John Mitchel, Jail Journal (1854) and Last Conquest of Ireland (1861)

[Source: The Cabinet of Irish Literature, ed. T. P. O’Connor [1880], rev. edn. Katherine Tynan (1902-03), pp.70-78; see also extracts given in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed., Seamus Deane, Derry: Field Day 1991, Vol. 2, p.178-84 - attached.]

Farewell to Ireland (from Jail Journal - Chap. I)
May 27, 1848. - On this day, about four o’clock in the afternoon, I, John Mitchel, was kidnapped, and carried off from Dublin, in chains, as a convicted “felon.”
I had been in Newgate prison for a fortnight. An apparent trial had been enacted before twelve of the castle jurors, in ordinary - much legal palaver, and a “conviction” (as if there were law, order, government, or justice in Ireland). Sentence had been pronounced, with much gravity, by that ancient purple Brunswicker, Baron Lefroy - fourteen years’ transportation; and I had returned to my cell and taken leave of my wife and two poor boys. A few minutes after they had left me a jailer came in with a suit of coarse gray clothes in his hand. “You are to put on these,” said he, “directly.” I put them on directly. A voice then shouted from the foot of the stain, “Let him be removed in his own clothes;” so I was ordered to change again, which I did. Asked to what place I was to be removed. “Can’t tell,” said the man: “make haste.” There was a travelling abg of mine in the cell containing a change of clothes; and I asked whether I might take it with me. “No; make haste.” “I am ready, then;” and I followed him dewn the stairs.
When we came into the small paved court some constables and jailors were standing there. One of them had in his hand a pair iron fetters; and they all appeared in a hurry, as, if they had some very critical neck-or-nothing business in hand; but they might as well have taken their time and done the business with their usual unconcerned and sullen dignity of demeanour.
I was ordered to put my foot upon a stone seat that was by the wall; and a constable fastened one of the bolts upon my ankle. But the other people hurried him so much that he said quickly, “Here, take the other in your and hand, and come along.” I took it, and held up the chain which connected the two, to keep it from dragging along the pavement as I followed through the hall of the prison (where a good many persons had gathered to see the vindication of the “law”), and so on to the outer door. I stood on the steps for one moment and gazed round: the black police omnibus - a strong force of the city constabulary occupying the street on either side; outside of them dark crowds of people standing in perfect silence; parties of cavalry drawn up at the opening. of the streets hard by. I walked down the steps; and amidst all that multitude the clanking of my chain was the loudest sound. The moment I stepped into the carriage the door was dashed to with a bang. Someone shouted, “To the North Wall!” and instantly the horses set forward at a gallop. The dragoons, with drawn sabres, closed both in front and rear and on both sides; and in this style we dashed along, but not by the shortest, or the usual way to the North Wall, as I could see through a slit in the panel. The carriage was full of police-constables. Two of them, in plain clothes, seemed to have special charge of me, as they sat close, by me, on right and left, one of them holding a pistol with a cap on the nipple. After a long and furious drive along the North Circular Road I could perceive that we were coming near the river. The machine suddenly stopped, and I was ushered to the quay-wall between two ranks of carbineers with naked swords. A government steamer, the Shearwater, lay in the river with steam up, and a large man-of-war’s boat, filled with men armed to the teeth, was alongside the wall. I descended the ladder with some difficulty owing to the chain, took my seat beside a naval officer who sat in the stem, and a dozen pulls brought us to the steamer’s side. A good many people who stood an the quay and in two or three vassals close by, looked on in silence. One man bade God bless me; a police-inspector oared out to him that he had better make no disturbance.
  As soon as we came on board, the naval officer who had brought me off, a short, dark man of five-and-forty or thereabouts, conducted me to the cabin, ordered my fetters to be removed, called for sherry and water be placed before us, and began to talk. He told me I was to be brought to Spike Island, a convict prison in Cork Harbour, in the first place; that he himself, however, was only going as far as Kingstown, where his own ship lay; that he was Captain Hill of the Dragon stream-frigate; and that he dared to say I had heard of the unfortunate Nemesis. “Then,” quoth I, “you are the Captain Hall who was in China lately, and wrote a book.” He said he was, and seemed quite pleased. If he had a copy of him work there, he said be should be most happy to present it to me. Then he appeared apprehensive that I might confound him with Captain Basil Hall. So he told me that he was not Basal Hall, who in fact was dead; but that though not actually Basil Hall, he had sailed with Basil Hall, as a youngster, on board the Lyra. “I presume,” he said, “you have read his voyage to the Loo Choo Islands?” I said I bad, and also another book of his, which I liked far better: his “Account of the Chilian and Peruvian Revolutions, and of that splendid fellow, San Martin.” Captain Hall laughed. “Your mind,” said he, “has been running upon revolutions.” “Yes, very much - almost exclusively.” Ah, sir!” quoth he, “dangerous things these revolutions.” Whereto I replied, “You may say that.” We were now near Kingstown pier, and my friend, looking at his watch, said he should still be in time for dinner; that he was to dine with the lord-lieutenant; that he had been at a review in the Park this morning, and was suddenly ordered off to escort me with a boats crew from the Dragon; further, that he was sorry to have to perform such a service; and that he had been credibly informed my father was a very good man. I answered I know not what. He invited me to go with him upon deck, where his crew were preparing to man the boat; they were all dressed like seamen, but well armed.
[...]
 Captain Hall, of the Dragon, now bade me good evening, saying he should just have time to dress for dinner. I wished him a good appetite, and he went off to his ship. No doubt he thought me an amusingly met character; but God knoweth the heart. There was a huge lump in my throat all the time of this bald chat, and my thoughts were far enough away from both Peru and Loo Choo, At Claremont Bridge, in Dublin, this evening, there is a desolate house - my mother and sisters, who came up to town to see me (for the last time in case of the worst) - five little children, very dear to me; none of them old enough to understand the cruel blow that has fallen on them this day; and above all - above all - my wife. [...]

[Cabinet here omits Mitchel's political ideas about Ireland, present and future - including his reflections on the effect of his own revolt and punishment and the political position of the Castle Catholics, and the probably value of the other members of the Irish Confederation - all pp.4-7 in the 1913 Edition - viz., ‘[...] I am not afraid of either cowardice or treachery on the part of our chiefest men. Meagher is eloquent and ardent - brave to act; brave, if need be, to suffer. I would that he took the trouble to think for himself. O'Brien is bold and high-minded, but capricious, unaccountable, intractable; also, he is an aristocrat bom and bred, and, being a genuine Irishman himself, he cannot be brought to see that his fellow-aristocrats are not Irish, but the irreconcilable enemies of Ireland. Then who will dare to write or publish one word of bold truth? The Freeman will be tame and legal till the evil days are overpast. The Nalion will be so busy giving “the party” a properly Girondesque character, and discriminating carefully between the wild Montagnards - to wit, me and the like of me - on the one hand, and the truly respectable Lafayette-Lamartinists, on the other, that he will be of little use in dealing with the substantial Irish affair that lies before him. Dillon - 0'Gorman - good and brave men, but not sufficiently desperate. My chief trust is in Martin and Reilly; but then they will probably be the very first devoured by the Carthaginian seamonster. God be with them all and direct them; and, above all, put some heart into the poor people!’ (p.7)]

 It darkened over the sea, and the stars came out; and the dark hills of Wicklow had shrouded themselves in the night fog before I moved from the shoreward gunwale of the quarter-deck. My two guardians, the police constables in plain clothes, who had never left my side, now told me it was growing late, and tht tea was ready below. Went down, accordingly, and had an “aesthetic tear” with two detectives. Asked my two friends if they knew my destination. They knew nothing, they said; but thought it probable I would not be removed from Spike Island; supposed the government would just keep me there “till matters were a little quieted down,” and then let me go. Well, I think differently, my plain-coated, plain-witted friends. On Ireland, or anywhere near it, assuredly I will not be allowed to live. But where then? The Carthaginians have convict colonies everywhere: at Gibraltar, at Bermuda in the Atlantic; at Norfolk Island in the Pacific; besides Van Diemen’s Land and the various settlements in New South Wales, for on British felony the sun never sets. To any one of these I may find myself steering within the twenty-four hours. But be my prison where it will, I suppose there is a heaven above that place.
  There is a good berth provided for me here, and I am as sleepy as a tired ploughman. Good night, then, Ireland and Irish tumults, stragglings and vociferations, quackery, puffery, and endless talk! Good night, friends and enemies. And good night, my sweet wife and widow! - yet we shall meet again.
 28th. - Sunday morning. A bright morning, but no land in sight. Found the United Irishman of yesterday in my cabin. The sixteenth and last number. Read all the articles. Good Martin! Brave Reilly! but swallowed, my fine fellows. “Government” has adopted the vigorous policy .... About ten o’clock the had fog rose, and far to the northward I could recognize the coast about Youghal, the opening of the Blackwater, and beyond these, faint and blue, the summits of Knockmealdown. We had kept a wide berth from the land all night but were now making straight for Cork Harbour. Soon it opened; within half-an-hour more we came to anchor opposite Cove, and within five hundred yards of Spike Island - a rueful looking place, where I could discern, crowning the hill, the long walls of the prison, and a battery commanding the harbour. A boat was, instantly lowered and manned. My friends in plain clothes told me they would “take it on their own responsibility” (policemen have high responsibilities in Ireland) not to put me in irons as I went ashore. The commander and first lieutenant buckled on their swords, and took their seats in the stern of the boat beside me. We were rowed rapidly to the island, and as we walked up the approach we met an, elderly, grave-looking gentleman, who said, “Mr. Mitchel, I presume!” How the devil, thought I, did you know already that I was coming to you? - forgetting that Lord Clarendon, before I was “tried,” made sure of my conviction. However, I bowed, and then he turned and escorted us to his den, over a drawbridge, past several sentries, through several gratings, and at last into a small square court. At one side of this court a door opened into a large vaulted room, furnished with a bed, table, chair, and basin-stand, and I was told that I was in my cell. The two naval officers took their leave politely, saying they hoped to meet me under happier circumstances; and they seemed really sorry. I bowed and thanked them; and I was left alone. I found I had the range of the cell and the court before it, no prisoner being there but myself. Mr. Grace, the governor, came into tell I might write home if I chose, submitting the letter to him. I did write, telling where I was, and desiring a trunk to be sent to me with some clothes and a few books. Mr. Grace also offered to lend me books while I should stay. A turnkey, or guard in blue uniform, kept sauntering up and down the court, and sometimes lounged into the room. Asked him what he wanted. He told me he was not to leave me until lock-up hour thought this a great grievance, and wished for lock-up hour. It came at last: my door was shut, and for the first time I was quite alone.
  And now, - as I this is to be a faithful record of whatsoever befalls me, - I do confess, and will write down the confession, , that I flung myself as the bed and broke into a raging passion of tear - tears, bitter and salt - tears of wrath, pity, regret, remorse - but not of base lamentation for my own fate. The thoughts and feelings that have so shaken me for this once language was never made to describe; but if any austere censor could find it in his heart to vilipend my manhood therefore, I would advise him to wait until he finds himself in a somewhat similar position. Relieve me, oh, Stoic! if your soul was in my soul’s stead, I also could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you.
 It is over, and finally over. In half-an-hour I rose, bathed my head in water, and walked awhile up and down my room. I know that all weakness is past, and that I am ready for my fourteen years’ ordeal, and for whatsoever the same may bring me - toil, sickness, ignominy, death. Fate, thou art denied.

§

Exile (from Jail Journal)
The glorious bright weather tempts me to spend much time on th epier, where I have been sitting for hours, with the calm limpid water scarce rippling at my feet. Towards the north-east, and in front of me where I sit, stretches away beyond the rim of the world that immeasurable boundless blue; and by intense gazing I can behold, in vision, the misty peaks of a far-off island - yea, round the gibbous shoulder of the great oblate spheroid, my wistful eyes can see, looming, floating in the sapphire empyrean, that Hy Brasil of my dreams and memories - “with every haunted mountain and streamy vale below.” Near me, to be sure, on one side lies scattered an archipelago of sand and lime-rocks, whitening and splitting like dry bones under the tyrannous sun, with their thirsty brushwood of black fir-trees; and still closer behind me, are the horrible, swarming hulks, stewing, seething cauldrons of vice and misery. But often while I sit by the sea, facing the north-eastern art, my eyes, and ears, and heart, are all far, far. This thirteenth of September is a clear, calm, autumnal day in Ireland, and in green glens there, and on many a mountain side, beech-leaves begin to redden, and the heather-bell has grown brown and sere; the cornfields are nearly all stripped bare at this this, the flush of summer grows pale, the notes of the singing birds have lost that joyous thrilling abandon inspired by June days, when every little singer in his drunken rapture will gush forth his very soul in melody, but he will utter the unutterable joy. And the rivers, as they go brawling over their pebbly beds, some crystal bright, some tinted with sparkling brown from the high moors - “the hue of the Cairngorm pebble” - all have got their autumnal voice and chide the echoes with a hoarse murmur, complaining (he that hath ears to hear let him hear) how that summer is dying, and the time of the singing birds is over and gone. On such an autumn day to the inner ear is ever audible a kind of low and pensive, but not doleful sighing, the first whispered sussurus of those moaning, wailing October winds, wherein Winter preludes the pealing anthem of his storms. Well known to me, b day and by night, are the voices of Ireland's winds and waters, the faces of her ancient mountains. I see it, I hear it all - for by the wondrous power of imagination, informed by strong love, I do indeed live more truly in Ireland than on these unblessed rocks.

§

Character of O’Connell (from The Last Conquest of Ireland)
In February, I847, and amidst the declines gloom and horror of the famine, O’Connell, old, sick, and heavy-laden, left Ireland, and left it for ever. Physicians in London recommended a journey to the south of Europe; and O’Connell himself desired see the pope before he died, and to breathe out his soul at Rome in the choicest odour of sanctity. By slow and painful stages be proceeded only as far as Genoa, and there died on the 15th of May.
  For those who were not close witnesses of Irish politics in that day - who did not see how this giant figure loomed in Ireland and in England for a generation and a half - it is not easy to understand the strong emotion caused by his death both in friends and enemies. Yet, for a whole year before, he had sunk low indeed. His power had departed from him; and in presence of the terrible apparition of his perishing country, he had seemed to shrink and wither. Nothing can be conceived more helpless than his speeches in Conciliation Hall, and his appeals to the British parliament during that time: yet, as I said before, he never begged alms for Ireland: he never fell as low as that; and I find that the last sentences of the very last letter he ever penned to the Association still proclaim the true dcotrine: “It will not be until after the death hundreds of thousands, that the regret will arise that more was act done to save a sinking nation. How different would the scene be if we had our own parliament - taking care of our own people - of our own resources. But, alas! it is scarcely permitted to think of these, the only sure preventatives of misery, and the only sure instruments of Irish prosperity.”
 Let me do O’Connell justice; bitter and virulent as may have been the hatred be bore to me in his last days of public life. To an Irishman can that wonderful life fail to be impressive, - from the day when, a fiery and thoughtful boy, he sought the cloisters of St. Omers for the education which penal laws denied him in his own land, on through the manifold struggles and victories of his earlier career, as he broke and flung off, with a kind of haughty impatience, link after link of the social and political chain that six hundred years of steady British policy had woven around every limb and muscle of his country, - down to that supreme moment of the blankness of darkness for himself and for Ireland, when he laid down his burden and closed his eyes among the palaces of the Superb City, throned on her blue bay. Beyond a doubt his death was hastened by the misery of seeing his proud hopes dashed to the earth, and his well-beloved people perishing; for there dwelt in that brawny frame tenderness and pity soft as woman’s. To the last he laboured on the “Relief Committee” of Dublin, and thought every hour lost unless employed in rescuing some of the doomed. The last time I saw him, he was in the Relief Committee rooms in Dame Street, sitting closely muffled in a chair, as I entered and found myself opposite to him and close by. Many months had gone by since we had spoken; and he had never mentioned me or any of my friends in that time without bitter reproaches. To my lowly inclination, I received in reply a chilling, stately bow, but no word.
 Readers already know my estimate of his public character and labours. He had used all his art and eloquence to emasculate a bold and chivalrous nation; and the very gratitude, love, and admiration which his early services, had won, enabled him so to so to pervert the ideas of right and wrong in Ireland, that they believed him when he told them that constitutional “agitation” was moral force - that bloodshed was immoral - that to set at naught and defy the London “laws” was a crime - that, to cheer and parade, and pay repeal subscriptions, is to do one’s duty - and that a people patient and quiet under wrong and insult is a virtuous and noble people, and the finest peasantry in the universe. He had helped the disarming policy of the English by his continual denunciation of arms, and had thereby degraded the manhood of his nation to such a point that to rouse them to resistance in their own cause was impossible, although still eager to fight for a shilling a day. To him and to his teaching, then, without scruple, I ascribe our utter failure to make, I do not say a revolution, but so much as an insurrection, two years after, when all the nations were in revolt, from Sicily to Prussia, and when a successful uprising in Ireland would have certainly destroed the British empire, and every monarchy in Europe along with it. O’Connell was, therefore, next to the British government, the worst enemy that Ireland ever had, or rather the most fatal friend. For the rest, no character of which I have heard or read was ever of so wide a compass; so capable at once of the highest virtues and the lowest vices - of the deepest pathos and the broadest humour - of the noblest generosity and most spiteful malignity. Like Virgil’s oak-tree, his roots stretched down towards Tartarus, as far as, his head soared towards the heavens; and I warn the reader, that whoso adventures to measure O’Comell must use a long rule, must apply a mighty standard, and raise himself up, by a ladder or otherwise, much above his own natural stature.

§

A Galway Election (from The Last Conquest of Ireland)
Next came the Galway election. It was essential that Mr. Monahan, being attorney-general, should be also a member of parliament; and there was a vacancy in Galway city. The repeaters resolved to contest it; and Mr. Anthony O’Flaherty, a gentleman of Galway county, addressed the electors. It was resolved not only to contest this election with the Whig attorney-general, but to fight it with the utmost vehemence and bitterness, in order to show the world how the “amelioration” Whig government was appreciated in Ireland. But though nine-tenths of the peopleof Galway were repealers, we knew that the enemy had great advantages in the struggle; because, in the first place, any amount of money would be at their command for bribery; and next, the landlords of the city and of the rural districts around were principally of the sort called “Catholic gentry,” - the very worst class, perhaps, of the Irish aristocracy.
  The “Irish Confederation” sent down number of its members to give gratuitous aid to Mr. O’Flaherty’s law-agents and committee. These were Dillon, Meagher, O’Gorman, Doheny, Barry, O’Donoghue, Martin O’Flaherty, and John Mitchel. In the depth of winter we travelled to Galway, through the very centre of that fertile island, and saw sights that will never wholly leave the eyes that beheld them: cowering wretches, almost naked in the savage weather, prowling in turnip-fields,and endeavouring to grub up roots which left, but running to hide as the mail-coach rolled by: very large fields, where small farms, had been “consolidated,” showing dark bare of fresh mould running through them, where the ditches had been levelled: - groups and families, sitting or wandering on high-road, with failing steps and dim, patient eyes, gazing hopelessly into infinite darkness; before them, around them, above them, nothing but darkness and despair: parties of tall, brawny men, once the flower of Meath and Galway, stalking by with a fierce but vacant scowl; as if they knew that all this ought not to be, but knew not whom to blame, saw none whom they could rend in their wrath; for Lord John Russell sat safe in Chesham Place; and Trevelyn, the grand commissioner and factotum of the pauper-system, wove his web of red tape around them from afar. So cunningly does civilisation work! Around these farmhouses which were still inhabited were to be seen hardly any stacks of grain; it was all gone; the poor-rate collector, the rent-agent, the county-cess collector, had carried it off: and sometimes I could see, in front of the cottages, little children leaning against a fence when the sun shone out, - for they could not stand, - their limbs fleshless, their bodies half-naked, their faces bloated yet wrinkled, and of a pale, greenish hue, - children who would never, it was too plain, grow up to be men and women. I saw Trevelyan’s claw in the vitals of those children: his red tape would draw them to death. in his government laboratory he had prepared for than, the typhus poison.
  Galway is a very ancient but decayed city, with many houses yet standing, built in the old Spanish style, with high walls of solid stone, and an interior court-yard, entered by a low-braved arch. Foaming and whirling down from Loch Corrib, a noble river flows through many bridges into the broad bay; and the streets are winding and narrow, like the streets of Havana. . When we arrived, the city, besides its usual garrison, was occupied by parties of cavalry and all the rural police from the country around; - they were to suppress rioters of O’Flaherty’s party, and help those of Monahan’s, cover their retreat, or follow up their charge. The landlords and gentry, Catholic and Propeatont, were almost unanimous for Monahan, and highly indignant at strangers coming from Dublin to interfere with the election. Accordingly, in the courthouse, on the day of nomination, a young gentleman of spirit insulted O’Gorman, who forthwith went out and sent him a challenge. This was beginning a Galway election in regular form. The meeting, however, was prevented by some relative of the aggressor, who discovered the challenge; and they were both arrested. There was no further disposition to insult any of us. The tenantry of the rural district of the borough (which happened to be unusually large) were well watched by the agents and bailiffs, who, in fact, had possession of all their certificates of registry; and when the poor creatures came up to give their reluctant vote for the famine candidate, it was in gangs guarded by bailiffs. A bailiff produced the certificates of the gangs which were under his care in a sheaf, and stood ready to put forward each in his turn. If the voter dared to say, O’Flaherty, the agent scowled on him, and in that scowl he read his fate; but he was sure be greeted with a roaring cheer that shook the court-house, and was repeated by the multitude outside. Magistrates and police-inspectors pale with ferocious excitement, stood ready, eagerly watching for some excuse to precipitate the troops upon the people; and when the multitude swayed and surged, as they bore upon their shoulders some poor farmer who had given the right vote, the ranks of infantry clashed the butts of their muskets on the pavement with a menacing clang, and the dragoons gathered up their bridles, and made hoofs clatter, and spurs and scabbards jingle, as if preparing for a charge.
 I took charge of one of the polling booths as O’Flaherty’s agent. A gang of peasants came up, led or driven by the bailiff.. One man, when the oath was administered to him, that he had not been bribed, showed pitiable agitation. He spoke only Gaelic, and the oath was repeated, sentence by sentence, by an interpreter. He affected to be deaf, to be stupid, and made continual mistakes. Ten times at least the interpreter began the oath, and as often failed to have it correctly repeated after him. The unfortunate creature looked round wildly as if he meditated breaking away; but the thought, perhaps, of famishing little ones at home still restrained him. Large drops broke out on his forehead; and it was not stupidity that was in his eye, but mortal horror. Mr. Monahan himself happened to be in that booth at the time, and he stood close by his solicitor, still urging him to attempt once more to get the oath out of the voter. Murmurs began to arise, and at last I said to Mr. Monahan: “You cannot, and you dare not, take that man’s vote. You know, or your solicitor knows, that the man was bribed. I warn you to give up this vote and turn the man out.” In reply he shrugged his shoulders, and went out himself. The vote was rejected; and, with a savage whisper, the bailiff who had marshalled him to the poll turned the poor fellow away. I have no doubt that man is long since dead, he and all his children.
 The election lasted four or five days, and was a very close contest. The decent burghers of the town stood by us, and out friends were enabled to rescue some bands of voters out of the custody of the agents and bailiffs, whose practice it was to collect those of the several estates in large houses, set a guard over them, and help them to stifle thought and conscience with drink. Monahan had had a mob hired, the Claddagh fishermen, - so that we were obliged to organize a mob to counteract it. Of course there much skirmishing in the streets. Monahan was run very close, and in the last two days his party spent much money in bribery; a kind of contest into which Mr. O’Flaherty did not enter with him. The attorney-general won his election by four votes out of a very large constituency; but his escape was narrow. If he had last he would have been thrown aside like any broken tool; but, as it chanced, he is now Chief-justice of the Common Pleas. More than this; he had the satisfaction, not many months after, of hunting into exile, or prosecuting (with packed juries) to conviction, every Irish confederate who went down to hold out Galway against him - with a single exception. Ministers gave him carte blanche in the matter of those prosecutions, and he used it with much energy and legal learning.

 


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