Dan Hallahan, John O’Gorman, Willie O’Gorman, William McCarthy, Jerrie O’Donovan, John Hennigan, Jerrie O’Meara and others who had charge of the flags the night of the Polish demonstration, took them to my house. They went up to the roof and planted them on the chimneys. That was more high-treason. But I let the flags fly, and would not haul them down—much to the alarm of the men of the English garrison who had “charge of the peace” of the community. McCarthy Downing, trying to reason me out of any rebellious propensities those days, told me what a strong ’48 man he was—how affectionately he cherished the possession of a green cap the ’48 men gave him when they were “on the run,” and how he himself would be the first man to handle a pike—if he thought ’twould be of any use. But with England’s strong army and navy, it was nothing but folly for us to think we could do anything against her wonderful power. That is the kind of talk that is of most use to England in Ireland; particularly when it comes from men who have the character of being patriots. And we have many such patriots among us to-day; not alone in Ireland, but in America, and in every other land to which the Irish race is driven—patriots who will do anything to free Ireland but the one thing that must be done before she is freed. And to say that she cannot be freed by force is something that no manly Irishman should say—something he should not allow a thought of to enter his mind, while he has it in his power to grasp all these resources of war, or “resources of civilization” that England has at her command for the subjugation of Ireland and other nations. England knows well that Irishmen have it in their power to bring her to her knees, if they fight her with her own weapons, and that is why she labors so insidiously to put the brand of illegality, infamy, and barbarity upon such instruments of war in their hands as in her hands she calls “resources of civilization.” “England,” said Gladstone to Parnell, “has yet in reserve for Ireland the resources of civilization.” Ireland has such “resources” too; and, when it comes to a fight—as come it must—the Parnells must be sure to use them in England as the Gladstones will be sure to use them in Ireland. Then, may there be an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and blood for blood—with an opening for Macauley’s New Zealander in London. When I was in Ireland three years ago, I got a letter from Father John O’Brien of Ardfield, Clonakilty, inviting me to spend some time with him in memory of old times in Skibbereen. He was a curate in the town in my time there. The boys in the shop told me one day that Father O’Brien was in looking for me, and left word to have me call up to his house. I called up; in answer to my knock on the rapper, Kittie the housekeeper opened the door. “Kittie,” said I, “is Father O’Brien in?” “Yes,” said he, speaking from the head of the stairs, “Is that Rossa? Come upstairs.” I went upstairs: sat with him for two or three hours; had lunch with him, and lots of talk upon the questions of the day. The question of the day at that time was Fenianism, and we talked it over. “Why is it,” said I, “that I can go to confession and get absolution, and that Dan Hallahan and Simon Donovan and others will be turned away from the confessional unless they give up the Society?” “Oh,” said he, “in that matter the Church has a discretionary power which it uses according to its judgment. The historical experience of the Church regarding political secret societies is, that no matter how good the purpose for which such societies are started, the control of them generally gets into the hands of men who use them against the Church, and not in the interest of any good purpose in the name of which young men are drawn into them. Where we meet a man who, we think, cannot be used against the Church, we use our discretionary power to admit him to the sacraments; when our judgment tells us it may be proper to advise other penitents to have nothing to do with the society, and to discontinue membership in it, we so advise.” Then he quoted some of the Church doctrine in those words of St. Augustine:—“In necessariis, unitas; in non-necessariis, libertas; in omnibus, caritas.—In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
I do not wonder that any Irish priest would turn away from his confessional any Irishman who would kneel at it, confessing to him as one of his sins, that he had taken a pledge or an oath to fight as a soldier for the freedom of his country. If I was a priest myself, I would tell the poor slave to give up sinning. When I came home that day after my visit to Father O’Brien, I found the whole house laughing at me, and calling me “fool, fool.” It was the 1st of April, “Fool’s Day” in Ireland; my people made a “fool” of me in sending me to see Father O’Brien, for he had never been in, asking to see me. But no matter for that; it was a pleasant visit, and the priest laughed heartily afterward when I was telling him how I had been “fooled” into it.
One Sunday afternoon, in this month of April, 1863, I, with some of the boys of the town, made a visit to Union Hall, a seaside village, some four miles to the south of Skibbereen. We remained there till eleven o’clock at night; met many men of the district, and enlivened the place with speech, recitation and song. Next morning Kit-na-Carraiga and a few more of the wives of the Myross fishermen came in to my shop and told me as they were passing through Union Hall they met the magistrate, John Limerick; that he was raging mad, and swearing that if he caught Jerrie-na Phœnix and his crowd in Union Hall again, they would not leave it as they left yesterday. Kit spoke in Irish, and I said to her: “Kit! Innis do a maireach, go riaghmid sios aris de Domhnaig seo chughain.” “Kit! tell him to-morrow that we will go down again next Sunday.”
Next Sunday came, and we were as good as our word.
After mass, some twenty of us left the town, and broke into the fields. We started hares and chased them with our screeching. Many of the farmers’ sons on the way joined us, and, as we were entering Union Hall, we had a pretty big crowd. But there was a far bigger crowd in the village. It was full of people, because all the morning, police had been coming in on every road from the surrounding police stations, and the people followed the police. The threat of John Limerick, the magistrate, had gone out, and the people came in to see what would be the result. Five or six of the magistrates of the district had come in too. Across the little harbor from Glandore we saw a fleet of boats facing for Union Hall. They conveyed men from Ross, some three miles at the other side of Glandore. As the boats approached our quay John Limerick stood on it, and forbade them to land. “Boys,” said I, “never mind what this man says; this is a part of Ireland, your native land, and you have as good right to tread its soil as he has.”
With that, Pat Donovan (now in New York), jumped from his boat into the shallow shoal water; others followed him; Limerick left the quay, and they marched through the village, with their band playing, up to the house of Father Kingston.
Limerick gave orders to close all the public houses in the village. I was in at the house of Mrs. Collins, an aunt-in-law of mine, when the police came in, with orders to clear the house. “If you tell me to go out,” said I to Mrs. Collins, “I will go out.” “I won’t turn you out of my house,” said she. “If you put your hands on me, and tell me to leave this house,” said I to Sergeant William Curran, or to Dockery (who now keeps a hotel in Queenstown), “I will leave it.” “I won’t put my hand on you,” said the policeman; “my orders are to have Mrs. Collins clear the house, and I can’t do more.” The police went out; I and my friends went out after them, telling Mrs. Collins it was better for her to close up, for Limerick was lord of the manor, and lord of her license to keep house.
The police in the street arrested Patrick Donovan. Some girls named Dillon, first cousins of his, snatched him away from the police and rushed him into their house. John Limerick read the Riot Act. Potter, the Chief of Police gave the order of “fix bayonets,” et cetera. The women in the windows, at each side of the street, were screaming in alarm. Patrick Spillane, the Master-instructor of the Skibbereen band (now in Rochester, N. Y.), stood up in his carriage and addressed the people, denouncing the village tyranny they were witnessing; Dan. O’Donoghue, one of the bandsmen (a Protestant), in a scuffle with a policeman, broke his trombone. I asked Potter, the Chief of Police, what did he mean to do now, with his drawn swords and fixed bayonets? He said he meant to quell this riot. I told him there was no riot but what was made by Mr. Limerick.
Five or six other magistrates were there. I knew Doctor Somerville and John Sidney Townsend. I got talking to them; they told me to go home. I told them I would stay at home that day only that threats from John Limerick had been coming to my house all the week that if I set my foot in Union Hall again it would be worse for me.
Things gradually quieted down; the police were ordered off the ground, and peace was restored. There were lots of summonses next day; McCarthy Downing was employed for our defence, and some fines were adjudged against a few of the people. But that was not the worst of it. Many of them who filled situations lost their places. A few national schoolmasters, who were in the village that day were suspended, and did not teach school in Ireland since. One of them was John O’Driscoll, who died in Boston a few years ago.
A few days after this Union Hall affair I called into the Beecher Arms Hotel in Skibbereen and met John Sydney Townsend. We talked of the affair of the previous Sunday. I said affairs had come to a queer pass when an Irishman, in his own country, would be forbidden to tread its soil. Why, said I, if you yourself were in a foreign land, and if any one insulted you because that you were an Irishman, you would resent the insult. He took off his coat and his vest, took hold of my hand and placed it on his shoulder, to let me feel his shoulder-blade that was out of joint. “I got that,” said he, “in Australia, in a fight with fellows that were running down the Irish.” He got that middle name, Sidney, from having lived several years in Sydney, Australia. What a pity it is that men like him will not fight for Ireland in Ireland. Most of them are found on the side of Ireland’s deadliest enemy—their enemy, too, if they would only rightly understand it.
The spirit of the men in the south of Ireland was running ahead of the times—running into fight with the laws of the English enemy before the Fenian organization in America or Ireland had made any adequate preparation for a successful fight. Many of the men had gone to America, and many of them went into the American army, to learn the soldier’s glorious trade—as much for the benefit of Ireland’s freedom as for the benefit of America’s freedom. Patrick Downing, Denis Downing and William O’Shea were in Cork Jail with me in 1859. In 1863 I made a visit to America and saw Patrick Downing, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Forty-second Tammany Regiment; William O’Shea, captain in the same regiment; Denis Downing, captain in a Buffalo regiment, and I saw Michael O’Brien, the Manchester martyr, enlisted into a Jersey regiment. O’Shea was killed in the war. Denis Downing lost a leg at the battle of Gettysburg, Patrick Downing was wounded many times. All dead now, and many more dead, who with their last breath, wished it was in a fight for Ireland against England they were dying. I’ll go back to Skibbereen for a while.
Things were getting so hot there in the year 1863, and there was in the line of business and employment, such an English boycott upon men who were suspected of belonging to the organization that many of them left the town and went to America. I left the town myself, and went with a party of them—Dan Hallahan, Wm. McCarthy, Simon O’Donovan, John O’Gorman, Jerrie O’Meara, and others, having made arrangements with my family to be away a few months.
The word “boycott” was not in the English language then, but the practice of the work it represents had been put in active use against me by the landlords of the district. None of them would deal with me or enter my shop. Small loss that, so far as it concerned the landlords personally. But when it came to be known all around that any tenant who would enter my shop would incur the displeasure of the landlord and the landlord’s agent, it was a different thing; it was there I felt their power against me. I sold all kinds of farm seeds, and I found some farmers, who lived five miles out of town, coming in and waking me up in the dead hour of night to buy their supply of seeds from me. Then, some of the landlords that were given to the encouragement of the cultivation of crops for the feeding of cattle, would give orders to the farmers for all kinds of clover and grass seeds, and would pay the shopkeeper’s bills for those seeds. I got my due share of those orders during some years; but all at once they ceased coming to me, just as if a council meeting of landlords had been held, and it was decided that no orders be given on my house, and no bills for seeds be paid that were contracted in my house.
I have a letter here by me that was written to me, this time by one of the landlords, who was a kind of friend of mine. He was the biggest man in the country; was often high sheriff, and lord lieutenant of the county, as stately and handsome-looking a man as you could see in a day’s walk. He had some regard or liking for me, as you may judge by this letter of his:
O’Donovan Rossa—You slipped out of court yesterday before I could hand you my debt. I am sorry I should have been so long on your black books.
I trust you will pardon me for saying I was sorry at what took place in court yesterday. Men of mind and intellect, as you appear to possess, should not display their powers in trifles. Now, suppose there was a revolution to your very heart’s content, and that you were placed in the very position of your warmest aspirations, would it tell well that O’Donovan Rossa had been whistling and knocking at doors to annoy the police.
Believe me, though I do not wish you success in the foregoing, that I wish you prosperity in your worldly welfare. I am truly,
The “bill” in question was for seed supplied to the farm steward in his employment.
The “whistling and knocking at doors” in question, I had nothing to do with, and know nothing about. The boys had been out in the woods one night drilling, I suppose. When they had done, they scattered, and came home by different roads. One party of them coming into town, knew that the police were out of town, watching after moonlighters. They knew there was only one policeman left in the police barrack, and that he should stay in it; so when they were passing the house of the head inspector, one of them gave a runaway knock on the rapper. I suppose he thought it was a good joke on the police, who were out looking for Fenians.
Some one saw me passing through the street that night, and I was summoned with others. Tom Somerville was chairman of the magistrates, and I showed him that I had nothing to do with knocking at any one’s door on the occasion.
That you may not go guessing wrongly as to how or why Tom Somerville could or should come to grow any friendship or regard for me, I may as well give you my own guess on the subject. He had an only son, who was a captain or major in the English army in the Crimean war in the year 1854. During the days of the fighting, news came that the son was killed in one of the battles, and there was much public sympathy with the father. Then news came that the son was living. After that came the news that the war was over, and that the son was coming home. There was preparation in the town for giving him a “welcome home.”
John Powers Hayes, the local poet asked me to help him out with some lines of welcome he was writing in acrostic form on “Major Thomas Somerville.” I helped him, and then I came in for getting the credit of doing the whole thing. So much so, that after that Tom Somerville was disposed to be fairly friendly with me whenever I came his way. I remember that the last five lines of that acrostic, based on the five last letters of the word “Somerville,” ran this way:
Valor’s representative! Skibbereen will gladly greet him,
Imbued with feelings of respect she joyfully will meet him;
Loudly to home she’ll welcome him—old friends, old scenes, say rather,
Like to one risen from the dead, around him she will gather,
Enjoying to see that he again has met his honored father.
And now I have to leave Skibbereen—leave it for good—leave it forever, I may say. Coming on June, 1863, I came to America, having an intention to go back in a few months’ time to live in Skibbereen. I never went back to make my home there. Farther on you will learn, how and why this came to pass.
But I often visit there when far away, just as many another Irish exile visits through dreamland, the old hearth of the old home, and sees again the old landmarks of the days of his youth in the old land.
“Many another Irish exile,” did I say?—did I call myself an “exile”?—an Irishman in New York, an “exile”! Yes; and the word, and all the meanings of the word, come naturally to me, and run freely from my mind into this paper. My mother buried in America, all my brothers and sisters buried in America; twelve of my children born in America—and yet I cannot feel that America is my country; I am made to feel that I am a stranger here, and I am made to see that the English power, and the English influence and the English hate, and the English boycott against the Irish-Irishmen is to-day as active in America as it is in Ireland. I am also made to see England engaged in her old game of employing dirty Irishmen to do some of the dirty work that she finds it necessary to have done, to hold Ireland in thrall.
At the opening of this chapter I said something about Father John O’Brien in connection with secret societies, and his telling me that bad men generally got to the head of them, who did not use them for good, but for bad. Whatever more I am to say in this book on that subject, I preface it here by saying I am strongly of the opinion that much of the preparatory work that is necessary to be done to make Ireland free must be done in secret; and I am also strongly of the opinion that that work can be done successfully in spite of all the false and infamous Irishmen that England can buy into her service. My eyes are not at all shut to the fact that the spy service is one branch of the English service into which England recruits Irishmen for the purpose of maintaining her hold on Ireland. That branch has to be taken into consideration by revolutionary Irishmen, just as much as the police branch, or the soldier branch of the English service in Ireland has to be taken into consideration. No, I am not at all blind in that light. I have seen too many of those spies during the past fifty years, and have too many times been marked by their employers for one of their victims, to doubt their ubiquity or make light of their labors. Some of them intrigued themselves into very close companionship with me in Irish societies. I caught them trying to kill the work I was trying to do, and trying to kill myself. That doesn’t frighten me, though there is something disheartening in the situation of things during the past twenty years. The paralyzation of the Irish revolutionary movement, has been developed to such an extent, the work connected with its resolves has been shunted so far aside, that I cannot help asking myself is it the hand of England that is doing all this; is it the will of England that is working to have nothing done that will hurt or harm England.
I see the hand of England at work during those twenty years to kill myself out of Irish life, and I see very efficient aid to that end given by some men in Irish societies in America. I see the Dudley woman sent out to assassinate me. I see Labouchere employed to ask questions in the English House of Commons that proclaim me through the world an English spy in the pay of England. That is the English side of the work. The Irish side of the work is this: I have been three times expelled from the membership in the Irish revolutionary societies of America by the controlling powers of those societies. No charges preferred against me, no trial, or no summons to appear for trial. A simple announcement made that O’Donovan Rossa is “expelled” or suspended. That announcement, virtually declaring me a traitor, is sent to every club of the organization throughout the nation, and to every affiliation it has in foreign lands. I met it in many places in England and Ireland. I met it in many places in America. The assassin bullet in my body bespeaks an agency less infamous than the agency that would so assassinate my character—a character that has come to me through some unselfish labor—and much suffering therefor—for Ireland’s freedom. I do not see that the moral assassins have done anything for the last twenty years that would enable me to give them the benefit of thinking they are not in the same employment as the Dudley assassins. I print the following two letters as samples of the product of their work:
San Juan, January 1, 1887.
Enclosed find $2 in payment for your paper. Don’t send it after the receipt of this letter, for I think you are a traitor, and a British spy.
Rochester, N. Y., Aug. 13, 1888.
Sir—For some time past you have been sending your papers to my brother. He says he has notified you to cut them off. He says, and I say with him, that your sheet has never done any good for Ireland, and you are a delusion and a fraud. You don’t go much on Parnell, do you? Why don’t you do up bloody Balfour, and bring him to his knees? Why? Because a coward always hoots, he don’t fight for a cent.
Martin J. Ryan.
It is very likely that Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Ryan are good men. I will further say, could I dispossess myself of certain fears that have grown into my mind that if I were to-morrow to go looking for good trustworthy men to do daring and dangerous work for Ireland’s freedom, I would first speak to men belonging to the society to which they belong. It is not without my share of sorrow I am obliged to think that such men are in the hands of an organization bound to the peace, and bound to do nothing that will hurt or harm England—without giving due notice to England first. And I may add, that if any wealthy Irishman in the land offered me a hundred thousand dollars to day for the cause of Ireland’s freedom, on the conditions that it should be utilized with the advice and cooperation of the present leaders of the Irish Revolutionary Society of America, I would refuse the offer, so satisfied am I that there is treachery and crookedness somewhere in that leadership.
Le Caron, the English spy, eighteen years ago had the acquaintance of every chief man in the organization; Gibney, the English spy in Doctor Gallagher’s case fourteen years ago, had the confidence of the New York chiefs; Jones, the English spy, in the Ivory case in 1896, had their confidence. I look at all this, and I see myself denounced as a traitor and a spy by the men who took Le Caron and Gibney and Jones to their hearts. There is something rotten somewhere, something to be cast out.
In this chapter I have brought myself as far as leaving Skibbereen and coming to America in the summer of 1863. I have in my head many recollections of the trials and struggles of the men at the start of the organization and I have in my possession many letters of James Stephens and John O’Mahony and of all the Fenian missioners, and Fenian centres and Fenian organizers of those times in Ireland and America. I intend in next chapter to take those letters, commencing about the year 1860, print them in the order of date, and edit them with any information I am able to give. That will take attention away from myself for a while, and let you see what Scanlon and Finerty and Fitzgerald and Kelly and other living celebrities were saying and doing those times.
And as I am leaving Skibbereen for good, it is only just and proper I should say a good word for all the good people who knew me there. I must go to my grave indebted to many of them for much kindness, indebted to many of them living and dead in New York for more than kindness; because in my struggle to fight the battle of life here, and to stand up against the enemies that were raised up against me, to trample me down, I had often need of a helping hand, and I never made that need known to a man who knew me at home, that the helping hand was not extended to me. Photographed on my memory in that light are Tom Browne, and James Scanlan the merchant butchers of Gansevoort Market, and West 40th street, John Howard, of the Kenwood House Hotel; Tim Coughlan, of Kilcrohane, 28th street and Third avenue; James P. Farrell, of Lispenard street; Rocky Mountain O’Brien, Father Denis McCartie, and Jerrie O’Donovan, of Dromore, all of whom knew me when they were boys at home, and whose fathers before them knew me. Jerrie O’Donovan is in Calvary Cemetery a few years, but his children, Leo J. and Alfred J. O’Donovan, of Fordham College—the children of Madame O’Donovan, of No. 37 West 36th street, New York, may live, as I hope they will, to be proud to say that their father was a trusted, true and tried friend of O’Donovan Rossa’s.
I have spoken of Father John O’Brien in this chapter. He is in Ireland still, and is a Catholic curate still. When I was in Ireland four years ago, I got this letter from him:
Ardfield, Clonakilty, March 31, 1894.
My dear Jer—Somebody sent me a copy of your paper, in which you recalled to mind a funny incident of “All fool’s day,” 1860.
Should you include this out-of-the-way locality in your programme of travel now, I promise you as hearty a “welcome home” as you will get from any of your friends in old Erin.
Our meeting in the “Common mountain” will not be a case of “Fool, fool,” like that of 1860, in Skibbereen long ago.
Do you remember the Prince of Wales’ marriage, and the illuminations at the newsroom?
Accept my sincere congratulations on your surviving through so many trials, to see once more your native land. You spoke of knowing your old friend Flor McCarthy forty years. It is forty-three years since Morty Downing and Jer. O’Donovan Rossa were introduced to your old and sincere friend.
John O’Brien, C. C.