I

THOMAS D’ARCY MCGEE’S NARRATIVE OF 1848

Early on Saturday the 22nd of July I left my pleasant home in Cullenswood, near Dublin, to which I was never to return. On reaching the city I found a telegraphic despatch from London had been just published, announcing the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and that the “extraordinary powers” to be conferred on the Lord Lieutenant would be forwarded to Dublin on the following Monday. It was contended on all hands that the hour for action or submission or flight for the Confederates was now come. Of “The Council of Five,”[16] there were then in Dublin but three members. One is now in Van Diemen’s Land; the others were Mr. Dillon and myself. We had a hasty meeting in the old Council Rooms of the Irish Confederation. They decided to proceed that evening to Enniscorthy to advise with Smith O’Brien, and, as I understood, to proceed with him to the district between the Suir and the Shannon, and to operate from that basis according to circumstances and their own best judgment.

A gentleman had arrived in Dublin that morning with a proposition which decided my movements and led me into some singular situations.

He was a professional man, by birth an Irishman who had resided a long time in Scotland. He had one only son, two rifles, and £120 in money, which he brought as his offering to the country. He informed us that several hundred Irishmen in Scotland had been all the year preparing for this event, that they had a good share of arms and ammunition, and that if any plan could be devised to bring them into Ireland, they could be relied on for courage and endurance. I do not mention this gentleman’s name, because I do not know but he is still under the laws of England.

We perceived, on consultation, that if it were possible to land 400 or 500 staunch men in the north-west—say, at Sligo or Killala—where the Government were completely off their guard (all their anxieties being centred on the south), an important movement might follow in Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon and Mayo. It would be like hitting the enemy in the back of the head. It would necessarily draw off some of the forces from Munster, through the valley of the Upper Shannon, which, with its continuous chain of lake, bog and mountain frontier, would be difficult ground for the movements of a regular army.

It was necessary, as our informant said, that “someone with a name” should go over and concert with the Irishmen in Scotland the mode and time of action, and I was the only person at hand willing for that service. For my encouragement, Meagher assured me I would be “as famous as Paul Jones” if I got the men out of the Clyde, and Mr. Dillon suggested as a landing-place “the old ground, Killala.”

That afternoon I left Dublin, and on Tuesday morning I was in Scotland.

I cannot give the exact particulars of my movements while there. All who were in my confidence are still in Scotland, with the exception of Mr. Peter M’Cabe of Glasgow, now in the United States. I will only say that I visited and consulted our friends in four of the principal towns—Edinburgh included. I attended meetings of the clubs and in each instance instituted committees. I obtained in a few days a list of nearly 400 men, pretty well equipped, ready for the risk. A sub-committee surveyed the Broomielaw and the Clyde, and although their report was unfavourable to the attempt of getting out in one body, a gentleman, now in America, gained over the crew and officers of an Irish steamer to take us as passengers from Greenock where the tides in a few days would answer for departure about ten o’clock at night. The arms were to be previously shipped as merchandise or luggage, and the destination was to be Sligo.

These arrangements occupied from Tuesday till Friday of the last week of July. In the meanwhile, the London Journals arrived with news that O’Brien and his friends had been received with open arms in the south, and great excitement and suspicion of strangers arose in Scotland. In the Reading Room at Paisley I read myself in The Hue and Cry. One paper stated I was in Waterford, another said I was “revelling among the clubs in the Co. Dublin.” The Times did me the honour to couple me with Meagher, calling us “the two most dangerous men now abroad.” No one suspected my real locality.

On Friday I was in Edinburgh intending to return to Glasgow, when Mr. ——, accompanied by a friend suddenly joined me. I saw they were a good deal agitated. They told me a Scotch mechanic who had been formerly in Dublin had seen me in the streets of Glasgow opposite Wellington statue, and that the news was “all round town.” They added that the magistrates were in secret sitting, and as the writ of Habeas Corpus is unknown to the law of Scotland, I would be certainly arrested and summarily imprisoned if I returned. They were instructed to advise me to go to Ireland through the north of England, to prepare our friends in and about Sligo, and that they would complete the project which they had begun, and which was now in promising forwardness. I complied and Mr. —- handed me a purse, as a personal gift from the Committee. This purse contained twelve or thirteen sovereigns, the only public money I received in this enterprise. After purposely driving to the West of Scotland depot [railway terminus] we returned to the North British, and my friends saw me off a station or two on the way to Newcastle-on-Tyne. I slept that night in Newcastle.

Between Newcastle and Carlisle the next day (Saturday) I had for a fellow passenger the Rev. Thresham Gregg[17] who was on a lecturing excursion against the Pope in the north of England. I had been introduced to him a year or two before and supposed he knew me. He certainly looked very hard at me from under his travelling-cap, with his half-shut cunning eyes. I had in my hand “Bradshaw’s Railway Guide,” which he asked to see. At the way stations he kept constantly inquiring the distance to Carlisle, and I sorely suspected he meant to “peach.” He did not, however, though I still think he must have known me.

In Carlisle I met at dinner two Dublin priests (one from Westland Row chapel). They were bound on a pleasure-trip for Loch Katrine and the Trossachs. They informed me that I was “proclaimed,” and seemed surprised at my returning. We parted very cordially and that night I went to Whitehaven where I had to wait over Sunday for the Belfast steamer.

In Whitehaven (by accident) I met with Mr. James Leach, the well-known Chartist, with whom I had some conversation unnecessary here to be repeated.

On Tuesday morning I arrived in Belfast. Two policemen entered the cabin as I was leaving it, and having been at the meeting which occasioned the Hercules Street riot,[18] I thought they would recognise me. They did not, however, and at 8 o’clock (after leaving a note for a dear and trusted friend of Mr. Duffy’s, to mark my whereabouts) I was safely embarked on the Ulster railway for Armagh. At Aughnacloy a detective gave me a light, and before I went to bed (in Enniskillen) had read the proclamations against the leaders of the Southern movement, on the gates of the Barrack. The next morning I reached Sligo by the Leitrim road.

This was Wednesday morning, August 2nd.

At the Hibernia Hotel, where I stopped as Mr. Kelly (my travelling baptism), I saw for the first time in ten days the Irish papers. The Dublin Freeman and Saunder’s News Letter were on the table. I read the list of the places where, and the clergymen by whom, the Southern movement had been “denounced,” on Sunday, July 23rd and Sunday, July 30th. The same papers contained Lord Clarendon’s wily letter to Archbishop Murray, offering to alter the statutes of the new colleges and to remodel the Bequests Bill so as to content the Catholic clergy, and artfully complimenting Pius IX. The game of the Government was clear—it was to separate the clergy from the people in the coming struggle.

The evening of my arrival in Sligo, I conferred with a few friends. The place chosen was “a shell house” in the demesne of Hazelwood on the shores of Lough Gill. Of those who formed that conference one at least, Mr. William M’Garahan, is now in America. We ascertained the garrison of Sligo to be but ninety men—the barrack to be surrounded by a common eight-foot wall, and the local authorities to be completely lulled to sleep. The circumstances were as favourable as could be expected.

But there never had been in Sligo or Leitrim any local Confederate or even “Repeal” organisation. The only local societies were secret—Molly Maguires and Ribbonmen. It was necessary to get into communication with them and late the next night Dr. ——, a Confederate, introduced me to one of their leaders, on a road which crosses a hill to the south of the town. This gentleman I found wary, resolute, and intelligent. He said: “I have no doubt of what you say, but I must have certain facts to lay before our district chiefs. At present we don’t know what to believe. One day we hear one thing—another, another. Bring us by this day week assurances that the South is going to rise or has risen, and we will raise two thousand before the week is out.” I agreed to do so and he in the meantime went to prepare his friends.

I returned to my confidants of the first conference and “reported progress.” It was rather difficult to find a trusty messenger. I volunteered to go myself, but they would not hear of it. At last a man who could be depended on was obtained, and, armed with certain passwords (unintelligible except to those for whom they were intended) he left to go through Roscommon and Westmeath into Tipperary by Borrisokane and Nenagh.

Simultaneously with this, agents went abroad in the country, and I, by the advice of the local leaders, went to lodge under Benbulben in the character of a Dublin student in search of health and exercise during the summer vacation. Within a week we expected to be openly arrayed against the authorities, and no man that I saw shrank from the prospect.

From my lodgings under Benbulben I made a visit to Bundoran to meet some friends from Donegal who were anxious to consult me as to the state of the county. By an odd chance I lodged in the same house with the stipendiary magistrate, Sir Thomas Blake, and had to go through his bedroom to my own. We met frequently but he was quite unsuspicious. He has, I find since, been dismissed from his office, after an ineffectual search for me through the county, a month from the time we had lived under the same roof.

While our messenger had gone south there arrived one from our friends in Scotland. Him I sent back the same night to expedite affairs there. In the meanwhile, on such maps as we had, my friends and I studied the roads and the formation of the country. There is in this part of Ireland a plateau of about twenty-five miles square of broken or mountainous ground. Of this district Ballinamore in Leitrim might be considered the centre; there are but three main roads leading through it—the Boyle road, the Red Lion road, and the Ballysodare road—which could all be easily rendered impassable, passing as they do over rapid streams, through narrow defiles or across extensive marshes. There is no great military depot within the district—Enniskillen, Athlone, and even Castlebar being within the spurs of the mountains. Sligo, its chief town was, as we saw, poorly garrisoned, and yet as a seaport of the second class it contained many things of the greatest use in a military movement—as lead, arms, canvas, tools, money, ships’ stores, breadstuffs, types for proclamations and even some small cannon. From three to five thousand men it was calculated, could be well-equipped and could maintain themselves for three months within this district, with tolerable prudence and exertion. Before the time expired we hoped to receive help and officers from abroad, and afterwards to be able to undertake greater things.

We could not but remember that this was the district chosen by Owen O’Neill after his arrival from Spain in 1645 and that it was here he “nursed up” by slow degrees the army which fought at Benburb, and which in Napoleon’s opinion, but for the premature death of Owen, would have checkmated Cromwell. The ground once chosen by a great general for its natural capabilities may safely be chosen again, and usually is, as in Hungary for instance. The very posts and battlefields held and fought by Bem and Dembinski were the same whereon Huniad and Corvinus, four and five hundred years ago, fought against the Turks and Bosmens. Thus we had the sanction of a great example and the stimulus of an inspiriting tradition to point to for the choice of the ground.

We had not long to wait for news from the South—it came of itself. On Saturday the 5th of August Mr. O’Brien was arrested in Thurles. His companions, it was said, were fled hither and thither; but, at all events, his arrest had proved that, at that time, the South would not rise in arms against the Government.

This was the interpretation universally put upon it in the north-west. It was in vain I said, “There are other men as brave and as good who are still free and from whom we will hear better news.” Those to whom I spoke were incredulous. Still I must do the people of the county the justice to say that in a meeting of their district-leaders at —— it was discussed for two successive nights with great animation whether or not the district should rise even then. The parties for and against a rising were nearly balanced, but the latter prevailed on the argument that unless it was general it would be fruitless.

For ten dismal days I remained in this neighbourhood, hoping against hope and endeavouring to make others do the same. The proposals I then made, the result of desperation, I will not repeat, for now, even to myself, I confess they look wild and extravagant. But I felt the whole futurity of shame that awaited us for abandoning the country without a blow. It was well advanced in August before I could persuade myself that no hope remained. The Treasurer of our Scotch Committee came to Ireland expressly to urge me to consult my own safety in flight, in which he was joined by the whole of my local associates. Successively arrived the news of Meagher, Leyne and MacManus being taken. Then indeed I knew “all was up.” Then, indeed, I felt the force of what I had long before prophesied—”What if we fail?” I resolved not to be taken if I could help it, and acted accordingly. After some personal adventures in Donegal and Derry (with which I will not trouble the reader) I saw the last of the Irish shore early in September, and on the 10th of October reached Philadelphia.

I close here with this reflection: Had I been transported or hanged, I have no doubt full justice would be done me, because it would be nobody’s interest to do me injustice. Had I kept silent, I might have lived an easy, prudent, reputable sort of life enough. But I established a journal on reaching America, and whereas my spine is not made of whalebone nor my conscience of indiarubber, I spoke the truth as I knew it in all things freely—thereby offending divers parties. This, I believe, could not be helped. After nearly a year of silence[19] I have at last (in self-defence) written this narrative, of which I assure the readers they never would have heard a word from me, but that misrepresentations not to be borne demanded its publicity. Those who from want of information misrepresented me hitherto can do so no more; and those who, knowing these facts, yet wilfully maligned me, I have now deprived of the power to do me further injury. Truth is powerful, and this is truth.

II

THE PROCLAMATION OF DOHENY AND HIS COLLEAGUES

By The Lord Lieutenant General and General-Governor of Ireland

A PROCLAMATION

CLARENDON—

Whereas we have received information that THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER, JOHN B. DILLON and MICHAEL DOHENY have been guilty of treasonable practices, now we the Lord Lieutenant being determined to bring the said THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER, JOHN B. DILLON and MICHAEL DOHENY to justice, do hereby offer a reward of

THREE HUNDRED POUNDS

to any person or persons who shall secure and deliver up to safe custody the person of any one of them, the said THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER, JOHN B. DILLON and MICHAEL DOHENY.

And we do hereby strictly charge and command all justices of the peace, mayors, sheriffs, bailiffs, constables and all other of her Majesty’s loyal subjects to use their utmost-diligence in apprehending the said THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER, JOHN B. DILLON and MICHAEL DOHENY.

Given at her Majesty’s Castle of Dublin, this 28th day of July, 1848.

By his Excellency’s Command,

T.N. REDINGTON.

III

“THE HUE AND CRY”

The official description of himself read by Thomas Darcy M’Gee was more accurate and less intentionally insulting than the official descriptions of most of his colleagues compiled in Dublin Castle and published in the Hue and Cry of July 27th, 1848. Probably no other official document issued to the public in the last hundred years by Dublin Castle has equalled this stupid malignity. “Sketches of Doheny and some of the Confederate leaders, modelled upon the descriptions of burglars and murderers, that ordinarily adorn the Hue and Cry were,” wrote Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, a generation later, “issued for the enjoyment of loyal persons.” The Freeman’s Journal of the day wrote that the public who were acquainted with the appearance of the gentlemen described will read with feelings of contempt the malignant effort to insult and wound the relatives of the men proscribed by the issue of a written caricature of their persons. This remarkable production of the genius and spirit of Dublin Castle, read as follows:—

DESCRIPTION OF PERSONS CHARGED WITH
TREASONABLE PRACTICES

WILLIAM SMITH O’BRIEN.—No occupation; forty-six years of age; six feet in height; sandy hair; dark eyes; sallow, long face; has a sneering smile constantly on his face; full whiskers; sandy; a little grey; well-set man; walks erect; dresses well.

THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER.—No occupation; twenty-five years of age; five feet nine inches; dark, nearly black hair; light blue eyes; pale face; high cheekbones; peculiar expression about the eyes; cocked nose; no whiskers; well-dressed.

JOHN B. DILLON.—Barrister; thirty-two years of age; five feet eleven inches in height; dark hair; dark eyes; thin sallow face; rather thin black whiskers; dressed respectable; has bilious look.

MICHAEL DOHENY.—Barrister; forty years of age; five feet eight inches in height; fair or sandy hair; grey eyes; coarse red face like a man given to drink; high cheekbones; wants several of his teeth; very vulgar appearance; peculiar coarse unpleasant voice; dress respectable; small short red whiskers.

MICHAEL CREAN.—Shopman at a shoe-shop; thirty-five years of age; five feet eight inches; fair or sandy hair; grey eyes; full face; light whiskers; high fore-head; well-set person; dress, dark shooting frock or grey tweed, and grey tweed trousers.

FRANCIS MORGAN.[20]—Solicitor; forty-three years of age; five feet eight inches in height; very dark hair; dark eyes; sallow broad face; nose a little cocked; the upper lip turns out when speaking; rather stout; smart gait; black whiskers.

PATRICK JAMES SMITH.[21]—Studying for the bar; twenty-nine years of age; five feet nine inches in height; fair hair; dark eyes; fair delicate face and of weak appearance; long back; weak in his walk; small whiskers; clothing indifferent.

JOHN HETHERINGTON DRUMM.[22]—Medical student; twenty years of age; five feet three inches in height; very black and curly hair; black eyes; pale delicate face; rather thin person; delicate appearance; no whiskers; small face and nose; dressed respectably; Methodist.

THOMAS D’ARCY M’GEE.—Connected with the Nation newspaper; twenty-three years of age; five feet three inches in height; black hair; dark face; delicate, pale, thin man; dresses generally black shooting coat, plaid trousers, light vest.

JOSEPH BRENNAN.—Sub-Editor of the Felon newspaper; five feet six inches in height; dark hair; dark eyes; pale, sallow face; very stout; round shoulders; Cork accent; no whiskers; hair on the upper lip; soft, sickly face; rather respectably dressed, a little reduced.

THOMAS DEVIN REILLY.—Sub-editor of the Felon newspaper; twenty-four years of age; five feet seven inches in height; sandy coarse hair; grey eyes; round freckled face; head remarkably broad at the top; broad shoulders; well-set; dresses well.

JOHN CANTWELL.—Shopman at a grocer’s; thirty-five years of age; five feet ten inches in height; sandy hair; grey eyes; fair face; good looking; short whisker, light; rather slight person, dresses … Supposed a native of Dublin.

STEPHEN J. MEANY.—Sub-editor of Irish Tribune; twenty-six years of age; five feet eleven inches in height; dark hair; full blue eyes; dark face; small whiskers growing under the chin; smart appearance; was a constable of the C Division of Police, discharged for dirty habits; stout person; generally dressed in black.

RICHARD O’GORMAN, Junior.—Barrister; thirty years of age; five feet eleven inches in height; very dark hair; dark eyes; thin long face; large dark whiskers; well-made and active; walks upright; dresses black frock coat, tweed trousers.


FOOTNOTES

[16] After the merging of the Irish Confederation in the abortive Irish League, and the consequent dissolution of the Executive of the Confederation, a Council of Five was elected to direct the Confederate Clubs until the new organisation was perfected. The five elected were John Blake Dillon, Thomas Francis Meagher, Richard O’Gorman, Junior, Thomas D’Arcy M’Gee, and Thomas Devin Reilly. The five never met. O’Gorman was out of Dublin when the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended.

[17] The Rev. Thresham Gregg was a notorious and blatant “anti-Popery” preacher of the period whom the wits of Young Ireland frequently made the butt of their jests. Apart from his bigoted sectarian obsession, he was, however, in several respects decidedly nationalistic, and steadily preached support of home trade and manufactures to his audiences. There can be no reasonable doubt that he recognised M’Gee. In this connection it may be stated that the Orangemen expelled from membership of their body Stephenson Dobbyn, an Orangeman who acted as a spy for Dublin Castle upon the Young Irelanders—drawing a clear and proper line between forcibly opposing their fellow countrymen and acting as spies for England upon them.

[18] Hercules Street in Belfast, now swept away, was chiefly inhabited by butchers who were almost all Catholics and fervent O’Connellites. When the Young Irelanders attempted to hold a meeting in Belfast shortly after O’Connell’s death, the butchers made a fierce attack upon them.

[19] This narrative was written at the beginning of 1850

[20] Law Agent to the Dublin Corporation.

[21] Patrick Joseph Smyth

[22] Sub-editor of the Nation; afterwards a clergyman.