John Denvir (1834-1916)


Life
[pseud. ‘Slieve Donard’]; b. Bushmills; nationalist novels; ran a building firm in Liverpool and later managed and edited there the Catholic Times, United Irishman, and The Nationalist; joined IRB; worked as arms purveyor for Dr Mark Ryan, Davitt, and Richard O’Sullivan Burke; edited Northern Press for Fr. Nugent, but differed from him in not advocating emigration; quit IRB after 1867 rising; joined Home Rule movement; elected first sec. of Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain;
 
published Denvir’s Irish Library of pamphlets consisting of small vols. of Irish poetry, history, and patriotic biography, at 1p each (Denvir’s ‘Penny Library’), of which a million copies were printed; 2nd series, 1902, incl. some plays; best known for The Irish in Britain (1892);
 
Denvir wrote novels incl. The Brandons (1903) and Olaf the Dane (1908); also an autobiography, The Life Story of an Old Rebel (Dublin (1910 [rep. IUP 1971;but cf. Cairns & Richards, infra]), and an account of the rescue of military Fenians from Freemantle, pamphlet, Catalpa (c.1877); increasingly after 1870, The Nation[alist] was a surrogate paper for Irish immigrants in Britain. IF DIW DIH DIB OCIL

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Works
Prose
The Irish in Britain: From the Earliest Times to the Fall and Death of Parnell
(London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co. 1892), and Do. [2nd edn.] (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1892), xii, 465pp.; ; The Life Story of an Old Rebel: Autobiographical Reminiscences, with a portrait (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers & Walker 1910), viii, 288pp.; and Do. [facs. rep.] introduced by Leon O’Broin [Irish revolutionaries ser.] (Shannon: Irish University Press [1972]), x, viii, 288pp., ill. [port.], 23cm.

Fiction
The Red Hand of Ulster; or, The Captive Chief of Tyrconnell [Denvir's Penny Irish library, 7] (Liverpool: John Denvir [1873]), 22pp., ill. [plate; 17cm.]; Olaf the Dane; or, The curse of Columbkille: A supernatural story (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers & Walker Middle Abbey Street [1908]), [i-v] vi-vii, [1], [1] 2-103, [9]pp., 22cm. [see COPAC online - accessed 30.03.2012].

Drama
Rosaleen Dhu: or, The Twelve Pins of Bin-a-bola: an Irish Drama in Three Acts[Denvir’s Penny illustrated Irish library, Vol. 2, No. 16) (Liverpool: John Denvir [1874]), 24pp., ill. [17cm.]  

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Criticism
D. J. O’D. [D. J. O’Donoghue], obituary notice, Irish Book Lover, VIII (Feb.-March 1917), p.91; Thomas Wall, ‘John Denvir’, in Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, XIV, No. 3 [q.d.].

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Commentary
W. P. Ryan, The Irish Literary Revival (1894), Liverpool, [the Celtic brethern] first of all started an Irish Literary Institute, which was formally inaugurated by Mr Charles Dawson, MP, in Feb 1884. John Denvir was practically the founder of this body, and his son JM Denvir, a capable journalist, was its first secretary. John Denvir’s name is writ large through the history of the Irish in Liverpool, and indeed of Britain. He has taken part in the work of various Liverpool Irish literary clubs since 1850. He was connected at one time with the Catholic Times, and subsequently [163] with the United Irishman [sic], to both of which he contributed Irish verse and stories. In the eighties he conducted a paper, The Nationalist, for which members of the Southwark Club wrote largely. In earlier years he ran Denvir’s Penny Irish Library - little volumes of Irish song, story, history, and drama (mainly original) which received regular enconiums [sic] from the popular press. [Contributors: Dr Commins MP, D Crilly MP, F. J. Fox, John Hand, Hugh Heinrick, J. Lysaght Finegan MP, and self & son]. ... writings [include] Rosaleen Dhu, The Gormans of Glenmore, two Irish plays, The Reaper of Kilbride, The Brandons, two Irish serial tales. His chief work is, however, The Irish in Britain, published two years ago; a careful and sincere history, the labour of a man who knew every step of his ground [164].

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D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland (London: Routledge 1982; 1991 Edn.), p.250, giving a long acount of Denvir, a Fenian’s, theatrical group whose entertainment was called ‘Terence’s fireside; or the Irish peasant at home’, consisting of ‘Irish national songs and harmonised choruses, interpersed with stories such as might be told around an Irish fireside’ [… &c., quoting details from Denvir’s Life Story of an Old Rebel, Dublin 1910, pp.115-22]; Boyce comments, ‘there is no record of any of these sterling performances being subjected to the kind of interruptions that accompanied the Playboy or the Countess Cathleen; if this was art - and who was to say it was not - then it was indeed Davisite, it was art, not for art’s sake, but for propaganda.’

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David Cairns & Shaun Richards, Writing Ireland, colonialism, nationalism and culture (Manchester UP 1988), write: ‘In his Life Story of an Old Rebel, John Denvir provided a fascinating insight into the popular nationalist fare provided by a theatre group entitled the “Emerald Minstrels” which reinforced the idealization of the peasant experience and contributed to the climate of expectations for the treatment of that subject. The ideological antecedents of the troupe were Young Ireland and The Nation and their dedication to the cultivation of Irish culture and ‘above all Irish nationality’ reveals the continuing potency of aspects of Davisite imagery nowhere more clearly than in the set for their productions. Denvir’s record of Terence’s Fireside: or The Irish Peasant at Home, which purported to be a typical peasant entertainment, details ‘a drop set representing the Lower Lake of Killarney. When raised, it disclosed the interior of the living room of a comfortable Irish homestead, with the large projecting open chimney, the turf fire on the hearth, and the usual pious and patriotic pictures prior to such an interior - “Terence’s Fireside”.’ (Denvir, Life Story of an Old Rebel, rep. IUP 1972, p.120).

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References
Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction [Pt. I] (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), lists The Brandons (1903), Olaf the Dane (n.d.)

Cathach Books (Catalogue 12) lists Denvir, Life Story of an Old Irish Rebel (Dublin 1914), signed copy of Eamon de Valera.

Belfast Central Public Library (incorporating the Bigger Catalogue) holds The Brandons; The Irish in Britain (1894); The Life Story of an Old Rebel (1910); Olaf the Dane (n.d. fict.); The Red Hand of Ulster; Denvir’s Book of Irish Song; The Curse of Cromwell; extensive list of short works of ‘patriotic’ biography.

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Notes
Alan O’Day, Intro., A Survey of the Irish in England by Hugh Henrick (1872; rep. 1990), calls The Irish in Britain (1892, 1894), called ‘standard work of reference on the Irish community’

Patrick O’Sullivan (Bradford University; author of The Irish World Wide studies series) is working on the title ‘John Denvir and the Invention of the Irish’ [Irish studies list, 1997].

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The Catalpa: The story of the Catalpa [ship] was adapted from the stage by Donal O’Kelly, and won an Edinburgh Fringe award in 1997; moved to Gate for nine performances, March 19th and days following; toured in Red Kettle Production, 1995, winning Best Play of 1995. Cote: a catalpa is a kind of tree, an example being the favourite shade of Lady Gregory at Coole Park and hence the subject of a poem by Yeats, as well as a sculpture by Melanie le Brocquy.

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