John Devoy (1842-1928)


b. 3 Sept. 1842, in Greenhills [townland], between Johnstown and Kill, nr. Naas, Co. Kildare; son of smallholder; moved to Dublin at the time of the Famine; educ. at O’Connell’s Christian Brothers’ School; attended evening classes and Catholic Univ.; joined the National Petition Movement and later the French Foreign Legion seeking military experience; served in Algeria, 1861-62; returned to Ireland, 1862; organised the IRB in Naas; asked by James Stephens to recruit for Fenianism in British army - where he estimated support for Fenian aims at 80,000; appt. chief organiser of the IRB, planning the escape of Stephens from Richmond Prison, Nov. 1865; frustrated by Stephen’s refusal to order a Rising, Feb. 1866; arrested 22 Feb. 1866; received 15 years prison sentence; served 5 years in Millbank, Portland and Chatham; realised Jan., 1871, on condition of expatriation; travelled to New York among ‘Cuba Five’; addressed US House of Representatives; worked as journalist in Chicago and New York (NY Herald); joined Clan na Gael;
organised escape of Fenians from Fremantle, Australia, on board the whaler Catalpa, 1876; visited Ireland in 1879, and met Charles Kickham, John O’Leary and Michael Davitt en route in Paris; combined with Davitt in proposing a deal between Clann na Gael and Parnell, known as ‘New Departure’, 1879; fnd. Irish Nation, 1882; supported Timothy Harrington’s Plan of Campaign, 1886; opposed the ‘Triangle’ (terrorist wing); fnd. Gaelic American, 1903; drove wedge between England and America; visited in America by Pádraig Pearse, whom he supported, 1914; worked with Roger Casement in raising money for guns; financed Casement’s expedition to Germany but exposed Casement’s companion Adler Christensen as a fraudster; disputed Casement’s decision to send the Irish Brigade to help the Turks;
remained the main figure behind Irish-American funding of Irish republicanism up to breakdown of relations with de Valera over tactics, 1919; supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 as first step towards republican independence; visited Ireland in 1924 for the Tailteann Games; wrote The Land of Éire: The Irish Land League [&c.] (1882) and Recollections of an Irish Rebel (1929); his Letters were published as John Devoy’s Post Bag, ed. William O’Brien and Desmond Ryan (Dublin 1948); d. 29 Sept. 1928, Atlanta city, buried Glasnevin; letters edited by William O’Brien and Desmond Ryan as Devoy’s Post Bag (1948). DIW DIB DIH FDA

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  • The Land of Éire. The Irish Land League. Its origin, progress and consequences. Preceded by a concise history of the various movements which have culminated in the last great agitation ... With a descriptive and historical account of Ireland from the earliest period to the present day. Illustrated by numerous fine engravings, etc. (NY:  Patterson & Neilson [1882]), 92, 232, 220pp.[ 4°].;
  • Recollections of an Irish Rebel, The Fenian Movement ... Personalities and Organisation (NY: Young 1929), [11,] 491pp., ill. [pls., ports.]; Do. [rep. edn.], ed. S. Ó Luing (Dublin: IUP 1969) [512pp. [unnumbered], 21 pls.: facs., ports.; 26 cm.].
  • William O’Brien & Desmond Ryan, eds., Devoy’s Post Bag, 2 vols. (Dublin: 1948-53) [incls. corr. with Eamon de Valera, et mult. al.].
Viz., Devoy’s Post Bag, 1871-1928, Vol. 1: 1871-1880, ed. William O’Brien & Desmond Ryan; introduction by P. S. O’Hegarty (Dublin: C. J. Fallon 1948); Devoy’s Post Bag, 1871-1928. Vol. 2: 1880-1928, ed. William O’Brien & Desmond Ryan; introduction by P.S. O’Hegarty (Dublin: C. J. Fallon 1953).
Viz., Devoy’s Post Bag, 1871-1928, Vol. 1: 1871-1880, ed. William O’Brien & Desmond Ryan; introduction by P. S. O’Hegarty (Dublin: C. J. Fallon 1948); Devoy’s Post Bag, 1871-1928. Vol. 2: 1880-1928, ed. William O’Brien & Desmond Ryan; introduction by P.S. O’Hegarty (Dublin: C. J. Fallon 1953).

See extract from The Land of Eire [1882] in Nancy LoPatin-Lummis & Michael Partridge, eds., Lives of Victorian Political Figures, Part II (London: Pickering & Chatto 2007), [4 vols. incl. facs. reps. of works about Daniel O’Connell, James Bronterre O’Brien, Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt by their Contemporaries] - or as infra.

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Biographical studies
  • Desmond Ryan, The Phoenix Flame: A Study of Fenianism and John Devoy (London 1937);
  • S. Ó Luing, John Devoy (Baile Atha Cliath: Cló Morainn 1961), xi, 238pp., ill. [8 vls. of pls.];
  • Terence Dooley, The Greatest of the Fenians: John Devoy in Ireland (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 2003), 220pp.
  • Philip Fennell & Marie King, eds., John Devoy’s Catalpa expedition [Ireland House Ser.] (NYU Press 2006), q.pp.
General studies
  • W. D’Arcy, The Fenian Movement in the United States 1858-86 (Washington: CUA Press 1947); D. Lynch & F. O’Donoghue, The IRB and the 1916 Insurrection (Mercier 1957);
  • T. N. Brown, Irish-American Nationalism 1870-1890 (Phil./NY 1969);
  • Leon Ó Broin, Fenian Fever: An Anglo-American Dilemma (London 1971);
  • T. D[esmond]. Williams, ‘The Irish Republican Brotherhood’, in Secret Societies in Ireland, ed. Williams (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1973);
  • Thomas Keneally, The Great Shame: A Story of the Irish in the Old World and the New (London: Chatto & Windus 1998), espec. p.420f., et passim.;

See also ‘Devoy’s Post-Bag 1871-1928 / A Broadcast Talk by Cathal O’Shannon’ [pamph. rep. from Liberty, June 1953] - chiefly a commentary on P. S. O’Hegarty’s book; held in William O’Brien Collection, National Library of Ireland [album], PO 115, Item 55.]

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Malcolm Brown, Politics of Irish Literature: From Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats (London: George Allen & Unwin 1972), calls him ‘a humorless Irish Cato’ who believed that Irish nationalism should make use of every weapon ‘not even excluding the legal’ (p.7).

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Extract from Land of Erin (1882)
The chief influence of Fenianism was in giving the people the habits of organisation and of acting together, developing qualities of leadership and breaking down sectarian prejudice. It found Ireland disorganized, the people standing still and having no confidence whatever in themselves. It gave organised shape to the national idea, set the people moving in the direction of nationality and filled them with a spirit of self-reliance that has never since deserted them. It gave the young men an object to work for, an ambition, a desire to do and dare and sacrifice for the common good, and it brought men from all parts of Ireland together. Crude and incomplete as it was, ill-directed as were most of its operations, it gave a stimulus to national life that cannot be denied or ignored. It failed; but, for the first time in Irish history, the organisation lived through the failure, wrung important political measures from the English Government, and supplied Ireland with a living, active, permanent political force which must be counted with in all questions affecting the national welfare. Moreover, it trained a number of zealous, active, intelligent workers, filled with a restless activity and a burning desire to place their country among the nations. It prepared the way for a combination of the forces of the Irish race at home and abroad, and received among England’s enemies the habit of watching the course of Irish affairs. It also prepared the way for the Land League and supplied it with its founder, Michael Davitt, and the audiences that first listened to his doctrines.
 The lull which followed the abortive “rising” of 1867 was very different from that produced by the failure of any previous insurrection attempt. It was temporary and transient. The strength of the country had not been put forth, and the failure was too plainly traceable to mismanagement, imperfect armament, and the demoralization consequent on bad leadership and divided counsels, to produce a permanently discouraging effect on the people. No striking event had occurred in connection with the attempt, and only a portion of the organised Nationalist element had taken part in it.
 The bold rescue of two of the insurrectionary leaders, in the streets of Manchester, and the disastrous explosion at Clerkenwell, in the attempt to liberate a third, before the close of the same year, gave ample proof that the revolutionary spirit was at work, and that the English Government was still face to face with a disaffected people. Four men gave their lives for Ireland on the scaffold; and the indignation aroused by the incidents of their trial and execution gave a fresh stimulus to the hatred of foreign rule. The Disestablishment of the Irish Protestant Church, and the Land Act of 1870, were, on the authority of Mr Gladstone himself, the result of the ’intensity of Fenianism’; and Issac Butt’s languid Home Rule movement was an attempt to compromise the national question suggested by a similar experience. Both failed to conciliate the majority of the Irish people, and the influence of Fenianism remained.
 Although most of the leaders were sent to convict prisons, and many thousands of the most intelligent Nationalists were obliged to fly the country, the movement remained, to a certain extent, intact, and its local centres of work were, in many cases, undisturbed.
 The less sanguine spirits fell away, both in Ireland and in America, but an organisation remained; the broken links were repaired, and, in the course of a few years disaffection to British rule was in a more effective condition than when its organised adherents were much more numerous, a few years before. Those of the more active spirits, who had escaped imprisonment, found refuge in the United States, and their better and fresher knowledge of the actual condition of Ireland enabled the American branch of the Irish National movement to avoid many of the mistakes which had brought Fenianism to shipwreck. Many of them, too, were brought into contact with John Mitchel, and became more deeply imbued with his ideas.
 The influence of these refugees - supported as it was by continual accessions from home - has been felt in Irish politics ever since, and the relations between the Irish at home and their countrymen in America became closer than ever before. Learning by dearly-bought experience, the Nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic made a more careful estimate of the task they had undertaken, and altered their plans accordingly. Their principles and objects remained the same, but, instead of hatching projects of petty insurrections doomed to end in defeat, their policy became to organise slowly and carefully, wait for England’s difficulty, and strike with the concentrated force and resources of the Irish race the world over.
Given at “Searc’s Web Guide to 19th Century Ireland” - online; accessed 05.05.2014.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, selects Recollections of an Irish Rebel [265-75]; 368, BIOG, b. Johnston, Co. Kildare; joined Fenians; enlisted Foreign Legion and spent a year in Algeria, returning to Ireland in 1862; organiser for IRB; recruited British soldiers; chief organiser, 1865; arranged escape of James Stephens from Richmond Prison; sentences to 15 years in 1866; released 1871 on condition of departure for America; journalist; joned Clann na Gael, organised Fenian escapes from Australia; ran anti-British propaganada in support of Davitt and Prnell in his papers Irish Nation and The Gaelic-American; raised funds to Irish Volunteers, 1914; arranged Casement’s contact with German embassy in Washington; supported Treaty, broke with de Valera; d. Atlantic City. [Works as supra.]

See Devoy page in SEARC - online.

Doherty & Hickey, A Chronology of Irish History since 1500 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989), records that those rescued on the Catalpa were Thomas Darragh, Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hasset, Robert Cranston, and James Wilson; exploit planned by John Devoy and John J. Breslin of Clann na Gael; whaling vessel bought for $5,250, with $13,760 spent equipping it; 202 tons, 90 ft. x 25 ft.; Capt. George S[mith] Anthony; sailed from Fremantle, 17 April 1876; resisted attempted boarding by British navy vessel, The Georgette; rescued Fenians landed NY, 19 Aug. 1876; a simultaneous plan to rescue the Fenians hatched by Denis Florence McCarthy and John Walsh, members of the IRB, was abandoned in favour of the Catalpa exploit. (See Seán Ó Luing, Freemantle Mission (Tralee: Anvil Bks. 1965).

Roy Foster, Modern Ireland (London: Allen Lane 1988), p.393, a bio-note calls him the chief organiser of funding for ‘nationalist projects’ up to split with de Valera.

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COPAC also lists J. A. Devoy, A History of the City of St. Louis and Vicinity, from the earliest times to the present: the pioneers and their successors; biographical sketches (St. Louis, Missouri: John Devoy, 1898), and Do. [electronic rep.] (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI 1992).


Hyland Books (Cat. 219) lists Joseph Clarke, The Story of the Catalpa and the Rescue of the Fenian Prisoners (?1950); also The Rescue of the Military Fenian Prisoners from Australia, with a memoir of John Devoy [n.d.] (Dublin 1929), 16pp.

Books Ireland (Sept. 2003) lists Terence Dooley, The Greatest of the Fenians [... &c.] (Wolfhound Press), previously listed in same source as [prev. listed as Dooley, The Rebel Returns: John Devoy in Ireland (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 2003). 176pp.

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John Hume refers to ‘John Devoy, editor of The Gaelic-American’ in his Foreign Affairs article (Winter 1979/80), 1980 [FDA3 786].

Donal O’Kelly, Catalpa, Washington Post, first play at Kennedy Centre’s Island: Arts from Ireland’; writer-actor Donal O’Kelly, product of Andrew’s Lane, Dublin; cast as screen-writer who fails to sell a script, which he then enacts solo’; dr. Bairbre Ní Choaimh; stage design by Ben Hennessy; light Nicholas Acton; costumes, Mona Monaghan; score, Trevor Knight; concerns Captain George Antony, who takes the whaler Catalpa to Australia to rescue six Fenians; has promised dying mother of his young wife never to go to sea again (‘If you break her heart … I’ll haunt you’); similar threats from his wife, should he go to sea (‘You’ll never sail these seas again’). (See Washington Post, 19 May 2000, C2.)

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