John Mitchel, John Martin, Smith O’Brien, Terence Bellew McManus and other prominent men in the Young Ireland movement of 1848 were transported to Australia, and the movement collapsed. There was no armed fight for freedom. The Irish people had no arms of any account. England seized all they had, and she supplied with arms all the English that lived in Ireland. She supplied the Orangemen with arms, and she supplied arms to the Irish who were of the English religion. In the year 1863, John Power Hayes of Skibbereen gave me a gun and bayonet to be raffled, for the benefit of a man who was going to America. He told me it was a gun and bayonet that was given to him by the police in 1848, when all the men of the English religion who were in the town were secretly supplied with arms by the English government.
At the end of the year 1848, my home in Ross got broken up; the family got scattered. The family of my Uncle Con, who went to America in the year 1841 were living in Philadelphia. They heard we were ejected, and they sent a passage ticket for my brother John, who was three years older than I. My brother Con, three years younger than I, was taken by my mother’s people to Renascreena, and I was taken by my father’s sister who was the wife of Stephen Barry of Smorane, within a mile of Skibbereen. Her daughter Ellen was married to Mortimer Downing of Kenmare, who kept a hardware shop in Skibbereen, and I soon became a clerk and general manager in that shop. My brother in Philadelphia sent passage tickets for my mother and brother and sister, and I was left alone in Ireland. I suppose they thought I was able to take care of myself in the old land. How much they were mistaken, the sequel of those “Recollections” may show.
The day they were leaving Ireland, I went from Skibbereen to Renascreena to see them off. At Renascreena Cross we parted. There was a long stretch of straight even road from Tullig to Mauleyregan over a mile long. Renascreena Cross was about the middle of it. Five or six other families were going away, and there were five or six cars to carry them and all they could carry with them, to the Cove of Cork. The cry of the weeping and wailing of that day rings in my ears still. That time it was a cry heard every day at every Cross-road in Ireland. I stood at that Renascreena Cross till this cry of the emigrant party went beyond my hearing. Then, I kept walking backward toward Skibbereen, looking at them till they sank from my view over Mauleyregan hill.
In the year 1863, I took a trip to America, and visited Philadelphia. It was night-time when I got to my brother’s house. My mother did not know me. She rubbed her fingers along my forehead to find the scar that was on it from the girl having thrown me from her shoulders over her head on the road, when I was a child.
Nor, did I well know my mother either. When I saw her next morning, with a yankee shawl and bonnet, looking as old as my grandmother, she was nothing more than a sorry caricature of the tall, straight, handsome woman with the hooded cloak, that was photographed—and is photographed still—in my mind as my mother—
“Who ran to take me when I fell,
And would some pretty story tell,
And kiss the part to make it well.”
This rooting out of the Irish people; this transplanting of them from their native home into a foreign land, may be all very well, so far as the young people are concerned; but for the fathers and mothers who have reared families in Ireland, it is immediate decay and death. The young tree may be transplanted from one field to another without injury to its health, but try that transplanting on the tree that has attained its natural growth, and it is its decay and death. The most melancholy looking picture I see in America, is the old father or mother brought over from Ireland by their children. See them coming from mass of a Sunday morning, looking so sad and lonely; no one to speak to; no one around they know; strangers in a strange land; strangers I may say in all the lands of earth, as the poet says:
Through the far lands we roam,
Through the wastes, wild and barren;
We are strangers at home,
We are exiles in Erin.
Leaving the “bad times,” the sad times, even though they were in the happy time of youth, I must now reluctantly move myself up to the time of my manhood. From 1848 to 1853, I lived in the house of Morty Downing—save some four months of the five years. He had five children, and we grew to be much of one mind; Patrick, Kate, Denis, Simon and Dan. They are dead. The four sons came to America, after three of them had put in some time of imprisonment in Ireland in connection with Phœnixism and Fenianism. These four went into the American army. Patrick was in the war as Lieutenant Colonel of the Forty-second (Tammany) Regiment. He died in Washington some ten years ago. Denis was Captain in a Buffalo regiment, and lost a leg at the battle of Gettysburg. He had command of the military company at the execution of Mrs. Surratt in Washington; he made a visit to Ireland; died there, and is buried in Castlehaven. Simon and Dan were in the regular army and are dead. All my family were in the war and are dead. My brother John was in the Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania regiment; my brother Con served on the warship Iroquois, and my sister’s husband, Walter Webb, served in the Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania cavalry.
I now go back to my recollections in Ireland. I remember the time of the passing of the Ecclesiastical Titles bill in 1851, when England made a law subjecting to a fine of £100 any Catholic bishop in Ireland who would sign his name as bishop or archbishop of his diocese. As soon as this bill was passed, Archbishop McHale defied it, and issuing a pastoral, signed his name to it as “John McHale, Archbishop of Tuam.” England swallowed the defiance, and did not prosecute him. The Rev. Father Perraud, a French priest, writing on that subject says that England came to see that the policy of arresting a bishop for such a breach of law would not work well. Here are a few of his words:
“It is useless to conceal the fact it is not regiments encamped in Ireland; it is not the militia of 12,000 peelers distributed over the whole of the surface of the land, which prevents revolt and preserves the peace. During a long period, especially in the last century, the excess of misery to which Ireland was reduced had multiplied the secret societies of the peasantry. Who have denounced those illegal associations with the most persevering, powerful, and formidable condemnation? Who have ever been so energetic in resistance to secret societies as the Irish Episcopacy? On more than one occasion the bishops have even hazarded their popularity in this way.
“They could, at a signal, have armed a million contestants against a persecuting government—and that signal they refused to give.”
I remember the starting of the Tenant League movement in 1852, that movement that opened a field of operation for the Sadliers, the Keoghs, and others who went in to free Ireland by parliamentary agitation. It failed, as other movements since have failed that went in for freeing Ireland by parliamentary agitation. It is in that English Parliament the chains for Ireland are forged, and any Irish patriot who goes into that forge to free Ireland will soon find himself welded into the agency of his country’s subjection to England.
I remember the Crimean war of 1853-54, and the war of the Indian mutiny of 1857. There was hardly a red-coat soldier to be seen in Ireland those times. Even the police force was thinned down, by many of them having volunteered to the seat of war, as members of a land-transport corps that England called for. The Irish National Cause was dead or asleep those times. The cry of England’s difficulty being Ireland’s opportunity was not heard in the land.
The cry of “England’s difficulty being Ireland’s opportunity” is the “stock in trade” of many Irishmen in Ireland and America who do very little for Ireland but traffic upon its miseries for their own personal benefit. Irishmen of the present day should work to free Ireland in their own time, and not be shifting from their own shoulders to the shoulders of the men of a future generation the work they themselves should do. The opportunity for gathering in the crops is the harvest time, those who will not sow the seed in springtime will have no harvest, and it is nothing but arrant nonsense for Irish patriot orators to be blathering about England’s difficulty being Ireland’s opportunity, when they will do nothing to make the opportunity. I immediately class as a fraud and a humbug any Irishman that I hear talking in that strain.
I remember when Gavan Duffy left Ireland. I think it was in 1854. He issued an address to the Irish people, in which he said that the Irish national cause was like a corpse on the dissecting table. Yet, the cause was not dead, though it was certainly stricken by a kind of trom-luighe—a kind of “heavy sleep” that came upon it after the failure of ’48, and after the recreancy of the Sadlier and Keogh gang of parliamentary patriots. The “corpse” came to life again.
I was in the town of Tralee the day I read Duffy’s address in the Dublin Nation newspaper.
My brother-in-law, John Eagar, of Miltown and Liverpool, with his wife, Ellen O’Shaughnessy, of Charleville, were with me.
I got the Nation at Mr. O’Shea’s of the Mall; I came to the hotel and sat down to read it. My friends noticed that I was somewhat restless, reading the paper; I turned my face away from them, and they asked if anything was the matter with me. Next day I was writing an account of my vacation and travels to John Power Hayes, a friend of mine in Skibbereen; he was a kind of poet, and I wrote to him in rhyme. I look to my notes in my memory now, and I find the following are some of the lines I wrote:
Dear John: it’s from Miltown, a village in Kerry,
I write these few lines, hoping they’ll find you merry;
For I know you’re distressed in your spirits, of late,
Since “Corruption” has driven your friend to retreat,
And being now disengaged for a few hours of time,
Just to try to amuse you, my subject I’ll rhyme.
Well, you know I left Cork on the evening of Sunday;
I got to Killarney the following Monday;
I traveled to view the legendary places
Till Thursday came on—the first day of the Races;
Amusements were there for the simple and grand,
But I saw that which grieved me—the wealth of the land
Was, in chief, represented by many a knight,
Who was sworn on oath, for the Saxon to fight,
And to drive all his enemies into confusion,
But I thought in my heart they were cowards, while the “Rooshian”
Was granting “commissions of death,” ex-officio,
To remain Barrack officers of the militia.
And it sickened the heart of myself who have seen
The starved and the murdered of Skull and Skibbereen,
To see those McCarthys, O’Mahonys, O’Flynns,
And also O’Donoghue, Chief of the Glens.
All sworn—disgraceful to all our traditions—
To command the militia instead of Milesians.
I also should tell you that while at the races,
I made my companions scan hundreds of faces,
To get me a view, for my own recreation,
Of one that I knew but by name in the Nation,
And if I, unaccompanied, happened to meet him,
With the choicest of drinks I’d be happy to treat him;
For I swear by all firearms—poker and tongues,
By his side I would fight to redress all our wrongs.
He may be a wealthy or poor man, a tall, or
A small man, but know that his name is Shine Lalor.
Then leaving Killarney—seeing all I could see—
I wended my way the next day to Tralee;
I inquired of a man whom I met at the station
If he’d please tell me where I’d get the Nation;
He inquired of another and then told me call
To the house of one Mr. O’Shea at the Mall.
Then I went to my inn and proceeded to read,
While the others, to get some refreshments agreed.
While reading, I fell into some contemplation
When Duffy addressed “Constituents of the Nation,”
And then, through what agency I cannot prove,
Each nerve of my body did instantly move,
Each particle quivered, I thought that a gush
Of hot blood to my eyelids was making a rush;
I saw myself noticed by some of the folk,
Who, if they knew my feeling, would make of it joke,
And I kindly requested that some one would try
To detect a small insect that troubled my eye.
The effort was made, with but little success.
Say, bad luck to all flunkeys, their patrons and press.
At that time the regiment of Kerry militia were out, under command of the O’Donoghue of the Glens, and were officered by the McCarthys, O’Mahonys, O’Flynns and other Kerrymen belonging to the old Milesian families. The regiment was shortly after drafted over to England to do duty there.
That is forty-two years ago. The reader will be able to judge from the foregoing lines of rhyme, that my opinions at that early day of my life were the same as they are to-day, and that I have not got into any bohreens or byroads of Irish national politics during those forty-two years.
Two years after the time I am speaking of, a number of young men in Skibbereen, realizing the sad state of things, came together and started the Phœnix National and Literary Society. I think that Society was started in 1856. I remember the night we met to give it a name. Some proposed that it be called the “Emmet Monument Association.” Others proposed other names. I proposed that it be called the “Phœnix National and Literary Society”—the word “Phœnix” signifying that the Irish cause was again to rise from the ashes of our martyred nationality. My resolution was carried, and that is how the word “Phœnix” comes into Irish national history.
Most of the boys who attended that meeting are dead. I could not now count more than four of them who are living: Daniel McCartie, of Newark, N. J.; Dan O’Crowley, of Springfield, Ill., and Patrick Carey, of Troy, N. Y.
James Stephens came to Skibbereen one day in the summer of 1858. He had a letter of introduction from Jas. O’Mahony, of Bandon, to Donal Oge—one of our members. He initiated Donal Oge (Dan McCartie) into the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood. Donal Oge initiated me the next day; I initiated Patrick J. Downing and Morty Moynahan the following day; and so, the good cause spread.
In three or four months, we had three or four baronies of the southwest of Cork County organized; Donal Oge, Morty Moynahan and I became three centres of three circles. We had drillings at night in the woods and on the hillsides; the rumblings, and rumors of war were heard all around; the government were becoming alarmed; they made a raid upon our homes on the night of December 8, and the second day after, some twenty of us were prisoners in the county jail in the city of Cork.