deal more than my letter contained. About the same time, I sent you twenty copies of the Irishman, twenty of the Freeman’s Journal and twenty of the Express. These three papers, as you are aware, represent three sets of opinions—the National (for unfortunately or fortunately, as the case may be, we have no other national journal than that brassy, mendacious, silly, sordid and malignant Irishman), the Whig and the Tory; perhaps the article of the last organ is the most telling of all. My letter, should you have received it, gives a far more correct estimate of the power, feeling and discipline manifested by us at the funeral; but should my letter have gone astray, Jeremiah Kavanagh, who will hand you this, can make up for everything. And here, I may as well say a few words about the American Deputation. The Brothers, without exception, have given thorough satisfaction; Jeremiah Kavanagh, especially, has been of important service to us, owing not only to his zeal and subordination, but also to his natural talents as a ready and effective speaker. But I wish it to be distinctly understood that I am thoroughly satisfied with all the Brothers. On their return, they can be of much service to us here, not only in the fulfilment of their usual duties, but in holding up to just scorn and reprobation the vile press and sham patriots we have to deal with—the brood who have so long passed as the “Trusted Leaders” of the people. By Demas, we have scared and routed them somewhat here; but the coup de grace can be given them yonder by the Deputation. As you are wise and true—to yourself, to us, and to your country—do not neglect to favor all willing hearts in this great duty.
Crisis or no Crisis?—that is the question. Another question, of far more importance to us, is this: If a real crisis, what will be its consequences to us? I shall offer a few observations on these two points. If there be one thing, in connection with the cause of Ireland, I more cordially detest than any other, it is what scribblers or spouters call “a Crisis.” It has been the chronic bane of Ireland—a more fatal bane than famine or any other the enemy have had, to perpetuate their rule. A bane—a scourge—a disease—a devil’s scourge it has been to us. Its best known formula has resolved itself into this: “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity.” Blind, base and deplorable motto—rallying-cry—motive of action—what you will. May it be accursed, it, its aiders and abettors. Owing to it, and them, the work that should never have stood still, has been taken up in feverish fits and starts, and always out of time, to fall into collapse when the “opportunity,” predestined to escape them, had slipped through their hands. Ireland’s trained and marshalled manhood alone can ever make—could ever have made—Ireland’s opportunity.
And this opportunity, the manhood of Ireland alone, without the aid of any foreign power—without the aid of even our exiled brothers, could have been made any time these thirty years; and, whether England was at peace or war, with this manhood alone we could have won our own. But our duped and victimized countrymen, giving ear to the imbecile or knavish cry of “English difficulty,” stood, with mouth agape, and over and over again, waiting—“biding their time”—till the opportunity came, and left them as before. Accursed, I say, be the barren, lunatic or knavish clods who raised this dog souled cry—a cry to be heard even now, in the mouths of the slanderous brood who, as you say, “first misled and then abandoned a brave and devoted people.” They are, I say, raising the cry once more—this cry of—a crisis—“England’s difficulty.”
By the time this reaches you—before it reaches you—you shall have heard of the “Mass Meeting” at the Rotundo. I shall speak of it myself by and by; but for the present, I pass on to the—crisis! Is it to be a real crisis after all? I am far from convinced of it. Nothing, far as I can see, has taken place to preclude an arrangement—a compromise of some sort. It seems to me that the reasons for this, especially on the side of America, are very cogent. I waive the question of the actual state of Jonathan—a state which, according to your own account, bodes something like decomposition—a crumbling into utter chaos. How would a war with England set this to right? Are the men at Washington so ignorant of human nature as to hope, even in the face of a foreign foe, for a fusion with the South?
Then look to Europe. There, the feeling, and what is of far greater weight in human action, the interests of all are decidedly with England. It is by no means impossible—even improbable—that France will be thoroughly with England. America cannot possibly be blind to this; if blind now, her eyes will be opened, probably, in time to stave off a collision. Granted, however, that human passions, human blindness—shall hurry the States into this war with England, and that we shall have a bona fide crisis. Granted, too, that Europe shall rise above mere interest, stand aloof from the fray, and leave England to fight it out single-handed. What will then be the consequences to us? Do you hope for good results? I am not by any means sanguine; or, to be thoroughly outspoken, it seems to me—I apprehend—that, in the case in question, far more evil than good shall accrue to us.
Once engaged with England, our communications with America are at an end; at least, no men can come home, and even money, only in an indirect and roundabout way. Then, the cry will be on your side, “let us settle our own difficulties first—let us drive the enemy from our shores, and then we shall do your business for you.” How long will this state of things last? How many of the best of our race shall be sacrificed in this way? And they, poor dupes and victims, shall be all the while dreaming that they are serving their native land! Then, again, some popular soldier, gifted with more heart than brain, or without much of either, may get it into his head to prepare an expedition, “homeward bound.” Let us suppose he has forced the double blockade—yonder and here—and that he has actually set foot on Irish soil. He landed where he could; but, for the sake of argument, I suppose he landed on some point where we are strong. To suppose the contrary would be to talk of utter ruin to us and the cause of Ireland forevermore.
For we have but this one chance. Any man who holds the contrary, is incapable of making up the sum—two and two are four. There he is, then, on some favorable point. How many men could he bring to us under the circumstances? Granted—again for the sake of argument—that the number is considerable. As we have had no understanding with him—as he takes us as much by surprise as the enemy—we have only to make the most of the—shall I call it Godsend? Then again—but I will not go on in this stain of conjecture. I shall merely say that I augur no good for us from this war, so much desired by certain Irish patriots. The consummation most devoutly to be wished for by us is this: An arrangement or compromise of some kind between North and South, and the consequent disbandment of the army.
Then, as well as meantime, our communications would be open with you; money and men might be coming over to us, and we would choose our own time for the first blow. Indeed, the advantages to us appear to me so manifest, in this latter case—that of England keeping out of the struggle—that it would be boresome to you to point them out. Were we in the field, it would be clearly an advantage to us to have England in a death struggle with America; but I am more than doubtful of the advantages to be gained by us should this struggle begin before we rise. But of course—or is it so?—we can do nothing to bring about or prevent this war. You say that, should it take place, “your purpose is to offer your own services and those of your friends to the United States government to serve against England, in Ireland if possible, but if not, anywhere.”
I look upon this as wise, and fully approve of it. You will recollect that, in my letter of the 8th of June last, I counselled you to make yourself thoroughly aware of the spirit and action of those amongst whom you were living, and then take action yourself, always aiming at the greatest service to Ireland. Now, in case of a war with England, all the Irish race on the American continent will be into it; so that you could not stand aloof without the utter loss of your influence. Clearly you must to the field, and the more prominent your position, the better for Ireland. Granted, then, that you are in the field, and in a foremost position, I would not allow myself, even then, to be too hasty in urging on an expedition.
I should keep up my correspondence with home, and be sure that everything was right there, convinced that, without a vast power of trained men at home, armed already, or to be provided with arms by me, the expedition—if not far beyond anything that has ever in that way steered for the Irish shore—could only compromise the last chance like every preceding one. I would not, like so many ignorant or silly men, fancy that 10,000 or 20,000, or even 30,000 Irish-Americans, could if landed on our shores, give freedom to my country, unless, as already said, a vast power of trained men, armed already, or to be armed by me, were ready to fly to my standard.
I would not allow myself to be deluded by the lunatic dream, that a mob, however numerous or numberless, could make victory a certain or even a probable thing. I would believe, on the other hand, that a trained power at home—say of 100,000 men—already armed, or for whom I bought arms, could—nay would—be sure to do more with the aid of so small a number as 1,000, than an auxiliary force of even 30,000 could ever effect, if backed by a mere mob, whatever its number. I would therefore and as already said, be sure that there was at home a strong power of trained men to cooperate with the force brought by me, and till I was sure of this, nothing could force me to undertake a descent on the Irish shores, convinced that such descent, so far from serving my country, would only deprive her of the last chance of freedom. These are amongst the many things sure to be suggested to me, should I ever find myself in the position I supposed you in toute a l’heure. Let us be provided against all contingencies.
In haste, yours faithfully,
J. Kelly, (James Stephens).
That is a letter entitled to serious consideration from the Irish newspaper men of Ireland and America who occasionally write of “England’s difficulty being Ireland’s opportunity.” And much more is it a letter worthy of serious consideration from the patriotic Irishmen enrolled in military regiments, and military companies, connected with Irish societies in America. Those men have the proper Irish spirit—the spirit to become proficient as soldiers—with the hope that some day an opportunity may come to them to fight for the freedom of their native land. But this thing of waiting for that opportunity, instead of making it, (which Irishmen could do, and should do) has taken many an Irish soldier to his grave without doing any fighting for Ireland.
If the Irish men and Irish societies and Irish soldiers of the world do nothing to make “difficulties” for England but what they are doing at the present day, I, too, have little hope but that I will be in my “long home” before I see Ireland free. For I, too, from my earliest days, and all the days of my life, desired to be a soldier for Ireland—desired to be among the men who would be at the front in the face of danger, daring and doing all that brave men could dare and do for their country’s freedom.
When John O’Leary was writing his “Recollections of Fenianism” in the Dublin papers, in the year 1896, he said that when the Phœnix prisoners were in the Cork Jail, word was sent to them by James Stephens not to accept their release from jail on the terms of pleading “guilty.”
I know that the prisoners got no such word—for I was one of them. The men of the organization who were in Cork City were somewhat disaffected; they spoke to us as if the whole work was abandoned after the arrests. There was general disorganization and demoralization.
After our release from prison Mr. Thomas Clarke Luby visited the south of Ireland a few times. He was in communication with James Stephens in Paris, and with John O’Mahony. A letter he wrote to John O’Mahony in August, 1860, will give the reader an idea of the difficulties that beset the organization that time. This is it:
Dublin, 25th August, 1860.
My dear Mr. O’Mahony—I shall commence this letter by informing you that when your agent James Butler arrived in P——, our friend there decided on associating me with him in his Irish mission. Accordingly, copies of your correspondence with Chicago and St. Louis were placed in my hands; also, copies of all the passages of your letter to James, embodying charges, and, lastly, a long and able statement written by our friend. I was instructed to accompany your agent through the country; to make use of those papers; to place the charges contained in them before the principal shareholders of our firm; to explain the greater or less amount of truth existing in those charges; to lay before our friends fairly and squarely the question—whether our friend should withdraw from the management of the firm, or remain at his post; to try to produce a pressure from the members of the firm here on those across the sea, and to cause such steps to be taken as would give you satisfactory means of demonstrating, in the teeth of all reports to the contrary effect, that the transactions of the firm here were bona fide transactions. With this view, to cause letters to be written by friends of ours, in various localities through the country, to their friends in America, calling on them to repose unlimited confidence in you, and to sustain you in all your efforts; and, finally, I was to write and sign a document expressing the most unbounded confidence in you (as you will see, I have written one, expressing unlimited confidence in both you and our friend;) and to procure as many signatures to the document, of principal shareholders, as I could.
I have carried out those instructions to the best of my ability, and in fact, my success in the business has gone beyond my warmest anticipations. I would have written to you sooner, in order to relieve the anxiety which I know you must feel, were it not that I still was hoping to send my communication by Mr. C. Besides, as you will gather from the ensuing portion of this letter, the work to be done was not completed; and indeed, owing to unavoidable circumstances, it is even yet incomplete. However, I can no longer withhold from you the cheering intelligence I have to give you. Therefore, I have at last decided on sending you a letter by post.
But, let me here, in the first place, assert emphatically that never have more impudent and calumnious falsehoods been uttered than the statements regarding our business madly hazarded by that unfortunate rash man over there.
To dare deny that our firm was bona fide and solvent! Placing out of view for a moment the result of my movements, Mr. C.——, and Mr. B——, of St. Louis will, on their return, furnish you with a triumphant refutation of the monstrous and barefaced calumny. Nay, their letters must already, I should think, have satisfied you about our solvency. Why, even your friend Mr. K——, who saw comparatively little, learned enough, I fancy, to enable him to convince you that our transactions here are bona fide. I would almost venture to maintain that our County Cork branch alone, even now, comes up to the full height of what James originally engaged to do. What, then, shall we say when we take Kilkenny and the other districts into our calculation?
But, to give you a summary of the results of my mission: Since I received our friend’s instructions I have seen twenty principal shareholders, not to speak of numerous lesser ones who called on me in various places. Of these twenty, no less than nineteen signed the paper of confidence, and signed it in a manner which quadrupled my delight at getting their signatures. They listened to the tale of the calumnies of that unhappy man, but also with unspeakable scorn and indignation.
I cannot give you any adequate idea of the warmth with which I was received by some of the shareholders and their friends. My only complaint was, that their ardor occasionally outran discretion. Seeing those things with my bodily vision, and, at the same time calling to mind the outrageously impudent statements which had been made in certain quarters, I often fancied myself in a sort of dream. I do not deny that in two or three places I found apathy. But in spite of such drawbacks, I derived more pleasure from this last trip than from all my former ones put together. Almost everything satisfied me. In some spots, where, up to this, was comparative coldness; for the future expect enthusiasm. I got but one refusal, and even that did not by any means amount to a withdrawal of confidence. Indeed, the refusal was based on grounds simply childish. This occurred in Waterford City; but I have discovered another friend there who, without interfering with the former agent, will act with youthful energy. Lest I should forget it, let me add that shortly some new travelers will be added to the firm.
But, to return. I got three signatures by letter since I came back to Dublin. The letters shall be sent as vouchers. As my tour was unavoidably shortened, Mr. C—— procured me another signature; while Dan, who recently received a remittance will, in two or three days, send me not less than six more. Altogether, I should have from 27 to 30. This is surely wonderful, considering all things. Bear in mind, that two places in North Tipperary (where things are more or less in confusion) and three in Waterford County, (which I have reason to believe more or less good), with three indifferently managed places in other directions, must all remain unvisited. This, for many reasons, which can be explained hereafter.
I had almost forgotten to add here, that I expect that numbers of letters will be written by friends of ours in various parts of Ireland, calling on their friends at the other side to sustain you. In a word, the confidence of our shareholders cannot be overturned. I may as well state now, that the prospect of a visit from you delighted all. This visit will produce the greatest results. Nothing should prevent it from taking place.
I might for a moment speak my own mind. When our concern began, I was not over-sanguine. But now, supposing I were not already a shareholder and yet could know everything I do know, I would at once become a shareholder, aye, without a moment’s hesitation or loss of time. I say it emphatically; we have to-day a better starting point than any we have had up to this.
This belief of mine is shared by most of our friends. Even J. P. Leonard of Paris, (coldly as he is wont to look on our prospects, and little prone as he is to indulge in sanguine anticipations)—agreed with me so far, two or three days ago. But, when I speak thus confidently, recollect that my confidence is based on the hope that we shall now act on the minds of our friends across the sea in such wise as to make them react on us in a regular go-ahead style. We bear, recollect, a certain brunt, which as yet they have not to bear. It is little enough, then for them to attend chiefly and efficiently to the financial department. Besides, have not our friends here sunk large sums, too?
In fact, some few of our shareholders in the South are beginning to lose faith in your branch, and to think more and more every day of self-reliance. They are in sooth, a little disgusted with the great promises and little performance of some men at the other side who, let me add, seem so ready to censure shortcomings, for which in reality, they have only themselves to blame, and to believe the vilest slanders, backed by testimony insufficient to convict, the basest of mankind.
I remain, dear Mr. O’Mahony,
Very truly yours,
Then, on the American side of the water, there were rumors going around to the prejudice of John O’Mahony, and of his efforts to spread the movement. Parties were saying that everything in Ireland was dead; that there was no organization there; that what was there, died out with the arrest and imprisonment of the men there.
To contradict those reports it was deemed necessary by James Stephens to get to a document the signatures of the centres who were again working actively in different counties of Ireland, and to send that document to John O’Mahony. Mr. Luby exerted himself to get those signatures. Here is what he says to Mr. O’Mahony, sending him the paper:
Dublin, Sept. 9, 1860.
My dear Mr. O’Mahony—I send you the document of confidence with the signature of twenty-five officers of the “A” class or, as our American friends I believe, call them, head-centres. Considering that circumstances compelled us to leave many good men unvisited, this is far from being a bad result. We are all in good spirits at home here. Many circumstances combine to enliven us now; among other exhilarating causes, the prospect of a speedy visit from you is an exhilarating one.
And here is a copy of the paper:
We, the undersigned local representatives, in Ireland, of the Irish Firm—over the American branch of which John O’Mahony has been appointed Supreme Director—hereby express our unlimited confidence in the ability and integrity with which that gentleman has conducted our affairs in America; and, also, our admiration of the noble constancy which has enabled him to sustain our interests unflinchingly amidst the severest trials, and in the face of the most shameful and unmerited calumny.
We also testify, in the strongest manner, our approval of the conduct and devotion of James Stephens, in the general arrangement of the firm, under similar trying circumstances, and, finally, we confirm both these gentlemen in the authority originally conferred upon them; and express our unalterable determination to stand by them while they represent us, against all their enemies, whether open or disguised—their enemies being ours, also!
1. Peter Langan, Dublin.
2. Thomas Clarke Luby, Dublin.
3. Joseph Dennieffe, Dublin.
4. Charles Beggs, Dublin.
5. James. W. Dillon, WIcklow.
6. Thomas Purcell, Bray.
7. William Butler, Waterford City.
8. John Haltigan, Kilkenny.
9. John O’Cavanagh, Carrick-on-Suir.
10. Edward Coyne, Callan.
11. Thos. Hickey, Coolanmuck Co., Waterford.
12. Dennis D. Mulcahy, Jr., Redmondstone, Co. Tipperary.
13. Brian Dillon, Cork City.
14. William O’Carroll, Cork City.
15. Jer. O’Donovan-Rossa, Skibbereen, Cork
16. Daniel McCartie, Skibbereen, Cork.
17. James O’Mahony, Bandon, Co. Cork.
18. Thomas P. O’Connor, Laffana, Tipperary Co.
19. James O’Connell, Clonmel.
20. William O’Connor, Grange, Clonmel.
21. Michael Commerford, Newtown, Carrick-on-Suir.
22. Mortimer Moynahan, Skibbereen, Co. Cork.
23. Eugene McSwiney, Toames, Macroom
24. Denis O’Shea, Kenmare
25. Martin Hawe, Kilkenny
The following two letters from Michael Commerford, of Carrick-on-Suir, and Martin Hawe, of Kilkenny (still living, 1898) bear testimony as to the truth and time of my story.
High Street, Kilkenny, Sept. 7th, 1860.
In compliance with yours it is with much pleasure I state that I place the greatest confidence in the honor and integrity of the two gentlemen who have labored so hard to reestablish the true Irish manufactory, which goods are just now in very great demand. Should either of those two gentlemen withdraw, I will never deal with the firm after.
Newtown, Carrick-on-Suir, 8 August, ’60.
Dear Mr. Luby—I authorize you to sign my name to the papers expressing confidence in the devotion and wisdom of our leaders, James and John.
Keep up your spirits. We are all well and determined. Your friend T. O’C. waited on me.
Mr. Thomas Clark.