On the evening of December the 5th, 1858, there was an entertainment at my house in Skibbereen in compliment to Dan McCartie, the brewer, who was leaving town, to accept the position of brewer in some Brewery in the County Galway. The company did not separate till about two o’clock. I went to bed, and was soon aroused from sleep by a thundering knocking at the hall door. When it was opened a dozen policemen rushed in and took charge of me and of every one in the house. Then every room was ransacked for papers, and for everything contraband of war—contraband of peace or war, I may say.
I stood in the drawing-room under arrest. The sergeant-in-command was smashing the drawers of the chiffonier in search of documents. My wife rushed toward him, crying out not to break the drawers, as she would get him the keys. He rudely shoved her away. One of the policemen near me was making a rush at him, but I caught him and pushed him back. He was a Kerryman named Moynahan; he is not living now, so I do him no harm by mentioning his name. Tom O’Shea was a guest at the entertainment, he lived at the Curragh, some distance from the town.
As there was an “eerie” place at the Steam-mill Cross, on his way home, where the “good people” used to show themselves, I told him it was better for him to sleep in one of the rooms than to risk getting a “puck” by traveling that road at the dead hour of the night. He was occupying one of the bedrooms when the police ransacked the house. They made a prisoner of him, and he was taken with us to Cork Jail, though he never was a member of the Phœnix Society. He was simply a friend of mine and a friend of Dan McCartie, and was at the entertainment as such. ’Tis one of those misfortunes that come upon good people on account of keeping bad company. Some twenty men were arrested in Skibbereen that night.
We were lodged in the police barracks till clear day in the morning. Then, with two policemen in charge of every one of us—every one of us handcuffed to a policeman—we were taken through the towns of Rosscarbery and Clonakilty, to Bandon, where we arrived about seven o’clock in the evening. We were put into the jail of Bandon that night, and put into cells that were flooded with water. We met here Jerrie Cullinane, Pat Cullinane, Denis O’Sullivan, and William O’Shea, who had been arrested in Bantry that morning. Next morning we were taken by train to the county jail in the city of Cork. We were two weeks in this jail, without any trial or any charge of any kind being made against us.
Then, two stipendiary magistrates came into the jail, and opened court in a room in the jail, and charged us with treason of some kind to something belonging to England. We had McCarthy Downing for our attorney. Sullivan-goula was there to swear that we belonged to the Phœnix society; that he saw us in the rooms of the society, and that he saw me drilling three hundred men out near the New bridge one night. He never saw such a drilling; there never was such a drilling took place; he never saw a drilling of any kind amongst us anywhere.
’Tis true, that he saw many of us at the rooms of the Phœnix Society, for he was lodging in the house where those rooms were. We, having word from Kenmare, that he was a suspicious character, and maybe sent among us as an English spy, went in some numbers to the rooms that night, out of curiosity, to see him. We told Morty Downing to bring him in to the room, that we may have some talk with him. In his sworn information against us, he swore against every man that was in the room that night—swore that they were all among the three hundred men that I was drilling out at the New bridge that same night. He didn’t leave a single one of the company escape, that would be able to contradict his perjury.
Fitzmaurice, the stipendiary magistrate, knew well that he was swearing falsely. In fact, it was Fitzmaurice that made the swearing for him; and made the plot for him. Davis, the stipendiary magistrate, knew well he was swearing falsely; Davis belonged to Roscommon, and seemed to have more of a conscience than Fitzmaurice, for he used to occasionally address Goula, when McCarthy Downing was cross examining him, and say “Oh, you unfortunate man! Remember you are testifying on your oath before your God;” but ’twas all to no use; Goula went along with his perjuries. Sir Matthew Barrington, the Crown Prosecutor, was down from Dublin to assist Goula in this star-chamber prosecution.
To provide some kind of testimony that would make a corroboration of Goula’s testimony, he put on the witness table one of the Skibbereen policemen, who swore that he saw Denis Downing marching through North street, Skibbereen “with a military step.” In the cross-examination of this policeman, our attorney asked him, “Who was walking with Denis Downing?” The policeman said, “No one was walking with him, but he was stepping out like a soldier.” And so he was a soldier—by nature and instinct—as many an Irishman is; he is the Captain Denis Downing who lost a leg at the battle of Gettysburg in America, and who had charge of the military company that were present at the execution of Mrs. Suratt in Washington, America.
He was released from Cork Jail that day of the examination there; but his brother Patrick—who afterward came to be in command of the Forty second (Tammany) Regiment in the American war—was detained in jail till an appeal was made to the Queen’s Bench for his release on bail. About half the number arrested in Bantry and Skibbereen were so released at this first examination in Cork Jail. The other half were kept in prison, and would not be released on bail. Then, an application for “release on bail” was made to the Court of Queen’s Bench in Dublin, and all were released, except Billy O’Shea, Morty Moynahan, and myself.
The Tralee Assizes came on in March, 1859, and Dan O’Sullivan-agreem was convicted and sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude. The Cork Assizes came on a week afterward. Our attorney came to us in Cork Jail and told us that if we allowed our counsel to put in a plea of “guilty” we would be released without any sentence of punishment being passed against us. “Plead guilty!” said we, “and confirm the sentence on Dan Agreem, and put the stamp of truth on all the perjuries Sullivan-goula swore against us! No, we would not do it.”
Patrick’s Day came on; it was the day the Assizes opened in Cork. Morty Moynahan, Billy O’Shea and I were placed in the dock. Patrick J. Downing and others who were out on bail were put in the dock too. Patrick was telling us he had a grand time of it last night down at Cove, in company with Poeri, and other Italians, who had escaped from a convict ship in which they were being transported to a penal colony. Those are the Italian convicts about whose prison treatment England’s prime minister Gladstone shed rivers of tears—that same prime boy who afterward treated Irishmen in England’s prisons far worse than King Bomba treated Poeri and his companions. Gladstone starved me till my flesh was rotting, for want of nourishment; Gladstone chained me with my hands behind my back, for thirty-five days at a time; Gladstone leaped upon my chest, while I lay on the flat of my back in a black hole cell of his prison. Poeri didn’t experience such treatment as that in the Italian prisons. Yet the great Englishman could cry out his eyes for him. No wonder those eyes of his got sore in the end!
(This chapter of my “Recollections” was published in the United Irishman newspaper of May 8, 1897. I am, this fourth day of June, 1898, revising all the chapters for publication into book form. The telegrams of the day announce that this Mr. Gladstone was buried in London this week—Rossa.)
That Patrick’s Day, in the dock in Cork Jail, I was ready for trial; my companions were ready for trial; we had our witnesses ready; the people of my house were in court, to swear truly that I was in and around my house the hour Goula swore he saw me drilling 300 men one night. Our counsel also declared they were ready for trial. The Crown Counsel whispered with Keogh, and then Keogh announced that our trial was postponed to the next assizes; that the prisoners who were out on bail could remain out on bail; but that the prisoners who were brought into the dock from the jail, should be taken back to jail. Bail was offered for us by our counsel, but no bail would be taken. Morty Moynahan, Billy O’Shea, and I were taken back to the County Jail, where we remained till the following July.
A second application for release on bail was made for us to the court of Queen’s Bench, in April, but it was refused. The Tory ministry, under Lord Derby as prime minister, were then in office. They were outvoted in parliament on some division; they “made an appeal to the country,” and there was a general election. I was a voter of the County Cork, and I took it into my head to write to the English Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in Dublin Castle, telling him it was against the Constitution to hold an innocent voter in jail at such an important crisis, and keep him from recording his vote on election day; that English law proclaims every man innocent until he is adjudged guilty. I told him he could have me taken to Skibbereen in charge of his jailers, to record my vote on election day, or let me out on parole that day, to return to jail the second next day. I haven’t that letter in my head. It was published in the newspapers afterward. The London Spectator wrote a leading article about it. When I was in London in 1895, I went into the Spectator office and bought a copy of the paper of the date of May 14, 1859. The following is the article it contains:
“THE GENEROUS PRISONER.”
For a genuine love of freedom commend us to the Irish gentleman (we should not like to apply any lower title,) who being imprisoned in the county jail of Cork on a charge of sedition,—he was a member of the Phœnix Society—wished, nevertheless, being an elector, to record his vote at the late county election. He addressed a petition to the Lord Lieutenant to this effect, and it certainly is a prize specimen of prison literature. We must premise that Jeremiah O’Donovan—for this is his highborn name—is not a convicted prisoner; he is waiting for trial. He thus argues his case, in a letter dated:
“County Jail, Cork, April 30th.
“Need I remind your lordship how unconstitutional it would be to deprive an innocent man of his voice in this important crisis; and, such a deprivation of right may entail the most disastrous results. For instance, my lord, my support may be instrumental in returning an honorable and independent man to the Imperial Parliament; the support of this honorable and independent man may be instrumental in maintaining Lord Derby in office, and the retention of Lord Derby in office may be the means of preventing the shedding of oceans of blood, by affording him time and opportunity for bringing the troublous affairs of Europe to a speedy and pacific termination; whereas, opposite and most disastrous results may follow from my inability to attend the polls.”
He adds, with the most clinching logic:—“Your lordship will perceive at a glance that mine is no ordinary case.” In counting up the Liberal and Derbyite gains and losses, we must admit at least that Lord Derby, through adverse circumstances, lost one ardent supporter, and if a war follows his lordship’s resignation, we shall remember this new prophet Jeremiah. How pleasantly the captive insinuates the excellent use he will make of his vote, as the prisoner at Norfolk Island, asking for the removal of the prohibition against talking, said to the Governor, “Double if you will the chains on our legs; increase the amount of our daily work; reduce our rations even below the present minimum, but do not, at least, deprive us of the power of confessing to one another the justice of the punishment we undergo.” “Transport me if you will for sedition,” cries O’Donovan, “but let me at least give one vote for Lord Derby.”
Blanqui, the imprisoned Republican, was released by Napoleon, because he uttered generous sentiments; in this country, we fear that even this good Tory must be tried, but at least he ought to be defended by Mr. Philip Rose, and his counsel feed out of the Carlton Club fund. He admits in the latter part of the letter, that an application for bail is pending, and that the Lord Lieutenant may, therefore, not like to interfere, but he continues with a kind considerateness that might hardly have been expected—
“Granting me permission would be much more convenient than the postponement of the election. Skibbereen is my polling place, so, as the distance is fifty miles from here, your Lordship will please have the “pass” made out for not less than three days, as it is a day’s journey. To prevent any unnecessary trouble on my account, I will require no guard; my parole to return in three days, or for the time specified, will, I am sure, be sufficient guarantee for my safe keeping.”
The Lord Lieutenant “has no power to comply with the petition.” Such was the substance of the grave official reply. Red tape cannot laugh; but we feel kindly toward the pleasant fellow, light-hearted enough to poke fun at a viceroy from behind prison bars. We hope he will be proved innocent, and thus record his vote at the next county election as a real freeholder.
“Light-hearted enough to poke fun at a viceroy from behind prison bars,” says the London man. Well, I did try to keep a light heart through all my prison days and nights. I got into my head, from one of the books in that library of my boyhood, that “that head is not properly constituted that cannot accustom itself to whatever pillow the vicissitudes of fortune may place under it.” My pillow was hard enough many times, and it was sometimes made a little harder by reproofs from some of my companions for not behaving myself more gravely in penal servitude. But I carried myself through those hard times more in the spirit of that poet, who sang:
“Let me play the fool
With mirth and laughter, so let wrinkles come
And let my visage rather heat with wine
That my heart cool with mortifying groans.
Why should a man whose blood is warm within
Sit like his grandsire, cut in alabaster
Sleep when he wakes, and creep into the jaundice, by growing peevish!“
I tell thee what, ‘O’Leary!’
There are a class of men
Whose very visages do cream and mantle like a standing pond,
And do a wilful stillness entertain,
On purpose to be dressed in an opinion
Of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit,
As who should say: ‘I am Sir Oracle,
’And when I ope’ my mouth, let no dog bark.”
And, to the fact that I did carry myself that way, under prison difficulties, and have carried myself so, under worldly difficulties—almost as harassing as the prison ones—do I, under Providence, attribute my good fortune that I am not entirely bald-headed at the present time.
The Cork summer assizes were coming on at the end of July. Our attorney was not sure that we would be tried then either, or let out on bail, but might be kept in prison till March, 1860, if we did not satisfy the now “liberal” government, and plead guilty. This again, we positively refused to do. A member of this new liberal government was Thomas O’Hagan who defended Dan O’Sullivan-agreem, at the March Assizes in Tralee, and who afterward was raised to the peerage, with the title of “lord” or “baron” of Tullyhogue. He had had briefs for our defence, and he knew well that most of what was sworn against us was false. But he was now sworn in to work for England, and he should do his duty. It was before him Captain Mackey was tried in Cork City some years after. Our Irish parliamentary patriots affect to believe that it is better for the Irish people to be governed by English Liberals than by English Tories, but there is very little difference between them, so far as Ireland is concerned. Daniel O’Connell said that the Whigs were Tories when in office, and the Tories were Whigs when out of office. Dan was right. John Mitchel was right, too, in his dislike of having his friend, Thos. Francis Meagher run for member of Parliament in his native city of Waterford. This is what he says on the matter in his “Last Conquest of Ireland:”
“If Mr. Meagher were in Parliament, men’s eyes would be attracted hither once more; some hope of justice might again revive in this too easily deluded people. The nobler his genius, the more earnest his zeal, the more conspicuous his patriotism, just the more mischief would he do, in propping up through another session, perhaps through another famine, the miserable delusion of a Parliamentary party.”
Those expressions of men who moved in Irish national politics fifty years ago, and a hundred years ago hold good to-day. I have them in mind when I hear Irishmen talking of the great good it is to send good men to that London parliament.
In July, 1859, I got this letter from our attorney, McCarthy Downing:
July 2, 1859
Dear Sir—A proposition has been again made to me, that if you all plead guilty, you will be released on your own recognizances. I am not at liberty to use this yet; but I have replied to say, that you have before rejected a similar offer from the late government, and that you would do the same now. Either on Saturday or Monday some decision will be come to. I have little hope of your being admitted to bail.
I have the original of that letter, in the handwriting of Mr. Downing in my possession. When I visited America in May, 1863, I brought all my Fenian letters with me. When I was returning to Ireland in August, ’63, I left those letters with John O’Mahony. When I came to America from English prisons in 1871, I got them back from him. That is how I am able to produce this letter now, and many other Irish letters.
A few days before the opening of the Cork Assizes Mr. Downing visited us in prison and told us that he had made terms for the release of the Kerry man by our pleading guilty. We told him it was a disgraceful thing to do, anyway. He thought we should not consider ourselves better patriots than Arthur O’Connor, and Thomas Addis Emmet, and Doctor McNevin, and the other ’98 men who pleaded guilty. He told us he would call up to the jail to-morrow again, and, in the meantime, we could talk the matter over among ourselves.
When he left us, Morty Moynahan, William O’Shea, and I discussed the subject. They are dead. I will, in justice to their memory, say, that they left the decision to me; they were willing to do what I decided to do—to stay in jail or get out of jail.
My business in Skibbereen was ruined; the creditors came down on the house after my arrest; the ownership of the house got into law; the landlord whom I had it rented from got beaten in the lawsuit, and the other man, Carey, was declared the rightful owner. He had to get immediate possession; and my wife, with four young children, had to move into another house. Letters from friends and neighbors were telling me it was not a proper thing for me to remain in jail under such circumstances—while I could get out of jail if I wished.
But I had the cause of Ireland in my mind as well, and to do anything that would hurt or injure that cause anyway was not in my mind to do.
On that side of the situation, the Cork City men, William O’Carroll and others who were in communication with us, gave us to understand that James Stephens had left Ireland after our arrest, that he was in France, that no word was received from him, that the work seemed dead, and that we may as well accept the terms of release that were offered us. I have read the “Memoirs of Fenianism,” by Mr. John O’Leary. He says word was sent to us not to plead guilty. I can say, and say truly, that no such word ever reached us, and that we were obliged to conclude that the work, or the cause for which we were put in jail, was dead or deserted. So, we decided to accept the terms of release offered, and we were let out of prison on the 27th of July, 1859.
It was three months after, before Dan O’Sullivan-agreem was released, and not until I had written a strong letter to McCarthy Downing, telling him I would write a letter to the newspapers charging the government with another “breach of treaty” in keeping the man in prison for whose release we had stipulated.
Looking over some books and papers connected with the terms of release made by the ’98 men, I see there was a breach of treaty in their case also. They stipulated for the release of many men who were arrested in March and April, 1798—before the “Rising.” And, after signing the papers, some of those men were hanged, and more of them were kept in prison until the year 1802.
Looking over the books and papers concerning the ’98 times, and the books and papers concerning our own times, I do not see much change in the spirit of England and Englishmen regarding Ireland and Irishmen. Those who are reading what I am writing will not, I hope, consider I am doing much amiss in embodying in “Rossa’s Recollections,” some of the experiences of Irishmen who were fighting against English rule in Ireland a hundred years ago, and comparing England’s treachery and duplicity a hundred years ago, with her tyranny, treachery and duplicity to-day. I find myself much in feeling with William Sampson, one of the ’98 men, when he says, “If a man be injured, you add to his injuries by extorting false protestations from him, which must aggravate his feeling or wound his honor.”
Those words from the grave strike the chords that hold me in life. England’s holding me in prison from assizes to assizes, and not releasing me until I would acknowledge as true the perjuries that were sworn against me, has planted in my nature an ineradicable desire for personal satisfaction, and “If I could grasp the fires of hell to-day, I would seize them and hurl them into the face of my country’s enemy.” These words are the words of John Mitchel.
William Sampson of Antrim, arrested on the 12th of February, ’98, in his “Memoirs” says:
“After several months of cruel and secret imprisonment, a Mr. Crawford, an attorney, was first permitted to break the spell of solitude, and enter my prison door. This gentleman had been employed in defence of Mr. Bond, Mr. Byrne, and others, for whose fate I was much interested.”
At the time of that visit the rising had taken place and the fight was going on. From all the information the prisoners were allowed to get, they were led to believe that their people were getting the worst of it; that aid which they expected had not come; that to continue the fight was useless. The paper presented to them to sign, amounted to an advice to the insurgents to submit and give up their arms, on stipulation of general amnesty and the release of some seventy men who were in prison on charges of high treason.
Sampson says, “Upwards of seventy prisoners, against whom no evidence appeared, had signed an act of self-devotion, and peace was likely to be the result.… One day, as we were all together in the yard of the bridewell, it was announced that the scaffold was erected for the execution of William Byrne, the preservation of whose life had been a principal motive for the signature of many of the prisoners to the agreement.”
That was the famed Billy Byrne, of Ballymanus.
Sampson, after making some bitter remarks on the tyranny that will imprison an innocent man, and keep him in prison until he will sign a paper saying his jailers were justified in doing all they did, says:
“If a man be injured, and knows and feels it, you only add to his injuries by extorting false protestations from him, which must aggravate his feeling or wound his honor.”
This book of Sampson’s that I am quoting from was printed by George Forman, at No. 24 Water street, Old Slip, New York, in the year 1807. I have also before me, as I write, the Dublin United Ireland, paper of May 8, 1897, and I see in it the following passage that bears on the subject of this chapter:
“It may not be generally known that the United States Minister to London in 1798, was guilty, in conjunction with his government, of one of the meanest pieces of servility ever placed to the account of any plenipotentiary or diplomatist. When Arthur O’Connor, Thomas Addis Emmet, Dr. McNevin, and the rest of the United Irish Leaders, who had brought the Pitt Ministry to terms which honorably secured their lives, were about to be released on condition of departing to America, an extraordinary obstacle presented itself. Rufus King, the American Minister, waited on the English Ministry, and declared on behalf of his government that the United States could not consent to receive upon its soil men who had instigated the recent dreadful rebellion in Ireland!!
“In consequence of this action by these Anti-Irish Yankees, the United Irish Leaders, instead of being immediately released, were detained in confinement in Scotland, in Fort George, until the year 1802.”
It is surprising how, even up to the present day, England can fashion into instruments of meanness and servility the kind of men that America sends to represent her in London. The one enemy in the world that America has is England. But then, England is the great land of Christian civilization, and it may not be a thing to be much wondered at that our Americans whom we send to represent us in London become in a short time somewhat civilized, and learn to love those who hate them, bless those that curse them, and do good to those that persecute and calumniate them. All very well, so long as that civilizing influence is confined to England and to our representatives to the government of England; but when that influence creeps into the government of America, it is quite another thing.
This telegram from the seat of government that appeared in the morning papers of New York this day I am writing, shows it is creeping in;—
Washington, May 26.—The approach of the Victorian Jubilee served as the theme for an eloquent invocation to-day by the blind chaplain of the Senate, Rev. Dr. Milburn.
“The long and illustrious reign of the gracious lady, Victoria, wife, mother, as well as sovereign,” he said, “has shrined her into the hearts and reverence of true-hearted men and women around the world.
“May her last days be her best and happiest. Guide the councils of that realm and of our own beloved country, that, hand in hand, they may tread the path of conservative progress to the goal of Christian civilization.”
Of toadyism of that kind, and of the kind that is introduced into the public schools of New York City in getting little children to vote to send their teachers to the Queen of England’s jubilee celebration, the New York Sun says:
“Every American citizen who subscribes to the proposed preposterous tribute to Queen Victoria should be a marked man. His should be the fate of those Tories of the revolutionary epoch, who, for the betrayal of their country and shameful subservience to George III., were branded, ostracized, and eventually hounded out of their native land.”