In the Autumn of 1858, Patrick Mansfield Delaney and Martin Hawe were arrested in Kilkenny, and Denis Riordan was arrested in Macroom. While they were in jail, the Kilkenny men came in numbers into the farm of Mr. Delaney, and harvested all the produce of the land for his family. Denis Riordan died in America. Patrick Mansfield Delaney died in America. I met Martin Hawe at his home in Kilkenny in the year 1894. In those early years of my life—embracing the Tenant-Right movement, and the start of the I. R. B. movement, the Parliamentary people were getting up petitions to Parliament every year, everywhere, and the speech-makers were declaiming their opinions on platform meetings.
I was young then—too young to have a voice on the platform—and I’d often say to myself, “If I could speak on that platform, how differently I’d speak of Ireland’s wrongs and rights!”
I am old enough to-day to speak on a platform, but the leaders of the meetings do not want me to speak.
One of those leaders said to me a few days ago:—“Rossa: you should have been on the platform at that meeting the other night, but if you were called upon to speak, we could not depend on you—that you would not say something which would destroy the purpose of the whole meeting.”
Some years ago I got a platform ticket to go to one of those meetings in New York City, and as I was going with others in the ante-room on to the platform, one of the ushers accosted me, and expressed a wish that I would sit in the body of the hall. I made a note of the circumstance in my notebook that day, and I here transcribe it:
“Tuesday, April 10, 1883. I bought a ticket from O’Neill Russell to go to the Gaelic Irish entertainment at Steinway Hall. Then, I was given two platform tickets and two hall tickets by one of the Irish-class men of Clarendon Hall. I gave in one of the platform tickets, and was going up the steps to the platform, when one of the ushers said, ‘I beg your pardon, sir; for various reasons, I wish you would sit in the body of the hall.’
“I make this note—to see if the world will change.”
The world hasn’t changed much during the fourteen years since I made that note. Now I’ll go back to Ireland.
Besides killing the spirit of faction-fighting in Ireland, the Fenian organization did another good thing—it killed the evil spirit that set county against county, and province against province—an evil spirit that worked mischief even in America, up to the advent of Fenianism. But now that is all dead, and we can sing—
Hurrah! for Munster, stout and brave,
For Ulster, sure and steady;
For Connaught rising from the grave,
For Leinster, rough and ready;
The news shall blaze from ev’ry hill
And ring from ev’ry steeple,
And all the land with gladness fill—
We’re one united people.
There are, to-day, in America, many county organizations, but they do not foster the inimical spirit of the olden time; though I would not much mind if there was among them a little rivalry as to who or which would do most to drive from the old land the savage enemy that rooted them out of it.
My mind is full of little incidents connected with the start of the movement in Ireland in 1858. We had our drillings in the woods and on the mountains that surrounded Skibbereen. On Sunday summer evenings our camping ground was generally on the top of Cnoc-Ouma, where Thomas Davis must have stood one day of his life, if he saw those hundred isles of Carbery that he wrote about in his poem, “The Sack of Baltimore”—
“Old Inisherkin’s crumbled fane looks like a moulting bird,
And in a calm and sleepy swell, the ocean tide is heard.”
From no other spot but this camping ground of ours on the top of Loughine hill could any one see the picture that the immortal Irish poet shows in that verse of his. Next year, at the Summer Assizes in Tralee, a revenue officer from Barlogue—a coast-guard station between Loughine and the sea—came on the witness table when Dan O’Sullivan-agreem was on trial, and swore, that with his spy-glass he saw men drilling on the top of Cnoc-Ouma—Dan O’Sullivan-agreem was not there; but we were there; and what was sworn against us was taken as evidence to convict the Kerry man to ten years’ penal servitude, as the charge against him was “conspiracy.” Sullivan-goula, the informer, swore that the society Dan Agreem belonged to in Kerry, was the same society that we belonged to in Cork, and what we did in Cork, was used in Kerry to convict Dan Agreem, who never saw us, or knew us. Such is English law in Ireland.
Returning with a few comrades from our midnight drill in Loriga wood one night, a voice rustled through the trees, praying, “Buadh Dia libh, a bhuachailidhe.”—The victory of God be with ye, boys. The prayer came from an “Unfortunate” who had been hunted out of town by the good-government society. She had twined herself a shelter-bohawn in the thicket, and must have heard some of the command-words of our drill-master. When the arrests were made, a few months after, Attorney Everett, who was employed by the stipendiary magistrate to hunt up evidence against us, offered her a large amount of money to swear against us; but she spurned it; she knew nothing about drilling, or about any one drilling in Loriga wood; and if she did, she was not going to disgrace herself by taking blood-money.
God be good and merciful unto you Kit Cadogan, and “God’s wrath upon the Saxon” that wrought the wreck and ruin of the millions of the men, women, and children of my land and race.
Rumors were rife in the land, of those drillings in the woods and mountains; the police were most active trying to find them, and the boys played those police many tricks to harass them. The girls played them tricks too—for the spirit of the women of Ireland was with us in the work of organization. I have known many girls to refuse to continue acquaintance of courtship with young men who would not join the Society. Poor Driscoll of Kilmacabea, the Crimean soldier, comes to my mind here. He was out of his mind. He was in the Crimean war; he was wounded in the head, and he was discharged from the army, with a pension of ninepence a day for twelve months. Then he became a strolling beggarman. He was what was called an “innocent”; quite harmless, and wouldn’t hurt or harm any one; his dress was a bundle of tatters of various colors, with the proverbial straw “sugawn” tying them around his body—even tying his shoes. At the side of my residence, a stream called the Caol ran into the Ilen river. This stream was arched over and made a kind of square on which some of the goods of my shop would be displayed. Mary Regan was one of the servants; she was sweeping this square one morning. Driscoll the soldier was there, and after sweeping she began to joke Driscoll with being discharged from the army for not knowing his drill. Driscoll took hold of the sweeping brush, and using the handle of it for a gun, put himself through all the military evolutions, giving himself the words of command, etc. The police came up and stopped Driscoll from drilling. He was an Irishman—his tongue was Irish. I was at the shop door looking on; he came over to me after giving up the broom, and said, “Oh Jerrie a laodh! nach truadh na bhfuilim a m’ tarbh—mar a rithfin triotha a’s futha, a’s cathfain anairde san aor liom a’ircaibh iad.”—“Oh! Jerrie, dear! what a pity that I am not a bull—how I’d run through them and under them, and throw them up in the air with my horns.” And saying that, he’d lower his head, and hump his back, as if he was the bull running through them. There was the poor, insane Irishman, with the instinct of sanity still alive in him against the enemies of Ireland! Poor Driscoll! I often think of you. The Mary Regan I speak of is living to-day in West Brighton, Staten Island—Mrs. Mary Walsh. She had her wedding in my house.
Coming on to the end of the year 1858 the Irish newspapers were speaking of drillings going on in the South of Ireland, and some of the ministers of religion seemed to have caught the alarm. On that Sunday in November when the gospel of the day tells us to “render unto Cæsar what belongs to Cæsar, and unto God what belongs to God,” the priest that preached the sermon in Skibbereen as much as told us we owed allegiance to England. England’s head was on the coins I had in my pocket, but I knew those coins did not belong to her, as well as I knew that the lands of my people all around me that England’s land-robbers held, did not belong to them. As this is a vexed question, that is all I need say on the subject.
The English government in Dublin Castle had been preparing to put us to prison, at this time. A stipendiary magistrate named Fitzmaurice had taken up his residence in the town. He had been sent to the South from the North of Ireland, where he had won his spurs in the English service by trapping many Ribbonmen into prison.
At this time too there came to Skibbereen from Kerry a man named Dan Sullivan-goula; he took lodgings at the house of a Kerry man named Morty Downing, from whom we had rented the rooms of the Phœnix Society. Morty had two children, and I used to see this Sullivan-goula fondling the eldest of those children on his knee, and calling her his Kerry pet. He at that time was swearing her father into jail. Irish history records a similar incident in the case of the children of one of the Sheares brothers, whom a Captain Armstrong swore to the scaffold in ’98.
Morty Moynahan had a letter from a correspondent in Kenmare who knew Sullivan-goula, cautioning him to beware of the fellow; that he was suspected; that he had been taken in to the organization at a fair, by a Bantry man who did not know the bad character he had in his own locality in Kerry; that none of his Kerry neighbors would think of taking him as a member; and that no one knew what business he could have in Skibbereen, only bad business. But Fitzmaurice the stipendary had laid the plans for him, and had instructed him before he came to Skibbereen to write to McCarthy Downing, the attorney in Skibbereen, asking for a position of clerk in his office. Morty Moynahan was chief clerk in McCarthy Downing’s office, and had the care of all his letters; and when Morty got the warning letter from our Kenmare friend he put against it the other letter of Goula’s application for employment; and thought that that would in some measure account for his being in town amongst us.
One morning as I was going to the newsroom in North street, I saw Goula walking the sidewalk before me. After turning the corner from Main street into North street, he suddenly turned around and walked back against me. I walked on, and saw Fitzmaurice walking down against me. Goula had seen him before I saw him, and that is why he made the sudden turn back. A week after that, I was in Cork Jail.
During that week I had a letter from Lord Colchester, the Postmaster-General, telling me an application I had made for the postmastership of Skibbereen had been received by him—that the office was not yet officially declared vacant, and when it would be declared vacant I would hear again from him. As my readers want me to give them a little light reading occasionally in these “Recollections” I may as well tell how my correspondence with Lord Colchester originated.
Some day in the month of November, 1858, Owen Leonard, the postmaster, called me in to his private office and told me that in consequence of some mistake in the management of his business, a man was sent down from Dublin to make an examination, and that the man advised him to send in his resignation. He accordingly was sending on his resignation that day. He advised me to make an application for the position; he was sure I could get as many to back me as were necessary—the endorsement of Deasy and McCarthy, the members for the County, and a few others. I did not take the matter very seriously, but as it gave me an opportunity to write something funny to one of the lords of the land, I rhymed the following letter to Lord Colchester, the Postmaster-General:
Most noble, influential lord,
I hope some time you can afford
To read a modest application—
To grant an humble situation.
The old postmaster of Skibbereen
Disqualified has lately been,
And many a strong and long petition
Is filled to gain his lost position.
I see each office-seeking creature:
Him of the low, and lofty stature,
And every idle, luckless wight
All rushing by me as I write,
Their pockets filled with paper white,
Enough to tail a flying kite.
And Alick seems in highest spirit—
He learned, all would go by merit,
And from his high qualification
He’d get it, at examination.
And this and that and th’ other wrote,
Unto the County members, both—
Why, just, in fact, the whole agree
That there’s no chance at all for me.
Ennobled, as to name and birth,
And great your character and worth
I know your Honor never can
Condemn my writing as a man,
And trust you’ll give consideration
To this my modest application.
Though, for support, I too could stand
Before some good, and great and grand,
I scorn to travel through the land
For signatures, with hat in hand,
Demean myself, and send my party
To beg to Deasy and McCarthy.
No; “starveling” first shall be my name
Ere I will sully thus my fame,
While I have leave to state my case
On this, before your Lordship’s face.
And now, my lord, to tell you all
Relating to me—personal—
Like bards of high and low degree:
Of amative propensity;
I married, just at twenty-one,
Since then four years are past and gone,
And every year that passed me o’er
An Irishman came on my floor.
I, with these youths, my time beguile,
Half-idle in my domicile,
Which in a large and central street,
For a post office would he meet.
I trust I’ll meet with no disaster
Till you address me as “Postmaster.”
Excuse, my lord, the wish most fervent
I have to be your lordship’s servant.
Some days after I mailed that letter, I had a letter from Lord Colchester, telling me the position was not yet officially declared vacant, but, when it would be so declared, I would hear from him again.
I made no secret of getting that letter. Every one was sure I was booked for the postmastership. But I never got it, and never heard from Lord Colchester since. I suppose there was a very good reason for that; because five days after, I was a prisoner in the hands of the law.