A word remains to be said in reference to the fate of those who were the special objects of the Government’s attention. Of the six for whom a reward was offered, four escaped, namely, Mr. Dillon, Mr. O’Gorman, Mr. O’Mahony and myself. Mr. Dillon was the first who left Ireland. Late in August he sailed from Galway, and landed at New York after a voyage of seven weeks. In the same vessel sailed P.J. Smyth, who was despatched from Cashel to Dublin with directions from Mr. O’Brien. Richard O’Gorman, accompanied by John O’Donnell and Daniel Doyle, sailed from the mouth of the Shannon on board a vessel bound for Constantinople. After landing in the Turkish capital, they were obliged to lie concealed until able to procure passports for Algiers. Many foolish stories have been circulated in reference to Mr. O’Gorman’s adventures and disguises in Ireland. Not one of them has the least truth in it. He or his companions never assumed any disguise, and though their adventures were more perilous, they were not so romantic as those that have been related. A more detailed account of their wanderings would no doubt be as interesting to my readers as it would be agreeable to myself. But both the time and the limits I have proposed to myself for this publication exclude it here. I could not, without too long a delay, acquire that minute and accurate knowledge of facts and dates, which would be indispensable to such a history.
But of succeeding events in Ireland, and the men who controlled them, it is imperative to speak more in detail. John O’Mahony was their chief, and John Savage his principal counsellor and comrade. The former, although not compromised by any act previous to the arrest of Mr. O’Brien, evaded the vigilance of the detectives, and continued moving about from place to place, being generally guarded while he slept by a large number of faithful followers. No man was ever followed with truer devotion or served with more unwavering fidelity. He might have continued in the same district with perfect safety up to the present hour. But every moment of his time was engrossed by the endeavour to rouse the country to some becoming effort. John Savage, who had come to Carrick on a visit to a relation, partook of his enthusiasm and shared his toil. They spent many anxious nights in counsel together when it was supposed all spirit had left the country. The first ostensible object that brought the people together under their immediate guidance and control was the reaping of a field of wheat belonging to O’Mahony. A vast crowd amounting to several hundred stalwart men assembled. They had scarcely entered on their labour when the approach of a troop of horse was announced. O’Mahony and Savage were compelled to retire. The military cavalcade entered the field, and rode rudely among the men and ripe corn. Still the reapers desisted not. They proceeded with their labours sedulously and silently. But there was no pretext for arresting any of the men, and no pretext afforded for further outrage, and the business of the day went on without further outrage from the soldiers. This occurred on the 22nd of August. Some days later, sullen crowds were seen ascending Aheny Hill, about five miles to the north of Carrick-on-Suir. By what mysterious agency they were directed none could tell. About a similar distance from the town, in the opposite direction, near the village of Portlaw, another camp was formed with equal rapidity and mystery. With these men John Savage took his station. He was entirely unknown to the people; and owed his influence over them to his singular resolution. The understanding was that these two bodies, and a third consisting of an equal number of men which was promised from Kilkenny, should march simultaneously on the town of Carrick and the fort at Besborough where five hundred men were encamped. He who undertook to lead the Kilkenny men went on the execution of his mission, leaving O’Mahony at one side, and Savage on the other, to contend with the impetuosity of their respective followers who demanded with violence to be led on. As much perhaps from the precariousness of their situation as from a reckless daring, they could not brook the least delay. Their leaders, on the other hand, urged the necessity of steadiness and prudence. It was too late for such policy. The time between the first step in revolution and action is the most trying to the courage and faith of undisciplined men. In this instance it produced fatal results. The weakness of the timid increased, and the courage of the boldest was quelled. Suspicion was aroused, and desertion was the inevitable consequence. O’Mahony found it impossible to withstand the clamorous urgency of the men, and all his preparations were necessarily of a hasty and imperfect character. The arrival of the party from Kilkenny was the utmost limit of inaction that would be endured; and the leaders saw with regret that they had yielded too soon to the demands of those who precipitated the rising. The true guarantee of success would consist in perfect preparation under cover of secrecy, so as that the assembling could be followed by an immediate blow.
Scouring parties from each rendezvous, proceeded through the country in search of arms. Provisions were liberally supplied by the neighbouring farmers, and numbers were hourly arriving from distant parts of the country. But those who were engaged in the search for arms attacked police barracks and private houses. In general, these enterprises were rash, ill-advised and ill-arranged. In some instances they were successful, and in some they were repulsed with loss of life, while the police were able to effect a safe retreat. At the Tipperary side, two men were killed in the attack on the Glenbour barracks; and at the Waterford side, one man was shot at Portlaw in the assault on the police-barrack, and two in the attack on the Reverend Mr. Hill’s house. These repulses checked the ardour of the boldest, and gave rise to disunion and distrust. Meantime, the promised reinforcements from Kilkenny failed to redeem the pledge that was given in their name. A whole day and night passed, and no tidings of them arrived. Several of those who were loudest and most urgent left the camp. A very large force, however, remained; but after delaying two days without hearing of the Kilkenny men, they determined to disperse. The party at Portlaw adopted the same resolution, and O’Mahony and Savage had to shift for themselves. A reward was offered for O’Mahony, but he eluded his pursuers, and in a few days was beyond their reach. He embarked at Bonmahon in the county of Waterford and crossed to Wales, where he was concealed for some time until he found an opportunity of escaping to France. Savage, whose person was not much known, made his way to Dublin, whence he sailed for America direct.
The Kilkenny men arrived at Aheny on the morning after those under O’Mahony had dispersed and finding the place deserted, they immediately returned. This accident once more baffled all hope of a struggle. From beginning to end, some mischance marred every propitious circumstance that presented itself. It seemed as if the failure had been predestined. But to yield to such a fate, to abjure the great and true faith which the attempt of the last unhappy year quickened in the hearts of all men, would be distrust of God’s mercy and justice. In the struggle that preceded the outbreak a great victory was won. The most formidable power that ever fettered the consciences of men was struck to the earth. Truth, long lost sight of, was again restored as one of the great agencies of national deliverance and national elevation. The question between England and Ireland assumed its real character; and although huxtering politicians have since endeavoured to set up the honour of the island for sale, they have only been able to dispose of their own characters. The people have not debased themselves. In the lying homage to the Queen of England they took no part. They have preserved through the severest trials the old immortal yearning of their race, and the arms they had provided themselves with in ’48 they have guarded religiously, in the hope of using them on some day of brighter auspices and loftier destiny.