The two letters published in the last chapter, written by James Stephens and Thomas Clark Luby to John O’Mahony, at the start of the Fenian movement, speak for the Irish side of the house. The following letter, written by John O’Mahony to William Sullivan, of Tiffin, Ohio, at the start of the movement, speaks for the American side. I may add that there is not a line or a word added, omitted or altered in this original manuscript letter of John O’Mahony’s:
No. 6 Centre St., N. Y., 4th April, 1859.
To Wm. Sullivan, Esq:
My dear Sir—I rest satisfied that our organization cannot now go down in Ohio while under the earnest and influential auspices of yourself and your brothers. It is but natural that our progress should be slow at first, particularly as our finances do not yet warrant us in sending round agents to the different centres of the Irish-American population. Neither have we at our disposal in this country the right kind of man to send forth as our representative. I could not myself be absent from this for many days without injury to the movement. We must then wait until the arrival of Mr. O’Leary, who must be now on his way out. As you are most probably already aware, he was to have met Mr. Stephens on his landing, and, having given his report of the progress made by the so-called Phœnixes for the last five months, to have come directly to this, with instructions for our further guidance. After seeing me and staying a few days to rest himself in this city, he will set out on his tour of organization. You will be likely to meet him here when you come in the middle of the month.
We must calculate upon a certain amount of opposition from some of the priests. I do not, however, consider it judicious to come into collision with them openly. Those who denounce us go beyond their duty as clergymen. They are either bad Irishmen, who would not wish to see Ireland a nation, or very stupid and ignorant zealots, who do not understand what they are about. Our association is neither anti-Catholic nor irreligious. We are an Irish army, not a secret society. We make no secret of our objects and designs. We simply bind ourselves to conceal such matters as are needful to be kept from the enemy’s knowledge, both for the success of our strategy and for the safety of our friends. I hold that I do not exceed the bounds prescribed by my religion when I swear this, nor shall I ever tax my conscience with it in the confessional. It is ridiculous for men to denounce us for enrolling ourselves under the Irish banner, when they say nothing against those who enroll themselves under the American banner, or even under the banner of such private adventurers as General Walker and others, whose sole apparent aim is most unjustifiable plunder. However, there is no use in arguing with members of the priesthood on such points. It is better to avoid their denunciatory attacks by modifying the form of our pledge so as not to be obnoxious to spiritual censure, even by the most exacting ecclesiastic in America. They cannot deny the goodness, justice and even piety of the object we propose, and, if there be a shade of sin in the words by which we pledge ourselves to effect it, let those words be so altered as to be perfectly innocuous to the soul. This can be done wherever a clergyman insists upon it: but where there are liberal and enlightened priests, there need be no change.
In every case, it will be well to give but as few secrets as possible to individual members. They can do good work without knowing all that is doing, and who are doing it. They should be taught that it is enough for them to know that those in immediate communication with themselves are trustworthy, and that they will truly and faithfully discharge the duties of their position. Men need not be sworn previous to helping us along. They see enough by the newspapers to show them that the time for exertion is come now—that Ireland is thoroughly aroused and that a crisis in England’s fate is fast approaching from her external enemies.
A member of the Belfast Arms Club has arrived here within a few days. He was the secretary of the men lately arrested there. The news he brings is highly encouraging. The Ribbonmen, throughout the North, are fully determined to join the Phœnixes, as they call them. In Belfast they have 20,000 stand of arms. Their organization extends through all Ulster and much of Connaught and Meath; it is also widely spread through England and Scotland. This party was not included in my friend’s estimate. It is most important that we get into direct communication with it, for by it we could cripple England, by attacking her at home in her large towns. The fear of such a contingency would force her to grant us peace after a short struggle. All these matters must be looked to.
The news from these states has been rather more promising during the past week. The organization is extending rapidly, though as yet but little money has come in since I left. Boston is the best city I have on my roll. In it a full centre is now almost completed. What I like best about its members is that they do their work systematically, each sub-centre sending weekly the regular dues. A list has been also opened there for the contributions of men who will not be initiated. Branches of our society have been also started in Vermont, Maine and Connecticut. From Pennsylvania I have received a most satisfactory communication from the Railroad men. If the plan proposed by them is well carried out, it will bring overwhelming numbers into our ranks. I will speak more about it when I meet you.
In Milwaukee and Chicago, I expect that great things will be done under the auspices of Mr. Lumsden, whom you may know. The result of the late trials will, I hope, excite our countrymen to work everywhere. It is our first triumph, and, though but a partial one, it has proved that our home organization is almost spy-proof.
Present my compliments to your brother, Mr. Edmund Sullivan. I felt greatly disappointed at not having seen him again at my office previous to his late departure from this city. Tell him that the brothers in New York are beginning to exert themselves more earnestly than of late. On yesterday, I had a very enthusiastic meeting of men who will work, if I mistake not. It is hard to get the mass of the Irish in New York to believe that any one can be serious who speaks of freeing Ireland. They have had their hopes disappointed, when raised to the highest pitch, twice or three times within the five years I have been here. Then, the majority of them are mere dupes of designing politicians who scoff at the notion that any one could be so green as to hope for Ireland. But this must soon cease. True men are beginning to see that we are really in earnest, and they will not much longer heed the sneers which the venal and corrupt have always at hand for every noble and disinterested action.
I remain, dear sir,
Yours very faithfully,
That letter was written in the year 1859. This is the year 1897. Nigh forty years ago. For any hope of Ireland’s freedom in my day, I would, before my God, rather see Ireland as it was that day, than as it is to-day. That day, there were no weeds in the field. To-day the field is nothing but weeds—with the patriots of the day grazing on them—to free Ireland; growing fat and contented on them, too; satisfied they’ll be able to arrive at freedom in the next generation. Go b’hfoire Dia oruinn!
I bring into my book that letter of John O’Mahony’s that it may live in the history of Fenianism, to stand against what may be said about the movement being opposed to the Church.
The demonstrations about the McManus funeral in Cork and Dublin, demonstrated to the English in Ireland that the spirit of rebellion was strong in the land; and all the English agencies of business were set to work to destroy it. Clerks were discharged from business; licenses to carry on business were refused; the man who was in business found that his credit was stopped, if he didn’t stop his politics—in a word many had to stop, and had to prepare to leave the country. All through the years 1862 and 1863, this fight was going on, and continued on, from the start of the Irish People newspaper in November, ’63, up to the suppression of that paper, and the suspension of the habeas corpus act in September, ’65. During those three years, John O’Mahony kept saying that it had a bad effect on the spirit of the organization in America, that so many men belonging to the organization in Ireland were leaving Ireland. James Stephens kept telling him, he could not help it, that they had to leave; that they were among the best of his men—making themselves so active, zealous and independent, that they became marked men. While it broke his heart to have them be obliged to go, he could not refuse giving them the few words of introduction to some friend in New York that they asked for when they were leaving Ireland. I have some of the letters of those times. When I show you five or six of them, you will be able to judge of the spirit of the times, and of the condition of things that was to be met with in those days.
Here—the first letter that comes to my hand, is a letter of Florry Roger’s. Shall I put it aside? No, no; Florry Roger has a place in my memory, and must have a place in my book. I met him a few times, and met a noble man. He was arrested as one of the Phœnix men when he was a medical student in Killarney. After release from prison, he went to Dublin and got employed in a drug store in Queen street. He died the following year. This is the relic of his I hold:
No. 46 Queen St., Dublin, 8th Nov., 1861.
My dear O’Donovan—I casually learned by some paper that you were in town. I slindged over to the Shelbourne Hotel to-day thinking to get a glimpse at you, but I was informed by Mr. Generally-useful, that you did not put up there. I therefore address this to Colonel Doheny for you—being in my opinion the surest means of arriving at the knowledge of your whereabouts. As I am anxious to see you, will you do me the favor of calling over here to-morrow, that we may have a chat together on the state of the weather, and crops in the South.
Oblige your very faithful,
F. R. O’Sullivan, Jr.
The O’Donovan Rossa, care of Col. Doheny, Shelbourne Hotel, Kildare Street.
Next is a letter from William O’Carroll, who was one of the centres in Cork city:
Cork, Oct. 10, ’61.
My dear O’Donovan—Something has come to my ears lately. It may be no harm to give you a wrinkle on the matter. Sir John Arnott is negotiating with John McAuliffe about his house and stock in Skibbereen. It seems that the latter is your next-door neighbor, and your landlord, and that the former has your mansion taken, too. My friend in the house was telling me that Sir John, and Grant and McAuliffe and a few others had a kick-up about many things—not the least of which was your castle.… You now see the position of things. You will certainly come up to the funeral. I will be glad to have a chat with you then. We are making every preparation we can. I am, your friend,
That William O’Carroll had to leave Cork next year, 1862. He went to Australia. With him, went another centre, James O’Mahony, who kept a draper’s store in Bandon. The two wanted me to go with them. I didn’t go. This is one of O’Mahony’s letters:
Cork, March 15, 1862.
My dear O’Donovan—I suppose you expected to hear from me ere this. I have spent the greater portion of the past fortnight in Cork City, but will be returning to Bandon on next Monday. I had hoped that either myself or my wife, or both, would have paid you a visit to Skibbereen ere this, but the weather was so unfavorable that we could not attempt moving. They are making great preparations for the annual ball here. ’Tis likely I’ll not make my appearance there at all, though at first, I was determined on going. Still, all things considered, I think it better not to go.
Twenty-two years afterward, 1884, I had a letter from Melbourne, from James O’Mahony. Here are some passages of it:
“I do not think where’er thou art,
Thou hast forgotten me.”
My dear Rossa—I wrote to you three times since we last met last at the Rock mills. I have often thought of your farewell words after I took your photograph from you that early morning in Patrick street: “No ship that was ever built should take us away from Ireland.”
Yours as ever, go dilis,
Seamas laidir Ua Maghthamhna.
Go bhfeiceadsa an la go mbeidh raas air an Sagsanach.
A luingeas dha mbath, air lar na fairge.
John Lynch who, five years after, died in the next ward to me in a London prison, was an officer of that banquet committee in Cork City, Patrick’s day, 1862. He sent me this letter of invitation:
National Reading Rooms,
Tuckey St., Cork, Feb. 26, 1862.
My dear Sir—I am directed by the committee to ask your attendance as a guest at our Soiree and Ball in the Atheneum on St. Patrick’s night, to celebrate our National festival.
Trusting that you will make it your convenience to attend, and awaiting the favor of a reply, I am, dear sir, yours very truly,
Mr. O’Donovan Rossa, Skibbereen.
I went to the banquet. Jerrie Hodnett, of Youghal, presided. Father Ned Mulcahy, Timoleague, delivered an address in the Irish language, and Brian Dillon raised the roof off the house singing “O’Donnell Aboo” and “Is truadh gan oighre ’nar bhfarradh.” Father Ned is dead. Riding by his side at a funeral one day, he told me, he had had his parishioners ready to start into the field with him in ’48, if there was any fighting going on anywhere. He was one good Irish priest. Oh, yes; I believe there are lots of good Irish priests who aren’t known to be good, but who would show themselves good if the people were any good. When people show themselves slaves, it is not the duty of priests to make soldiers of them. It is not for such work as that, that men are ordained priests.
Brian Dillon died in prison. I have here a letter of introduction that he gave Michael O’Brien, the Manchester Martyr, to John O’Mahony, when Mike was leaving Cork in 1862. I may as well let you see it; blessed are the words of the brave dead:
Cork, 23d April, 1862.
Dear Sir—I had the pleasure of introducing the bearer, Mr. Michael O’Brien to you, the evening you visited the National Reading-room in Cork. He was the Secretary of that room, and was since ’58 an active, zealous brother and “B” of mine. He will himself tell you the reason of his visit to America, where he is so well known as to make this introduction of mine quite superfluous.
The news of the Colonel Doheny’s death has caused a wide-spread feeling of sorrow here. I trust in God, should his remains be ever brought over to Ireland, their landing will be the signal for that resurrection of the old land for which he labored so earnestly and well. All friends here deeply sympathize with Mrs. Doheny in the loss she has sustained, and it ought assuredly be a consolation to her to know that in the hour of her affliction, thousands of the truest in the old land have offered up their prayers for the repose of the soul of the eloquent, noble-hearted man and patriot who was her husband.
Mr. O’Brien will tell you all about the departure of Messrs. O’Carroll and O’Mahony to Queensland.
29th April, 1862.
Dear Sir—As you will perceive by date at the head of this, Mr. O’Brien has remained here a week longer than he at first intended. This delay has enabled me to communicate with Skibbereen. Donal Oge (Dan McCartie,) sends by him a letter to you. You will have read in the Irishman before this Rossa’s letter. Its terseness and pointedness has settled the whole thing. * * * * * * *
Another “B” of mine, William Walsh, of Cloyne, accompanies Mr. O’Brien. He is a shipwright and is compelled to emigrate, there being no work for his trade in Cork. He is an honest, earnest young man; he intends joining the Phœnix Brigade, in the hope of learning something that he could turn to good account, should opportunity ever offer here.
Fraternally and faithfully yours,
I have not printed the whole of that letter. Where I make star-marks: * * *, reference is made to some newspaper fighting I was engaged in at the time. Nearly every one belonging to the fight is dead—except myself—and I don’t want to keep it up in these “Recollections” of mine.
Michael O’Brien comes before me again, in a letter of introduction he has to John O’Mahony from Mr. O’Connell. These are the words of it:
Cork, May 1st, 1862.
Beloved Brother—This will be handed to you by brother Michael O’Brien, who has held on here as long as he possibly could. He has been out of employment for the last five months; and you can conceive what he mentally endured all the time. Seeing he could get nothing to do here, he at last resolved to turn his face to New York, in the hope of better fortune. Above all things, he desires to acquire military knowledge in the Phœnix Brigade. He will tell you, himself, why he was first thrown out of employment; and you can rely upon what he says, as he is genuine unsophisticated honesty itself, and as firm as a rock.
Yours fraternally and affectionately,
Chas. U. O’Connell.
This is a letter of introduction brought from Mr. Stephens to Mr. O’Mahony by a Drogheda man. I knew him; but as I do not know whether he is living or dead—in Ireland or America—desiring the honor of publication or not, I do not print his name. I print the letter to show that Drogheda was not behind-hand in the organization at the time:
Tuesday, May 26.
Brother—The bearer, Mr. —— ——, of Drogheda, is compelled, through the oppression of his employer to seek a temporary home in the States. I regret his going, as he has proved himself a good workman, having as B., enrolled certainly fifty men in his native place. He, of course, is anxious to see you. He does not, however, expect a commission, or anything else that I am aware of, save only to know you and be placed under you, as our head in the States. Nothing of consequence has occurred since Chas. O’Connell left.
The following is part of a letter of introduction brought from James Stephens to John O’Mahony by John, the brother of Brian Dillon:
Cork, June 11, 1862.
Brother—The bearer, Mr. John Dillon, has done the work of a B. This alone should be a strong recommendation. He is, moreover, a brother of Mr. Brian Dillon, one of our staunchest and most effective A’s. He leaves in search of work (he is a ship carpenter), which cannot possibly be had here. The pagan knows him well; anybody can see that he is the stuff of a soldier.
A word about the men who have already gone out, or who may go out in time to come, I deem it necessary to say something about them as, owing to your complaints on the subject (to me and others in Dublin, but especially to parties here), a bad feeling has been created—a feeling calculated to do serious injury, if not properly explained. Neither I nor the parties going out expect any assistance from you or our friends—they have all gone, and mean to go on what you call “their own hook.” To insinuate, much more to state unequivocally, that you fear their becoming a burden upon you, is keenly hurtful to these men. It is painful, too, to these men, to find themselves criticized for doing what they cannot help. Your having written here to this effect would have prevented several of these men from calling on you; and finding no proper party to communicate with, they would probably write home to say that we are nowhere in New York. You must see at a glance, the consequence of this. Of course, if I send a special message to New York, it will be only fair to see to his personal wants. But I have sent no such man since my return to Ireland.
No sooner did I find myself in possession of even limited means than I took the old track once more. I left Dublin on the 31st of May, and have since visited the counties of Kildare, Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford, on to Cork. I could not now do justice to the firmness of all our friends; but such is my faith in them that I can surely defy, not only the clique but all influences whatever. Our position here is all that heart of man could wish. I speak for what I have already seen, and doubt not that my whole course shall give the same results. Much new ground has been broken, and the old soil is being tilled to its best. Here in Cork I cannot help saying a few words about O’Carroll. I can find no extenuating circumstances in his case; at least, I have been unable to find any, up to this.
Well, I don’t know; I only know that William O’Carroll, of Cork City, and James O’Mahony of Bandon were two of the first men in the south of Ireland that Mr. Stephens got into the organization; that it was through them he got introduced to Dan McCartie and O’Donovan Rossa in Skibbereen, and that they worked hard in the organization for some time. They might have cooled down a little after the arrests; I know they felt as if they had been deserted, or left to themselves, the time that I and my companions were in Cork Jail. In the Australian letter of James O’Mahony from which I quoted before, there is another passage I may quote. He says “You know my funds were always at the command of ‘Seabhac’—(Shouk—the Hawk,) and that as long as I had a red cent, it was forthcoming. The amount was large as you may know.” I know, that in the first years of the organization, many men in many counties of Ireland, spent their own money organizing. I don’t like to see a bad word said of any one of them, who might have broken down under the work.
James Mountaine is dead. In honor to the memory of one of the Protestant National Irishmen of Cork City, I will publish this letter of introduction that he brought from James Stephens to John O’Mahony:
Dublin, Oct. 27, 1863.
Brother—The bearer, Mr. James Mountaine, is a friend, though paying but a flying visit to America (he is going to see his son, a surgeon in New York, and will stay but six weeks or so in the States), it would grieve him to leave, without taking your hand in his. When in yours, you should grasp that hand firmly, for it is that of as brave and true an Irishman as you know. He is one of the few who, with a good deal to lose, as the saying is, still clings to the cause as of old—nay, as years and prospects increase, they but add to his zeal and devotion. He is one of the few, too, who are sure to rally round me in times of trial—whose friendship is shown at need, in better coin than words. It is now some time since I asked you for a favor. In the present instance I do so, and request that you will show Mr. Mountaine all the consideration in your power. All that he expects and would accept, is that you should receive him as a brother, and speak of him as a man who is at all times ready to fight or die for Ireland. For my part, I would gladly go out of my way, to meet and welcome, and be a brother to such a man. Mr. Mountaine would, I am sure, be delighted to see some of our military friends in their element; and, should an opportunity offer, I bespeak for Mr. Mountaine every attention you can pay him. Yours as ever, fraternally,
This extract of a letter from Stephens to O’Mahony, April, 1862, is interesting:
The Dublin organization has nearly trebled within the last three months. And as it is in Dublin, so it is elsewhere. Our doctrine alone has life in it. The very class we found it so hard to reach till this year—the farming class, are now craving for our approach. But with all this, there is so strong a desire for intelligence—for frequent communication with me—that whatever the risk and inconvenience, I must go amongst them. In England and Scotland as well as at home, I am called for clamorously. In the name of God and of Liberty, will our friends yonder ever rise to a sense of duty, and the want of the hour. I should forget everything did they give me but three months uninterrupted work now. What might I not do! Then, as already said, I could go to America with such credentials as no Irishman ever brought there before me. The results produced here, together with my knowledge—or belief—of what is in me, lead me to the conviction that my toil yonder shall produce necessary fruits. I have never heard, nor can I ever conceive, anything to shake this faith in myself, and in my countrymen in America.
One morning in Skibbereen, I got a letter from James Stephens, asking me to send Patrick Downing to him to Paris. I went to Pat Downing’s house, he was in bed, I ordered him to get out of bed and go on to Paris. I asked him where was the parcel of letters I gave him to put in hiding for me. His father was building a house next door. He showed me a stone in an angle of the wall. “The letters are inside that stone,” he said. Very likely they are there this day I am writing. Patrick J. Downing had been in America in 1853, and came back home about 1855. When the Stephens organization started in 1858, he became the most expert at learning drill from the drill-master that James Stephens sent down to instruct us. When that drill-master, Owens, left us, Patrick became our instructor. He was arrested as one of the Phœnix men in December, 1858. He was in the dock with me, in presence of Judge Keogh, in the Cork Court house, Patrick’s Day, 1859. I find him bringing a letter from James Stephens to John O’Mahony, bearing the date of “Paris, 5th of March.” The year must be the year 1860. This is the first paragraph of it:
Paris, 5th March.
Brother—This will be given you by Patrick Downing, one of the “State prisoners.” He is a townsman and particular friend—a blood relation too—of Donal Oge (McCartie,) who, should I forget to bespeak bearer a cordially honorable reception, would not fail to secure it from him.
Indeed bearer is of the stuff that recommends itself, and should give you a high opinion of the manhood of his district; for, what but a high opinion can you form of a district, the sub-centres of which are all like my friend, Mr. Downing. He has been by my side for the last fortnight; and every day has raised him more and more in my estimation. I answer for it: Circumstances shall not swerve him from what he believes a high and holy duty. Receive him then, in all earnest brotherhood—be a real brother and a friend to him.
Patrick J. Downing learned the drill of a soldier, by moonlight, on the hillsides of Ireland. So did three of his brothers. The four of them gave their services as soldiers in the American war; Denis, as captain of a company in a Buffalo regiment, losing a leg at the battle of Gettysburg. Patrick rose to the command of Colonel in the Forty-second New York (Tammany) Regiment.
He died in Washington a dozen years ago. I went to Washington to his funeral. After the requiem mass, the priest who celebrated the mass, spoke some words to his memory. I could not help thinking—sadly thinking, how the Irish race are scattered, and how strangely they sometimes meet; far, far away from home!
Colonel Downing and Father Nunan were no blood relations; but here was I between them; the dead soldier—the grandson of my father’s sister; and the priest—the grandson of my grandfather’s sister.