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344      JEREMIAH DONOVAN (ROSSA),

 

JEREMIAH O'DONOVAN (ROSSA).

Birth and Early Struggles—Goes to Skibbereen—National Views of Rossa and M. Moynahan—Starts the Phoenix Society—Its Character and Progress—Scares the Peace-Mongers—Revival Throughout Cork and Kerry— Members of the Society Arrested—Mr. O'Sullivan (Agreem) Convicted—Cork Prisoners offered Liberty, but Refuse Unless Agreem is Liberated also—Rossa Prevents Illumination for the Prince of Wales—Parades for the Poles—Comes to New York—Returns--A Manager of the Irish People—Arrested—Trial—Defends Himself—Defiance to the Court—Special Vengeance on Him—Harsh Sentence—Cruel Treatment in Prison.

 

A Most passionately persistent organizer and worker out of jail, and an unbending and defiant patriot in his chains, is the man whose name heads this sketch. His career is calculated to encourage his countrymen, and to show what may be achieved by an earnest man.

Born of humble parentage, in the ancient and historic town of Roscarbery, in the southern part of Cork, in the year 1830, young O'Donovan had such opportunities for education as the village school afforded, and this, limited as it was, was cut short when about sixteen years old, by the death of his father, who was a weaver. The boy went to Skibbereen and became a member of the family of his uncle, where he remained, contributing to the support of his mother and his younger brothers and sisters

 

FENIAN HEROES AND MARTYRS.            345

 

until he went into business for himself. In 1849 an elder brother came to America, and in some three years was joined by all the family, save Jeremiah, who, proceeding on the route as far as Cork, turned back, feeling that he could not and would not desert the old land. His heart yearned to her and the hopes of her freedom, and he determined to watch and wait. This determination led to remarkable and widely historical results.

O'Donovan married and settled to business. The efforts of July and September, 1848, had proved abortive, the little affair  of Cappoquin, of the following year, was scarcely heard of, except by important  nationalists; the plans of Fintan Lalor, Brenan and their comrades, as sketched by Luby, had come to nought ; the Keoghs and the Sadliers were rising on the ruins of the nationalists, when a few young men in Skibbereen determined to stir up the embers of the national cause and keep it alive, even if in a smouldering condition. Mr. Mortimer Moynahan, who had taught school for five years in Glengariffe, took up his residence in Skibbereen in 1856 ; and soon after his arrival O'Donovan and lie, having exchanged views on the matter, and being joined by some congenial spirits, decided on organizing a Society. The Emmet Monument Association was in being in America, and they thought they could perhaps put themselves in communication with it, and be the means of interchanging views and helping the Irish cause on both sides of the Atlantic. The Society thus formed in 1857, was ostensibly a literary society, similar, in most respects,

 

346 JEREMIAH O'DONOVAN (ROSSA).

to those for mutual instruction and debate which are so common The name, "Phoenix National and Literary Society," was suggested by O'Donovan, as he said they intended to rise from the ashes of apathetic political huckstering, which then covered the land. There was no oath, but the members took a pledge indicative of the object—the resuscitation, ever so slowly, of national life in Ireland. The meetings were duly held, and the Phoenix Society spread itself rapidly into the adjacent towns. It had considerable antagonists to encounter, as it met no favor from the clergy, whom it did not court ; nor from the political agitators, whom it condemned ; nor from the traders, who regarded it as a band of disturbers ; nor from the farmers, "who thought of little save high prices." Its local repute was that of persons holding extreme radical views on Irish questions ; and this was brought into still wider notice by a meeting held in 1858—at the time of the Indian meeting—at which resolutions and an inflammatory address were passed. " On the publication of these documents," writes Mr. Moynahan, " the little shoneen* shop keepers banned us as a lot of firebrands, and threatened with dismissal such of their employees as would any logger continue to be members of the Society. For these reasons the Society dwindled down to a few members, when Stephens made his appearance. He had some time before that come from France, had been teaching French in Killarney and elsewhere, and had commenced organizing a secret Society." Stephens arrived on a Thursday. O'Donovan was initiated on the next day, and Moy-

*["English imitating" similar to the black man's perjorative "an uncle Tom" -mr]

 

FENIAN HEROES AND MARTYRS. 347

nahan on the day following. Thence the flame spread, and before six weeks the new organization numbered between two and three hundred, all Phoenix men.

In a short time it was pushed into Bantry, Ken- mare, Killarney, Castletown, Berehaven, Dunmannaway, Clonakilty, and Macroom by the Skibbereen men, and into Kinsale and Cork by equally energetic brothers. Moynahan, who was connected with a solicitor, and used to accompany him to the Sessions and Assizes, took these occasions for propagating the order, which he did as far off as Kilorglin in Kerry ; while O'Donovan worked with great energy about Skibbereen and Roscarbery.

They progressed so rapidly in numbers and spirit that an Irish-American was sent to give them military instruction. Their drilling became known, and the authorities, becoming apprehensive of trouble, sent an additional force of 105 men to Skibbereen, 60 to Bantry, and a considerable number to Kenmare. The attention thus given to the Phoenix Society, as it was still called, attracted the inquiry of some journalists ; and a discussion ensued which drew letters from O'Donovan and others, which, of course, tended to keep up the excitement.

Meanwhile a clergyman of Kenmare, who had got possession of some facts' relating to the society, conveyed the same to the Government ; as a consequence, the Government made a descent on the Society, and on the morning of the 8th December, 1858, twelve persons were arrested in Skibbereen, four in Bantry, twelve in Kenmare, and three in Killarney. After

 

348 FENIAN HEROES AND MARTYRS.

being confined for some weeks, several of the Cork prisoners were discharged, but true bills were found against Mortimer Moynahan, William O'Shea, Denis Sullivan, Mortimer Downing, Daniel McCartie, Jeremiah O'Donovan (Rossa), and Patrick Downing, for treason-felony. An immediate trial was sought for them, by counsel, but, on motion of the Attorney- General, it was postponed to the next Assizes. An application to be admitted to bail was referred to the Queen's Bench, and failed. At the Tralee Assizes Mr. Daniel O'Sullivan (Agreem) was convicted by a packed jury, and thus became the first victim of the new national organization. Again the Cork prisoners unsuccessfully applied to the Queen's Bench for release on bail ; and about the same time a proposition was made by the Crown counsel to the counsel for the prisoners, that if the latter would withdraw their first plea, and plead guilty, they would be liberated. This Rossa and his comrades declined. The Government then approached them with another proposition—that if Rossa and Moynahan consented to leave the country, the others would be liberated. On consultation the prisoners agreed to enter into no compromise with the Government. A few mornings subsequently, some further liberations took place, and Rossa, Moynahan, and O'Shea, were all the "Phoenix men" who remained in Cork jail. After keeping them in prison for eight months, the Government found it could not convict them ; and finally Rossa and his associates agreed to plead guilty and be liberated, with the understanding that O'Sullivan, who had been convicted, should also be set free.

 

JEREMIAH O'DONOVAN (ROSSA). 349

 

Rossa—as he was now called—had a positive influence over the men of his neighborhood. His course on the marriage of the Prince of Wales illustrates it. Some of the " gentry " of Skibbereen had determined to honor the great event in the life of the heir-apparent, and several of a club, of which Rossa was a member, illuminated the club-room. On hearing it, he went to the house and called a meeting of the club to protest against the celebration ; but as none others attended it, he decided that the illumination was contrary to the wish of the members, and immediately tore down the flags and banners. By this time, others of the members interfered. He, however, nothing daunted, carried out his object, and prevented the celebration. The people, hearing of the occurrence, rallied to his aid, and a grand meeting was called, which he addressed to their satisfaction.

At the time of the Polish insurrection, too, he headed a meeting and procession in honor of that noble race ; and, having obtained some banners, they paraded the streets of the town. Some of the banners being national in their design, the police interfered, and all save one were obliged to be dispensed with. This one was a puzzle to the police; it being three- cornered, and having no device, they were allowed to use it, and thus carried out their intentions despite opposition.

Scarcely a week passed that there was not some attempt made to injure Rossa in his business ; but he would not be crushed—petty persecution could only intensify his hate of the power that suggested it. The

 

350 FENIAN HEROES AND MARTYRS.

struggle, however, was an unequal one. In 1862 he came to New York, but in a few months was recalled to Ireland by the death of his wife.

Of course, his relations with Stephens, Luby, and the other chief men, were resumed, and on the starting of the Irish People he became one of the registered proprietors. He was one of °the first captured, and was brought to trial at the Dublin Commission on the 9th December, 1865. On the next morning, Rossa interrupted the Court to say that, as he believed the Crown was determined to convict him, his trial was a legal farce, and that he would not be a party to it by being represented by counsel. He could not be prevailed on to accept legal advice, but conducted his own defence, which led to some extraordinary scenes in Court, and some bitter passages between the prisoner and Judge Keogh. The more the latter hemmed himself within the walls of privilege, the more O'Donovan was defiant, or satirical, as the occasion suggested. He persisted in badgering the Court and ministers, and in thoroughly exploding the legal farce. As he said in reply to Judge Fitzgerald, " Twenty years " (the term of servitude given to his associates) " is a long time, and I want to spend a couple of days as best I can."

At the opening of the Court on the 12th—the third day—when again put forward and called upon for his defence, Rossa asked if he could have the privilege of addressing the jury on the evidence produced against him by the Crown. Judge Keogh read the act of Parliament for him, by which he was entitled to open

JEREMIAH O'DONOVAN (ROSSA).           351

his own case; and, if he called any witnesses for his defence, to sum up after, or speak to evidence.

The prisoner then spoke at considerable length, though not in a direct or consecutive manner, animadverting on the harshness of the Government towards him. Referring to the jury, he said : The Attorney-General has ordered thirty gentlemen to stand by, and no doubt he considered the present jury persons who would bring in the verdict he wished. That observation might not be complimentary to the jury, but he could not help it. The Executive Government had taken harsh measures against the prisoners—had. violated all law, and had had recourse to dark courses of despot-. ism. If trial by jury prevented a man from saying that freedom might be fought for, it was a mere bulwark of tyranny. The preliminaries had been, he contended, so arranged as to deny him- a fair trial. The papers had published articles condemning all the prisoners before they were tried. He admitted he had proceeded to America under the name of O'Donnell, but it was on mercantile business ; that name he had assumed in order to prevent his political friends there from showering welcoming receptions upon him. He returned not as O'Donnell, but in his proper name as O'Donovan. The only crime he had committed was that he had known James Stephens, John O'Mahony, J. O'Leary, and Luby. He was proud to know them. He wished the reporters to take down that in the register of the United States Government of the 27th of August, 1863, his oath of American citizenship would be found recorded. After a violent attack on Judge Keogh, the prisoner said, whatever might be the result of this trial, he entertained no animosity against any person, from Nagle, the informer, to Mr. Barry, or the judges on the bench. He thought it would do good in England to show the sort of trial we had in this country. If there was any gentleman belonging to the Continental press in Court, he hoped he would take down the words of the London Times of the 14th of November : " Treason is a serious thing, and these men are undoubtedly guilty of it:" The reading of papers and documents by the prisoner at this stage, occupied

 

352 FENIAN HEROES AND MARTYRS.

above two hours. Judge Keogh then refused to allow him to proceed with the reading of an affidavit which had been sworn in the course of the action against the Lord-Lieutenant, on the • ground that the public time could not be frittered away, whereupon O'Donovan exclaimed, "The time of the public has been given to try me." The foreman of the jury also asked that the prisoner should mark the documents for their consideration, and not read them; but he answered that he had laid down a course for himself, in consequence of the way in which he had been treated since he had been sent to prison, which he could not depart from. He then read nearly a hundred pages of small print, referring to the Constitution, organization, and proceedings of the Chicago Convention; as to which, Judge Keogh said, when the prisoner had concluded : "It is scarcely necessary to remark to the public press the grave responsibility that would attach to the publication of the document which the prisoner has read, under the pretext that it would form a necessary portion of his defence."The prisoner said his object in reading the document was to show that there was nothing in the Chicago Convention documents referring to him. He afterwards read several articles from the Irish People, and at six o'clock in the evening was still continuing his readings, without any appearance of weariness. At this hour the judges directed that their own dinners, and those of the jurymen, should be brought down to Court ; and it was understood that the sitting would be a late one, in order that, if possible, the prisoner should finish his first speech that night. The prisoner asked if the Court would not adjourn as usual, as he had now been reading for several hours, and was wearied out. The only answer he received, was, to proceed with his defence. He then offered to read some passages from the Irish People, but Judge Keogh would not permit him to read anything that was not specified in the indictment. He had announced his intention to examine a witness to show that his visit to America was in reference to commercial matters ; but after some further reading of the documents before him, he announced that he could proceed no further without the papers kept back by the Crown. He then sat down, having occupied nearly eight hours in reading.

 

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On the next day, Judge Keogh charged the Jury, which, after being out for an hour and ten minutes, returned a verdict of "Guilty on all the counts."

Before sentence was pronounced, the Attorney-General thought it his duty to mention, with a view to having it entered on the record, that the prisoner was indicted for a similar offence in July, 1859—an indictment for treason-felony. " On that occasion, he first pleaded not guilty, but subsequently pleaded guilty. The clemency of the Crown was extended to him then, he entering into recognizances to appear when called on. He would call upon the Clerk of the Crown to enter the former conviction upon the record."

Judge Keogh—" Has the prisoner anything to say with reference to pleading guilty to this previous charge ? "

The Prisoner—" I have to say this, that I believe on that occasion Mr. Whiteside, who was a member of the Derby Government, intimated that we would be let off if we pleaded guilty ; but we would not do anything of the kind. The Government then offered to let Daniel O'Sullivan (Agreem) off if we pleaded guilty. We refused to do so at first, but afterwards consented. You may add anything you please to the sentence you are about to pass upon me."

The judges here retired from the b eh to consider their sentence, and, during their absence, Miss 'Leary stretched her hand down from the reporters' gallery to take a last farewell of the prisoner. He caught he hand and shook it warmly.

On the return of the judges, the prisoner was asked if he had anything to say why judgment should not be passed upon him.

He replied—" With the fact that the Government seized papers connected with my defence, and perhaps examined them; with the fact that the Government packed the jury ; and with the fact that the jury said yesterday that they considered me "-

The Court—" We cannot allow this language."

The Prisoner—" With the fact that the Government sent Judge Keogh, of the Norbury breed, to try me—with these facts before me, I could not say anything."

 

 

354      FENIAN HEROES AND MARTYRS.

"You have been connected with this transaction since 1863," said Keogh.

" I am an Irishman since I was born," replied Rossa.

" I will not waste words by attempting to bring the heinousness of the crime of which you were found guilty, to your mind," continued Keogh.

"It would be useless to try," tauntingly said the prisoner.

The wrathful and goaded Judge sentenced his victim to Penal Servitude for Life.

" All right," he exclaimed, defiantly ; and, turning to leave the dock, saluted a number of ladies.

The same defiant and resolute spirit has accompanied the sturdy patriot into prison. The authorities have labored, by putting him at the most loathsome duties, and by treatment of the harshest kind ; by bodily chastisement, and the starvation system known as the "lightening process," to break him down ; but he is indomitable, and will only succumb to death.

Of the Phoenix prisoners who have adhered to the old cause, or won distinction since, a few paragraphs will not be out of place. William O'Shea, a native of Bantry, came to the United States after his release, and put himself in communication with the leading nationalists. He became one of a Committee of Safety which was in being in the earlier days of the Organization. On the breaking out of the civil war O'Shea entered the 42d regiment, N. Y. V., as a private. He saved himself at the Ball's Bluff disaster by swimming across the river, and was promoted for his gallantry on that day. He served the usual time, and, re-entering the army, shared in many of the

 

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great battles of the army of the Potomac. A capital instance of Captain O'Shea's native humor in the midst of danger, is told by his brother officers. While his company was repairing one of the broken bridges over the Chickahominy, one of McClellan's aids rode furiously up and asked :

" Who commands here I"

" I—I—I do," said the Captain, who stuttered much.

"I want to know, sir, can artillery pass over I"

"Ye—ye—yes—if they are fly—fly—flying—artil—til—lery," said O'Shea, casting a look of droll perplexity at the bridge. O'Shea met a soldier's death at the Wilderness.

When Mortimer Moynahan was released he found that all the aristocrats of West Carbery regarded him as a disturber, he therefore turned his face towards Cork, where he became associated in the same law office with Brian Dillon, one of the first Centres of that city. He returned to Skibbereen in 1860, married in the following year, and was soon Centre of that town. Being in Dublin in 1865, he was arrested on the night of the seizure of the Irish People. The informations sworn against him by the detectives were false, he being confounded with his brother, who was an employee of that journal. Mr. M. Moynahan made an affidavit in the court of Queen's Bench to the facts and was admitted to bail. He was next appointed by the chief organizer " Intermedium " for the county and city of Cork. After the suspension of the habeas corpus act he was sent, with three others,

 

356 FENIAN HEROES AND MARTYRS.

to London on the business of the Organization, whence he was sent to Paris, where he was permanently detailed by Stephens, and remained for three months ; after which he came to America.

Patrick J. Downing, a native of Skibbereen, was one of those against whom true bills were found for connection with the "Phoenix Conspiracy." He was held to bail; and, after the discharge of Rossa, he went to Paris to Stephens, around whom then all the young revolutionists gathered. Soon after Downing came to America as the agent of Stephens, and became engaged in the " Phoenix " journal. He went to the war with a commission in the 42d regiment, N. Y. V. Was wounded badly several times, and received merited promotion. Colonel Downing was subsequently Adjutant-General, and afterwards Acting Secretary for Civil Affairs of the F. B.

Denis J. Downing, brother of the last named, is also a native of Skibbereen, and was the youngest of the Phoenix prisoners. Shortly after his release he came to the United States. On the breaking out of the war he went to the front as second lieutenant of the 42d regiment N. Y. V. He retired from that regiment after the battle of Big Bethel, and entered the 97th as sergeant-major. He took part in most of the battles of the army of the Potomac and steadily rose. At Gettysburg he was lieutenant commanding his company, and fell desperately wounded. To save his life the amputation of a leg was necessary. For gallantry here he was commissioned, and when able to be about he was transferred to the Veteran Reserve

 

JEREMIAH O'DONOVAN (ROSSA). 357

 

Corps, and after a searching examination appointed Captain, and successively breveted Major and Lieutenant-Colonel of Volunteers for his conduct in the field. When the V. R. C. was dissolved, Lieuten ant- Colonel Downing received a commission in the regular army as First Lieutenant, 44th regiment infantry.