Coming on the year 1860, the men of Skibbereen took up the threads of the organization that were let slip through the arrest of the Phœnix men in ’58. We met James Stephens in Bantry, and Mr. Dan McCartie, Morty Moynahan, and I, with the Bantry men, Denis and William O’Sullivan, Pat, Jerrie and Michael Cullinane, and some others, went in Denis O’Sullivan’s yacht to Glengarriffe, where we had dinner at Eccles’ Hotel. Stephens paid for the dinner. Sailing through Bantry bay, Stephens was smoking a pipe. I remember his taking the pipe in his hand, and saying he would not give the value of that dudeen for the worth of Ireland to England after the death of Queen Victoria; that she, in fact, would be the last English reigning monarch of Ireland.
I don’t know if he is of that opinion to-day. I do not know did he speak that way that day in Bantry bay, from the strong faith he had in the success of his own movement. Anyway, the way he always spoke to his men seemed to give them confidence that he was able to go successfully through the work that was before him, and before them. That was one of his strong points, as an organizer.
About the beginning of the year 1861, a letter from Jas. O’Mahony, of Bandon, announced to us that he and John O’Mahony would be in Rosscarbery on a certain day. Dan McCartie, Morty Moynahan and I went to Ross in Moynahan’s coach. We met them; they had come to town in Banconi’s long car. James O’Mahony returned to Bandon, and John O’Mahony came on to Skibbereen in our coach. He remained in town a few days. We called in from the country some of the most active workers we had in the organization, and introduced them to him. He was very much taken with the McCarthy-Sowney Centre, who told him he would not be satisfied with getting back his lands from the English, without getting back also the back rents that the robber-landlords had been drawing from his people for the past two hundred years.
That was the first time I met John O’Mahony. He made the impression on me that he was a man proud of his name and of his race. And I liked him for that. I like to see an Irishman proud of his people. It is seldom you will find such a man doing anything that would disgrace any one belonging to him. In my work of organizing in Ireland, I felt myself perfectly safe in dealing with men who were proud—no matter how poor they were—of belonging to the “Old Stock.” I trusted them, and would trust them again.
Three years ago, in the summer of 1894, I was traveling with Michael Cusack, John Sarsfield Casey (since dead), and some others, by the Galtee Mountains, from Mitchelstown to Knocklong. We stopped at a village called Kilbehenny. We strolled into the graveyard, and there I saw a large tomb, on the top slab of which were cut the words:
“THIS IS THE TOMB OF THE O’MAHONYS.”
That was the tomb of John O’Mahony’s family. Some days after, I stood within the walls of the ruins of Muckross Abbey in Killarney, and there I saw another tomb (just like the one in Kilbehenny) on which were graven the words:
“THIS IS THE TOMB OF THE O’DONOGHUES.”
That was the tomb of the family of the O’Donoghue of the Glens. That showed me that in old Irish times John O’Mahony’s family had the same standing among the people as the other family. In those graveyards, I thought of that Shane O’Neill of Tyrone who, when offered an English title, said he was prouder of the title of “The O’Neill” than of any title England could give him.
In the year 1861 came on the funeral of Terence Bellew McManus in Ireland. He was one of the ’48 men who died in San Francisco. His body was brought to Ireland. I had a letter from James Stephens asking me to be one of the delegation who would accompany the remains from Cork to Dublin.
The funeral procession in Cork City was on a Sunday. There was an immense gathering of people. Passing along the quay, a ship in the river was flying the English flag, and a little boy caused a little commotion by running and clambering up the ship’s ropes and poles, and tearing down that flag.
Coming on nightfall we were on board the train for Dublin. The delegation having charge of the coffin were in the train compartment next to the coffin. We were armed with pistols, as it was rumored that there might be some necessity for using them. Some men were, it seems, in favor of making the funeral the occasion of a “rising”; they thought it would arouse the country if the remains were taken to Slievenamon or some such historic place on the way between Cork and Dublin, and the people called upon to rally around, for God and for country. James Stephens was averse to that being done, and this is why he thought it well to have an armed guard to prevent its being done. I saw, a few nights after, that one of the men who favored the project, was James Roche, of Monaghan, who came from New York to Ireland the time of the funeral. The delegation from America and some others went to the Shelburne Hotel in Dublin to see William Smith O’Brien on some matter. Smith O’Brien was not in when we called. We were waiting in the coffee-room; the subject of the “rising” came to be spoken of, Maurice O’Donoghue, of Kilmallock, one of the Dublin Centres, charged James Roche with being the prime mover in the project of the “rising.” Hot words passed between them. Maurice moved angrily toward Roche; Roche drew a cane sword. Some of us rushed between the two angry men, and matters were soon quieted down.
But on the railway route between Cork and Dublin, something occurred that I may make note of. When the train came to the Limerick Junction, there was a stop there of several minutes. A large crowd was on the platform. If there was an attempt to be made anywhere to take away the body, it was thought that would be the place most likely for it. James Stephens was in the coach with us. He had previously given orders that the men of Tipperary town be there to prevent such a thing being done. As the premonitory bell rang for the starting of the train, Stephens called on the men to kneel down and say a Pater and Ave for the dead; and, while the whole crowd was on their knees, the train rolled out from the depot.
Arriving in Dublin before daybreak, the city seemed ablaze with torch lights. The remains of McManus were taken in procession to the Mechanic’s Institute, where they lay in state until the following Sunday, when, by a public funeral they were laid to rest in Glasnevin.
During this week in Dublin I attended a banquet given to Colonel Smith, Colonel O’Reilly, Colonel Doheny, Michael Cavanagh, Jerrie Cavanagh, and Captain Frank Welpley, the members of the American delegation, and I called upon some friends I had been in correspondence with. The dinner had been at Coffey’s or Carey’s Hotel in Bridge street. Father Conway, of Mayo, who was staying at the hotel, attended it. When the toasts and speech-making commenced, he was called upon to speak. He spoke of the sad state of his part of the country, and said that he was then traveling on a mission to collect funds for some parishioners of his who were under sentence of eviction—dwelling particularly upon one case, that of a man and his wife who had eight young children. “Put my name down for ten pounds,” said Michael Doheny. The priest taking his notebook, commenced to write. “Hold,” said Doheny. “The ten pounds is to buy a gun, powder and ball for the man who is to be evicted, that he may shoot whoever comes to put him out of his house.” The priest shut up his notebook.
I had been for five or six years previously in correspondence with Professor John O’Donovan, the Irish scholar, and I called in to Trinity College to see him. In the room with him was Professor Eugene O’Curry. I had a long talk with them. John O’Donovan asked me to tea next night at his home, No. 136 North Buckingham street; “and you,” said he to O’Curry, “you try and come up.” “No,” said O’Curry, “but let Rossa come to my house the night after.” I told him I would not be in Dublin the night after, as I should leave for home. O’Curry was a big, stout man, over six feet tall. O’Donovan was a small man. Those two men were dead, one year after that day I was speaking to them. They were married to two sisters of the name of Broughton—“of Cromwellian descent,” as John O’Donovan says to me in one of his letters, wherein he speaks of the mother of his seven sons—Mary Anne Broughton.
I went to John O’Donovan’s house that evening, and met there Father Meehan, the author of that book called “The Confederation of Kilkenny.” We talked of Fenianism, or of the cause for which I had been lately in Cork Jail. I, as well as I could, justified my belonging to that cause—not that my host or the priest said anything in condemnation of the cause—but I was surprised when I heard John O’Donovan say in the priest’s presence—“the priests won’t let the people fight.” The priest said nothing.
About twelve o’clock a coach came to take him home. I went in the coach with him, and he let me down at my hotel in Lower Bridge street. His chapel in the parish of Sts. Michael and John is near that street.
I had been at John O’Donovan’s house on some other occasions on which I visited Dublin before this time of the McManus funeral. The seven sons would be around us. He would send John and Edmond to the library to bring some rare Irish books to show me. “Are those boys studying the Irish language?” said I. “No,” said he. “I cannot get them to care anything about it, though they are smart enough at Greek and Latin.” I fear that my early acquaintanceship with those boys had something to do with disturbing the serenity of their lives in after years; because when I came to live in Dublin in 1863 I used to visit their house, and they used to come to the Irish People office to see me. They got initiated into the I. R. B. movement, and got into prison the time of the arrests. John, the eldest was drowned in St. Louis; Edmond, the second, the famed war correspondent, was lost in Asia or Africa; and I saw William, the third son, buried in Calvary Cemetery, New York.
I have among my papers twenty or thirty of the letters of John O’Donovan, that I received from him between the years of 1853 and 1863. They are among my old papers. I cannot get them now. I may get them before I put these “Recollections” in book form. If I do, I will print a few of them in the book. One letter in particular has some passages in it that I cannot thoroughly understand. It speaks of the Irish people and the Irish cause; of Daniel O’Connell and of Doctor Doyle, and it says:
“There have been no two Irishmen of this century that despised the Irish race and the Irish character more than did Daniel O’Connell and the late Doctor Doyle, bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. Doctor Miley, in whose hands O’Connell died, told me this at this table, and I firmly believe it.”
Now, the puzzle to me is: Why was that so? Why did they despise the Irish race and the Irish character? I make many guesses at answering the question, and the only answer reasonable to myself, that I can get, is, that the Irish people made it a sin to themselves to do anything that could be done in the way of striking down English rule, and striking down everything and every one that belonged to English rule in Ireland.
The McManus funeral tended very much to increase the strength of the Fenian movement. Men from Leinster, Ulster, Munster and Connaught met in Dublin who never met each other before. They talked of the old cause, and of the national spirit in their respective provinces, and each went back to his home, strengthened for more vigorous work. England’s eyes were somewhat opened, too, to the increasing danger to her rule in Ireland, and shaped herself accordingly. In the policy of government she is not blind to what passes before her eyes, she knows how averse to the interests of her rule it is to allow the people to come together and understand each other, and hence, those many Convention or anti-Convention laws that she passed for Ireland in her day. In the days of the United Irishmen, secret committees of the Houses of Lords and Commons were appointed to make inquiries into the state of Ireland. A committee of the Lords sat in 1793, and a joint committee of Lords and Commons sat in 1897. They summoned before them every one they thought could give information, and every one who refused to answer their questions was sent to jail.
On the 17th of May, 1797, the English governors at Dublin Castle issued a proclamation in which they said: “Whereas, within this Kingdom a seditious and traitorous conspiracy, by a number of persons styling themselves United Irishmen exists, and whereas, for the execution of their wicked designs, they have planned means of open violence, and formed secret arrangement for raising, arming, and paying a disciplined force, and, in furtherance of their purposes, have frequently assembled in great and unusual numbers, under the colorable pretext of planting or digging potatoes, attending funerals and the like,” etc. “And we do strictly forewarn persons from meeting in any unusual numbers, under the plausible or colorable pretext as aforesaid, or any other whatsoever.”
So, that while James Stephens, for his side of the house, saw the good and the necessity of bringing his chief men together at the McManus funeral, the other side of the house, with all the experience of government they have on record, were pretty well able to give a good guess at what it all meant.
Not that England doesn’t know that the mass of the Irish people are always discontented, disaffected and rebellious—and have reasons to be so—but that they would be organized into a body actively preparing for fight is what strikes terror to her heart. The Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood were so preparing, secretly preparing, but circumstances connected with the necessity of receiving a promised or expected assistance from America—that was not received—which circumstances I will show further on—developed things so, that the organization soon became as much a public one as a private one. We were assailed publicly in many ways and by many parties, and we had to defend ourselves publicly, and thus show ourselves to our enemies as well as to our friends. Twenty-five years ago I wrote a book called “O’Donovan Rossa’s Prison Life.” I see in it some passages in relation to those times of 1861, 1862 and 1863, and I cannot do better than reproduce them here. After that, I will introduce some letters, I have, written by John O’Mahony, James Stephens, and others, that give a very fair idea of the difficulties that beset the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood in Ireland, and Fenianism in America, at the starting of the movement.
Rossa’s book says:
“I found the people under the impression that if any kind of military weapon was found with them they would be sent to jail. Is was hard to disabuse them of this, and I took a practical method of doing it.
“I was in possession of an Enfield rifle and bayonet, a sword, and an old Croppy pike, with a hook and hatchet on it, formidable enough to frighten any coward, and these I hung up in a conspicuous part of my store; and yet this would not even satisfy some that they could keep these articles with impunity, and I had many a wise head giving me advice. But when I have satisfied myself that a thing is right, and I make up my mind to do it, I can listen very attentively to those who, in kindness, would advise me, for the purpose of dissuading me from a course inimical, perhaps, to my own interests, while at the same time I can be firm in my resolve to have my own way as soon as my adviser is gone. The arms remained in their place, and on fair days and market days it was amusing to see young peasants bringing in their companions to see the sight. “Feuch! feuch! Look! look!” would be the first exclamation on entering the shop; and never did artist survey a work of art more composedly than would some of those boys leaning on their elbows on the counter, admire the treasured weapons they longed to use one day in defence of the cause of their fatherland.
“At the end of a few years the people were fully persuaded that they could keep arms in defiance of the police. It would answer the ends of government very well, if the authorities by keeping the people scared could keep them unarmed without the passing of arms acts and other repressive measures, that look so very ugly to the world. If England could keep her face clean—if she could carry the phylacteries—if she could have the Bible on her lips and the devil in her deeds, without any of the devil’s work being seen, she would be in her glory.
“My pikes were doing great mischief in the community it seems, and rumors were going around that others were getting pikes, too. Tim Duggan, whom I spoke of as being in Cork Jail was employed in my shop. Tim should always be employed at some mischief, and taking down the pikes one day to take some of the rust off them, no place would satisfy him to sit burnishing them but outside the door. This he did to annoy a very officious sergeant-of-the-police, named Brosnahan, who was on duty outside the store. Next day I was sent for by my friend McCarthy Downing, who was Chairman of the Town Commissioners, and magistrate of the town. He told me that the magistrates were after having a meeting, and had a long talk about what occurred the day before. Brosnahan represented that not alone was Tim Duggan cleaning the pikes, but showing the people how they could be used with effect—what beautiful things they were for frightening exterminating landlords and all other tools of tyranny. Mr. Downing asked me if I would deliver up the arms, and I said, certainly not. He said the magistrates were about to make a report to the Castle of the matter. I said I did wot care what reports they made; the law allowed me to hold such things, and hold them I would while the district was not ‘proclaimed.’
“Now,” added he, “for peace sake, I ask you, as a personal favor, to give them up to me; I will keep them for you in my own house, and I pledge you my word that when you want them, I will give them to you.”
“Well,” replied I, “as you make so serious a matter of it, you can have them.”
“I went home; I put the pike on my shoulder, and gave the rifle to William (Croppy) McCarthy. It was a market day, and both of us walked through the town, and showed the people we could carry arms, so that we made the act of surrender as glorious as possible to our cause, and as disagreeable as it could be to the stipendiaries of England.
“These are small things to chronicle, but it is in small things that the enemy shows a very wary diligence to crush us. Inch by inch she pursues us, and no spark of manhood appears anywhere in the land that she has not recourse to her petty arts to extinguish it.
“In the spring of 1863, the Poles were struggling against their tyranny, and we conceived the idea of having a meeting of sympathy for them in Skibbereen, and carried it out. We prepared torchlights and republican banners, and we issued private orders to have some of our best men, in from the country. The authorities were getting alarmed, and they issued orders to have a large force of police congregated in the town on the appointed night. During the day the ‘peelers,’ as I may inoffensively call them, were pouring in, and as they passed by the several roads, the peasantry crowded in after them. The rumor went around that we were to be slaughtered, and men from the country came to see the fun. The town was full of ‘peelers’ and peasants; and, to have another stroke at the ‘big fellows’ we got handbills stuck off, calling upon the people not to say an offensive word to any of the police; that they were Irishmen, like ourselves, and only obliged from circumstances to appear our enemies. We posted these bills, and got boys to put them into the hands of police. There were six magistrates in the town; and the stipendiary one, O’Connell—a member of the ‘Liberator’s’ family—was in command of the forces. They thought to intimidate us from carrying out the programme of our procession, and we felt bound to maintain the confidence of our people by proceeding according to our announcement. They recognized in our meeting of sympathy for the Poles a meeting of organized hostility against England; they knew that bringing the masses together, and allowing them to see their strength and union would create confidence, and that is what they wanted to kill. And, to be candid, it was necessary for us to humor the peculiarities of our people some way. They are ever ready to fight; ever impatient for the ‘time,’ and when the time is long coming, they are drooping and restless without stimulants.
“The officers of arrangement moved from the committee-rooms. The committee were armed with wands, and marched in front, toward the place where the vast assembly of people were formed in line of procession with torches in their hands.
“The wives of the police, and the police themselves, had been sent to the mothers of young men on the committee, telling them that the police had orders to fire on us; and the mothers implored us, on their knees, to give up our project. We went on; and, as we proceeded to move, the magistrates came in front of us, with the police behind them, and stopped the route of our march. The Castle agent O’Connell addressing himself to Brosnahan, asked—
“Who are the leaders of this tumult?”
And the police sergeant answered—
“Here, they are sir; Dan McCartie, Mortimer Moynahan, Jerrie Crowley, Con Callahan, O’Donovan Rossa, James O’Keefe, etc.”
O’Connell—“I order this assembly to disperse.”
“For it is disturbing the peace of the town.”
“It is you who are disturbing the peace of the town. We are peaceful citizens, met here to demonstrate our sympathy for a people struggling against tyranny. Do you say we have no right to do so, or that we must not walk the streets?”
“You are meeting in an illegal manner; I will now read the Riot Act, and if you do not disperse before fifteen minutes, you have only to take the consequence.”
He read the Riot Act; after which we asked—
“What do you see illegal in our procession?”
“That red flag,” pointing to an equilateral triangle banner.
The Committee—“Take that flag down. Now, Mr. O’Connell, do you see anything else illegal?”
O’Connell—“Those transparencies, with the mottoes.”
Committee—“Take away those transparencies. Do you see anything else illegal, Mr. O’Connell?”
Committee—“Put out those torchlights. Do you see anything else illegal?”
“You had better disperse.”
Committee—“Do you tell us, now, that you came here with your authority and your armed force to tell us that we must not walk through the streets of Skibbereen?”
“I do not.”
The committee ordered the band to play up “Garryowen” and march on. The boys did so; the magistrates moved aside; the police behind them opened way, and the procession marched twice through the streets, and ended the demonstration by the reading of an address.
The marriage of England’s Prince of Wales, in ’63, came on a few nights after we had the Polish sympathy meeting in Skibbereen, and some of the loyal people of the town illuminated their houses. There was a public newsroom in the “Prince of Wales’ Hotel,” and as the loyalists had paid the proprietor seven pounds for illuminating the house, those of them who were members of the newsroom held a private meeting, and passed a resolution that the windows of that room be illuminated too.
So they were illuminated. But some of the committee of the Polish procession were members of the newsroom, and when they heard that it was aflame with loyalty, they went to the room; called a meeting; pointed to one of the rules which excluded politics from the place, and denounced those who held a hole-and-corner meeting to introduce them there that day. A crowd was outside the hotel listening to the fight inside; they cheered and groaned, according as the several speakers spoke. One of the loyalists inside said it was “a mob meeting” they had in the room. “Then we may as well have mob law,” said I, and making for the windows, I tore down the transparencies, the fil-dols and the English flags, and threw them into the street.
The I. R. B. movement generated a spirit of manhood in the land that the enemy could not crush, and cannot crush, if we do not prove ourselves dastards. Acts of hostility, similar to those I speak of, were occurring everywhere; and if the people only had arms to back their spirit, they would do something worthy of them.
The Gladstones know this, and use all their ingenuity to keep the dangerous weapons from the people, “lest,” as one of them said lately, “the people would hurt themselves.” But, “beg, borrow or steal” them, we must have arms before we can have our own again.
After those occurrences in Skibbereen, the Stipendiary Magistrate O’Connell, and Potter, the Police Inspector, came to me, and said they had instructions to give me notice that if I “did not cease from disturbing the community,” I would be called up for sentence, pursuant to the terms of my “plea of guilty.” I told them they should first show that I violated any of those terms; that they should prove me guilty of the practice of drilling, and of the other things sworn against me at the time of my imprisonment; but while to their eyes I was acting within their own law, I did not care about their threats.