Jeremiah O’Donovan [Rossa] (1831-1915)


Life
[usu. called “O’Donovan Rossa”]; b. Roscarbery [var. Ross Carbery], Co. Cork; relief worker during Great Famine; grocery business in Skibbereen; fnd. Phoenix National and Literary Societies, incorp. membership of a similar society formed at Skibbereen in 1856; becoming a Fenian organiser invitation of James Stephens, 1858; betrayed by a priest-informer, resulting in the Phoenix Conspiracy Trial of 1859, at which he was acquitted; emigrated to America and returned to Ireland, 1863; served as business mgr. of the Irish People, 1863-1865; arrested 1865, on leaving the shop of George Hopper, drapier (being James Stephens’s br.-in-law), Crane Lane, Dame St.; sentenced penal servitude for life (20 years), following a dock-speech of eight hours assailing Judge William Keogh and the ‘dirty law’;
 
subjected to cruelties in prison at Chatham Jail, and made the object of a popular campaign; and elected MP Co. Tipperary, while still retained there, Nov. 1869, defeating the Liberal Catholic Heron by 1,131 to 1,028 votes; released on conditional pardon, Jan. 1871 following a campaign by the Amnesty Association and questions in the House raised by George Henry Moore, being amnestied with John Devoy, Charles O’Connell, and others of the ‘Cuba Five’; emig. US on terms of banishment, receiving a welcome from House of Representatives; worked as hotel manager, and contrib. The Irishman; Head Centre, 1877, opposing moderatism of Devoy and founded ‘bombing school’ in Brooklyn; broke with Clann na Gael, 1880; shot and wounded in his New York office in attack by Yseult Dudley, an Englishwoman enraged by his founding role in the Skirmishing Fund, 1887;
 
fnd. and ed. United Irishman; visited Ireland in 1894 and 1904-06; O’Donovan Rossa’s Prison Life, Six Years in English Prisons (1874), reprinted as Irish Rebels in English Prisons (1882); refused to condemn the Phoenix Park assassinations, 1882; returned to Ireland, 1891-00; issued Rossa’s Recollections (1898); he was married three times, going to the US with his third wife in 1900; d. NY; his funeral at Glasnevin, 1 Aug. 1915, was the occasion of Patrick Pearse’s famous oration on ‘this unconquered and unconquerable man’; the oration was re-enacted in an official commemoration at O'Donovan's grave in the presence of President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny on 1 Aug. 2015. DIB DIH DIL FDA OCIL

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Works
Autobiography, Irish Rebels in English Prisons [Six Years in English Prisons] : A Record of Prison Life (NY: Kenedy 1882); S. Ua Cearnaigh, ed., [Do., abridged as] My Years in English Jails (Tralee 1967); rep. as Irish Rebels in English Prisons (Dingle: Brandon Press 1991), 314pp.; Rossa’s Recollections 1838 to 1898 (NY: Mariner Harbour: O’Donovan Rossa 1898).

Fiction, Edward O’Donnell: A Story of Ireland of Our Day (NY: S. W. Green’s 1884), 300pp., 8o. [prev. publ. by Downey].

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Criticism
P. H. Pearse, ‘A Character Study: Diarmuid Ó Donnabhain Rosa, 1831-1915’, in Souvenir of Public Funeral to Glasnevin Cemetary (Dublin 1 Aug. 1915); ‘O’Donovan Rossa’ [graveside oration, 1 Aug. 1915], in Political Writings and Speeches (Dublin: Phoenix Publishing Co. Ltd. 1924), pp.125-37, as infra. Seán Ó Lúing, ÓDonnabháin Rosa [Sairseál agus Dill, No. 80] (Baile Atha Cliath: Sairseál agus Dill 1969), 317pp., ill. [facsims., ports.],and Do. [rep. in 2 vols.] (Baile Atha Cliath: Sairseál agus Dill 1979),

See also brief account of election victory of 1871 in D. G. Boyce, ‘Separatism and the Irish National Tradition’, in Colin H. Williams, ed., National Separatism (Cardiff: Wales UP 1982), p.89.

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Commentary

See Colm Tóibín on O’Donovan Rossa in ‘After I am Hanged my Portrait will be Interesting: Colm Tóibín tells the story of Easter 1916’, in London Review of Books (31 March 2016) - as attached.

“O’Donovan Rossa’s Farewell to Erin”
     

 

Farewell to friends in Dublin Town,
I bide you all adieu.
I cannot yet appoint the day
That I’ll return to you.
I write these lines on board a ship,
Where the stormy billows roar.
May heaven bless our Fenian men,
Till I return once more.

I joined the Fenian Brotherhood
In the year of Sixty-Four,
Resolved to save my native land
Or perish on the shore;
My friends and me we did agree
Our native land to save,
And to raise the flag of freedom
O’er the head of Emmet’s grave.

My curse attend those traitors
Who did our cause betray;
I’d throw a rope around their necks,
And drown them in the Bay.
There was Nagle, Massey, Corydon,
And Talbot - he makes four;
Like demons for their thirst of gold,
They’re punished evermore.

Let no man blame the turnkey
Nor any of the men;
There’s no one knows but two of us
The man who served my friend.
I robbed no man, I spilt no blood,
Tho’ they sent me to jail;
Because I was O’Donovan Rossa,
And a son of Granuaile.

     
—In Colm Ó Lochlainn, ed., Irish Street Ballads (1939). p.68; quoted in Don Gifford, Joyce Annotated [.... &c.] (California UP 1982), pp.45-46.

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James Joyce - of Mangan’s sister in “Araby”: ‘[...] Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On Saturday evenings when my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some of the parcels. We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs’ cheeks, the nasal chanting of street-singers, who sang a come-all-you about O’Donovan Rossa, or a ballad about the troubles in our native land.’ (Joyce, “Araby”, in Dubliners, 1914 &c.)

Pádraic Piarais, Graveside Oration: ‘Do hiarradh orm-sa labhairt indiu ar son a bhfuil cruinnighthe ar an láthair so agus ar son a bhfuil beo de Chlannaibh Gaedheal, ag moladh an leomhain do leagamar i gcré annso agus ag gríosadh meanman na gcarad atá go brónach ina dhiaidh. A cháirde, ná bíodh brón ar éinne atá ina sheasamh ag an uaigh so, acht bíodh buidheachas againn inar gcroidhthibh do Dhia na ngrás do chruthuigh anam uasal áluinn Dhiarmuda Uí Dhonnabháin Rosa agus thug sé fhada dhó ar an saoghal so. Ba chalma an fear thu, a Dhiarmuid. Is thréan d’fhearais cath ar son cirt do chine, is ní beag ar fhuilingis; agus ní dhéanfaidh Gaedhil dearmad ort go bráth na breithe. Acht, a cháirde, ná bíodh brón orainn, acht bíodh misneach inar gcroidhthibh agus bíodh neart inar gcuirleannaibh, óir cuimhnighimís nach mbíonn aon bhás ann nach mbíonn aiséirghe ina dhiaidh, agus gurab as an uaigh so agus as na huaghannaibh atá inar dtimcheall éireochas saoirse Gheadheal.’ (See full-text version on CELT website [online; extant 15.11.2010], and English trans. as infra.)

Patrick Pearse, ‘O’Donovan Rossa’, in Political Writings and Speeches (Dublin: Phoenix Publishing Co. Ltd. 1924), pp.125-37: ‘O’Donovan Rossa was not the greatest man of the Fenian generation, but he was its most typical man. He was the man that to the masses of his countrymen then and since stood most starkly and plainly for the Fenian idea. More lovable and understandable than the cold and enigmatic Stephens, better known than the shy and sensitive Kickham, more human than the scholarly and chivalrous O’Leary, more picturesque than the able and urbane Luby, older and more prominent than the man who, when the time comes to write his biography, will be recognised as the greatest of the Fenians - John Devoy - Rossa held a unique place in the hearts of Irish men and Irish women. They made songs about him, his very name passed into a proverb. To avow oneself a friend of O’Donovan Rossa meant in the days of our fathers to avow oneself a friend of Ireland [128] it meant more: it meant to avow oneself a “mere” Irishman, an “Irish enemy”, an “Irish savage”, if you will, naked and unashamed. Rossa was not only “extreme”, but he represented the left wing of the “extremists”. Not only would he have Ireland free, but he would have Ireland Gaelic. / And here we have the secret of Rossa’s magic, of Rossa’s power: he came out of the Gaelic tradition. He was of the Gael; he thought in a Gaelic way; he spoke in Gaelic accents. He was the spiritual and intellectual descendant of Colm Cille and of Seán an Díomais. With Colm Cille he might have said, “If I die it shall be from the love I bear the Gael”; with Shane O’Neill he held it debasing to “twist his mouth with English”. To him the Gael and the Gaelic ways were splendid and holy, worthy of all homage and all service; for the English he had a hatred that was tinctured with contempt. He looked upon them as an inferior race, morally and intellectually; he despised their civilisation; he mocked at their institutions and made them look ridiculous. / And this again explains why the English [129] hated him above all the Fenians. […] (pp.128-30.) [See full text under Pearse, Quotations, infra - or direct.]

Note: Pearse’s oration was re-enacted in an official commemoration at O’Donovan Rossa’s grave in the presence of President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny; this event was lamented by Carla King in a letter to the Irish Times pointing out that Michael Davitt saw O’Donovan as a dangerous buffoon and expressing herself ‘deeply saddening that [...] the first act in our official commemoration of the 1916 events is to honour a man who dedicated his life to attempts to bomb his way to Irish independence’. (See Carla King, letter to The Irish Times, 4 Aug. 2015 - online, and commentary on the issue by Diarmuid Ferriter in the issue for 15 Aug. 2015 - online.)

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Jenny Marx, ‘Articles […] on the Irish Question’, in Marx / Engels on Ireland and the Irish Question, ed. L. I. Golman (Moscow: Progress Books 1986 [edn.]. [Article] III (16 March 1870), gives full account of O’Donovan Rossa’s letter to The Times and the Marseillaise on the treatment of Fenian prisoners in England, and documents the English press response before proceeding to the case of [Col.] Richard Burke at Woking Prison and the lying information of Mr Bruce, the Home Secretary, to enquiries made by relatives and others about his reduction to insanity by the treatment he received (p.483-85); in the next article, she reports George Moore’s question to the Govt. in the House of Commons demanding an enquiry from Mr Gladstone, PM. The ensuing articles are concerned with the Coercion Bill, rounding again on Gladstone in connection with the secret service now established in Ireland: ‘Not even Nicholas of russia ever publihsed a crueller ukase against the unfortunate Poles than this Bill of Mr Gladstone’s against the Irish.’ (p.492.) She continues: ‘We state without hesitation that Mr Gladstone has proved to be the most savage enemy and the most implacable master to have crushed Ireland since the days of the notorious [Robert Stewart] Castlereagh. / As if the cup of ministerial shame were not already full to overflowing, it was announced in the House of Commons on Thursday evening, the same evening as the Coercion Bill was introduced, that Burke and other Fenian prisoners had been tortured to the point of insanity in the English prisons, and in the very dace of this appalling evidence Gladstone and his jackal Bruce were protesting that the political prisoners were treated with all possible care. When Mr. Moore made this sad announcement to the House he was constantly interrupted by hoots of bestial laughter’ (P.492.) Note however that Marx writes in a different vein of O’Donovan Rossa, when he tells Friedrich Adolfe Sorge, writing of The Irishman in connection with charges against Joseph Patrick McDonnell: ‘[the] editor, Pigott, is a mere speculator, and whose manager, [William Martin] Murphy, is a ruffian. […] As to O’Donovan Rossa, I wonder that you quote him still as an authority after what you have written me about him. If any man was obliged, personally, to the Internal and the French Communards, it was he, and you have seen what thanks we have received at his hands.’ (ibid. p.999; ftn. explains that, in America, O’Donovan abused the Communards and accused them of murders.)

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Douglas Hyde: Hyde addressed a ‘toast in verse’ to O’Donovan Rossa the Fenian: ‘I drink to the health of O’Donovan Rossa / Where will I find his like at home or abroad, / Who would drive the people without arms or uniforms / Into the midst of the soldiers, the swords and the bayonets. / Who bought and kept the powder and guns / Which he could not send to the poor defenceless people, / Who nevertheless urged our poor unarmed peasantry / To drive the Saxon soldiers away across the sea.’ (See Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde, 1974, p.47.)

Michael Newton, The Age of Assassins: A History of Conspiracy and Political Violence 1865-1981 (Faber 2012) cites O'Donovan Rossa's offer of $10,000 to anyone who would assassinate the Prince of Wales in 1887; also his remark, "Burn everything English except their coal" [orig. Jon. Swift], attributed to him by an Ulster policeman in Reynolds Weekly, March 1893.

Colm Tóibín, ‘“After I am hanged my portrait will be interesting”: Colm Tóibín tells the story of Easter 1916’, in London Review of Books (31 March 2016):

[...]

In 1867, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), also known as the Fenians, who was serving a life sentence for treason, was moved to Millbank. According to his biographer Shane Kenna, he was regarded as the institution’s most troublesome prisoner; news of the punishments he received for petty infringements of the rules became an important part of Fenian propaganda over the next few years. Two different inquiries took place into the conditions in which he and his fellow prisoners were being held. After the second, it was decided to release the prisoners on condition that they did not return to Ireland. Thus, in January 1871, O’Donovan Rossa arrived in New York; he was greeted as a hero.

Among the friends he made in America was Patrick Ford, the editor of the Irish World, a newspaper with a circulation of 125,000. In 1876, Ford and O’Donovan Rossa set up what they called ‘a skirmishing fund’ to assist in the planning and carrying out of a bombing campaign in Britain. ‘Language, skin-colour, dress, general manners,’ Ford wrote, ‘are all in favour of the Irish.’ Ford and O’Donovan Rossa were aware of Alfred Nobel’s dynamite compound, invented in 1867. ‘Dynamite,’ as Sarah Cole wrote in her book At the Violet Hour (2012),

held highly idealised associations. It offered new vistas of power, not solely for its potential to wreak destruction but also for its ability to terrify a wide public. The connotations of dynamite for radical politics are hard to overstate. It was the ultimate weapon of one against the many, of any individual with only a smattering of training … the dynamite bomb seemed tiny in proportion to its capacity to do harm; it could fit easily into a small bag or even a pocket.

Using the pages of the Irish World, Ford and O’Donovan Rossa collected more than $20,000 within a year. Even those among the nationalist Irish-American groups who supported the idea of a bombing campaign in Britain viewed with dismay the lack of restraint and caution in O’Donovan Rossa’s violent rhetoric. John Devoy, one of the leaders of Clan na Gael, the main Irish nationalist organisation in America, believed, as Kenna writes, that O’Donovan Rossa ‘had given the British ample warning of his plans through a desire for notoriety and theatricality, thus jeopardising any future or current Fenian initiative’.

O’Donovan Rossa was defiant. ‘I am not talking to the milk and water people,’ he wrote in the Irish World,

I am talking to those who mean fight, who mean war and who know what war is. When an enslaved nation can produce men who are brave and daring enough to risk life and to face death for the mere glory of showing that the national spirit still lives, that nation is not dead and those men should be encouraged instead of repressed.

As the arguments within Irish-America became more heated, O’Donovan Rossa began drinking heavily. ‘He is now so bad that I fear the only way to save him is to put him under restraint,’ Devoy remarked, having discovered that O’Donovan Rossa had misappropriated funds. Even when sober, O’Donovan Rossa made himself into a nuisance for Devoy and his colleagues in the United States who were seeking to make an alliance, known as the New Departure, with Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party in Ireland. Threatening to dynamite Britain would not be helpful in the effort to create a united movement within Irish nationalism.

Increasingly determined, bombastic and indiscreet, O’Donovan Rossa matched his incendiary rhetoric with action. In January 1881 his followers exploded a bomb in Salford, the first time a bomb had been planted in Britain to further a political cause. The bomb destroyed some shops, injured a woman and killed a seven-year-old boy. The British authorities, who began to monitor O’Donovan Rossa’s activities in the United States, observed that he had the ruthlessness of a dangerous conspirator without any of the guile. Micheal Davitt, the leader of the Land League in Ireland, referred to him as ‘O’Donovan Assa’ and called him ‘the buffoon in Irish revolutionary politics with no advantage to himself but with terrible consequences to the many poor wretches who acted the Sancho Panza to his more than idiotic Don Quixote’. Slowly and without much difficulty, the British infiltrated his organisation. Nonetheless, the movement to bomb Britain continued sporadically over the next few years. Its culmination was Dynamite Saturday in January 1885, noted by James in another letter to Norton: ‘The country is gloomy, anxious, and London reflects its gloom. Westminster Hall and the Tower were half blown up two days ago by Irish Dynamiters.’

Eighteen months earlier, a young Irishman recently returned from America, Thomas J. Clarke, one of O’Donovan Rossa’s Sancho Panzas, had been arrested in London.

See full-text copy under Tóibín - as attached.

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References
Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); selects ‘Edward Duffy’ and ‘My Prison Chamber’.

See CELT Multitext Project in Irish History - including images of Fenian Prisoners in the Exercise Yard at Mountjoy, &c - online; accessed 15.11.2010. Note: there is no entry in ODNB.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2; selects O’Donovan Rossa’s Prison Life [160-63], Rossa’s Recollections 1838 to 1898 [293-65]; with remarks and notes at 211 [funeral], 243n [Pheonix Societies], also 250n, 260, 274-75. 281, 292, 293-94, 708n, 781; 368 [Works, as supra].

Corpus of Electronic Texts: ‘O’Donovan Rossa’, in Political Writings and Speeches (Dublin: Phoenix Publishing Co. Ltd. 1910-1919), at CELT, Univ. College, Cork [link.]

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Notes
Donald Torchiana cites P. H. Pearse, ‘A Character Study: Diarmuid Ó Donnabhain Rosa, 1831-1915’, Souvenir of Public Funeral to Glasnevin Cemetary (Dublin 1 Aug. 1915) in Backgrounds to Joyce’s Dubliners (1986).

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