In these times preceding the Phœnix arrests—from 1852 to 1858—the time of the Sadlier and Keogh Tenant Right movement, the time of the Crimean war, and the time of the Indian mutiny, the Irish National cause was in a swoon. But England was playing one of her tricks, endeavoring to get the people to put trust in Parliamentary agitation and petitions to Parliament, for the redress of their grievances. Men who had no faith in these petitions would join in, saying, “We will try once more; but this is to be the last.” I suppose a dozen Tenant-Right bills have been given to Ireland since 1852; but to-day (1897), England and England’s landlords have the right to root out the Irish people still, and mercilessly do they exercise that right—so much so, that the population of Ireland is two millions less to-day than it was in 1852.
When James Stephens came to Skibbereen in May, 1858, and started the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, we commenced to work in that line of labor, and we were not long working, when a great change was noticeable in the temper of the people. In the cellars, in the woods, and on the hillsides, we had our men drilling in the night-time, and wars and rumors of wars were on the wings of the wind. The lords and the landlords were visibly becoming alarmed. No wonder, for their tenants who used to flock to Tenant-Right meetings cared very little about attending such meetings now. It has been said—it is said to-day by some men of the cities, that the farmers were opposed to the movement. I could not say that; I could say to the contrary, because I enrolled into the movement many of the most influential farmers in the parishes of Kilcoe, Aughadown, Caheragh, Drimoleague, Drinagh, Kilmacabea, Myross and Castlehaven. Dan McCartie and Morty Moynahan, two other “Centres” did the same. We set our eyes on the men who could carry their districts, in case of a rising—just as England sets her eye on the same class of men to-day, and swears them in as “New Magistrates.” It is to counteract this Fenian work of ours that England is now giving the “Commission of the Peace” to the sons and brothers of the men that we had in the Fenian organization. I could here name a dozen of these new magistrates that I met in Ireland a few years ago, whose fathers and whose brothers were with us in the Fenian movement of thirty odd years ago. I will not name them, as it may be said I was unwarrantably saying something to their injury. But England knows them, and knows with what aim she swore them into her service. She knows that Pat and Jerrie Cullinane were in prison with me in the Phœnix time, and she knows why it is that she makes their brother, Henry, a magistrate. She knows that William O’Sullivan, of Kilmallock, was put to prison by her in the Fenian times, and she knows why it is that she makes a magistrate of his son, John, who presided at my lecture at Kilmallock two years ago. And, sad I am to-day (July 12, ’98,) as I am reading this proof-sheet, to read in the Irish newspapers, that John O’Sullivan of Kilmallock died last week. English work of this kind I found all over Ireland when I was over there lately. In the district of Belfast I found eleven of those new magistrates whose families, thirty years ago, gave volunteers to the Fenian movement. I do not say they are worse Irishmen now than they were thirty years ago; but England has sworn them into her service; has “bound them to the peace.” It is not for love of them, or love of their race or religion she has done so. She has done it to wean them away from the National movement, and to paralyze that movement. “Beware of the cockatrice! trust not the wiles of the serpent; for perfidy lurks in his folds”—So spoke the Bishop of Ross, when the Sassenach was hanging him at Carrigadrohid. But we are taking little heed of his advice; the Sassenach is getting the better of us every way. I will now return to my story.
Every Sunday, Morty Moynahan, Dan McCartie and myself would drive to some country chapel, and attend mass. After mass we got into conversation with the trustworthy men of the place, and we generally planted the seed of our mission there. One Sunday, going to Clonakilty, we fell in with Father Tim Murray, of Ross, who was going to say mass at the chapel of Lissavard. We went to mass there. We were in the gallery. Father Tim was preaching in Irish. I was startled, as a man sitting by me, said in a loud voice, “Anois, athair Teige, ni doith liom gur ceart e sin”—“Now Father Tim I don’t think that’s right.” The priest had to address him personally, and tell him he’d have to go out in the yard to hear mass unless he held his tongue. He was a harmless simpleton, well known in the parish. After mass, McCartie, Moynahan and I went to Clonakilty. I had made an appointment to meet a farmer from the country, a cousin of mine. I settled matters with him. There are magistrates in his family now. Then, there were in the town two of the men of ’48 we meant to call upon—John Callanan and Maxwell Irwin. We went to John Callanan’s house, and he was not at home; we went to Maxwell Irwin’s, and he was not at home; he had gone to Crookhaven to attend the auction of a cargo of a shipwreck; so the little girl told me who came to the door after I had telephoned on the bright brass knocker outside. She was a pretty little girl, too, about twelve years of age, with twinkling eyes, and red rosy cheeks and coal-black hair. She is my wife to-day. Five or six years afterward, I met Mr. Irwin’s entire family—not for their welfare, I fear, as the boys of it found their way to prison and to exile through acquaintance with me.
Clonakilty is twenty miles distant from Skibbereen. That visit I made there with Dan McCartie and Morty Moynahan to start the I. R. B. Organization was in 1858. Thirty-six years after, in 1894, I was invited to give a lecture there. Dan O’Leary, one of the new magistrates, presided at the lecture. He, too, died a few weeks ago. After the lecture there was a big supper at the hotel. That cousin of mine whom I initiated into the I. R. B. movement in 1858 sat near me at the supper table. We talked of old times of course, but the old times are changed; one of his family is also one of the new magistrates. In those old times the magistracy was a monopoly in control of the Cromwellian plunderers of the Irish people, such as the Beechers, the Townsends, the Frenches, the Hungerfords, the Somervilles, the lords Bandon, Bantry, and Carbery, with a few of the Irish themselves who became renegades to race and religion, and thus came into sole possession of some of the lands of the clans—such as the O’Donovans, the O’Gradys, the O’Briens and others, who became more English than the English themselves. I remember old Sandy O’Driscoll, of Skibbereen; he was a Catholic, but he had the character and the appearance of being as big a tyrant as any Cromwellian landlord in the barony of Carbery. That much is as much as need be said at present on that subject.
On the subject of Fenianism I have heard many Irishmen in America speak about the large sums of American money that were spent in organizing the movement in Ireland, England and Scotland. I traveled these three countries in connection with the organization of the movement from 1858 to 1865, and I can truthfully say, that in the early years of our endeavor, “the men at home,” spent more of their own money out of their own pockets than was contributed altogether by the whole Fenian organization of America. Hugh Brophy, one of the Dublin “Centres” is in Melbourne; John Kenealy, one of the Cork “Centres,” is in Los Angeles—two extremely distant parts of the world—they will see what I say, and they can bear testimony to the truth of my words.
Now, I’ll get out of this cross bohreen I got into, and get back again to the main road of my story. As a funeral was passing through Skibbereen to the Abbey graveyard one day in ’58, I saw two men whom I thought would be great men in our movement; they were looked upon as the leaders of the clan O’Driscoll and clan McCarthy, of the parishes of Drinagh, Drimoleague and Caheragh. I got into the funeral procession and talked with them the mile of the road out to the Abbey field, and back again. We went into my house and had some dinner. In my bedroom I pledged Corly-Batt, McCarthy-Sowney to work for the cause; somewhere else I gave the pledge to Teige Oge O’Driscoll, of Doire-gclathach. Each of them was about sixty years of age at the time. Teige Oge’s wife was a McCarthy-Sowney, and Teige Oge’s sister was the wife of Finneen a Rossa, the brother of my grandfather, Diarmad a Rossa. Then I met Teige Oge’s eldest son, Conn, and I swore him in. Some dozen years ago I met him in Natick or Holliston, Massachusetts, the father of a large family of hearty sons and daughters.
The McCarthy-Sowney family are a noble Irish family; thoroughly hostile to English rule in Ireland, however they are, or wherever they are.
If you are “on the run” from England in Ireland, no matter what you are hunted for, you have shelter, and protection, and guardianship in the house of a McCarthy-Sowney. Corly-Batt had a grinding mill on the bank of the river, by the main road, between Drimoleague and Bantry; in this mill was Johnnie O’Mahony, a grandson of his, about seventeen years old; he swore in the grandson; and that grandson swore in all the farmers’ sons who came to the mill with wheat and oats and barley. That Johnnie O’Mahony is living somewhere around Boston now.
In the year 1864 I was living in Dublin, I came down to Skibbereen on some business. As I was passing by Drimoleague—it was a fair-day there—I went up to the fair field on the Rock, and as I got within the field, a fight commenced. I knew all the men around, and all the men around knew me. The two leaders of the fight were inside in the middle of the crowd; they had a hold of each other; the sticks were up; I rushed in; I caught hold of the two men—“Here,” said I, “this work must stop; ’tis a shame for the whole of you to be going on this way.” I glanced around as I spoke; the sticks were lowered, and the crowd scattered.
That was one good thing the Fenian organization did in Ireland in its day—it in a great measure broke up the faction-fights and the faction-parties, and got the men of both sides to come together and work in friendly brotherhood for the Irish cause. That, as much as anything else, greatly alarmed the English government and its agents.