ARTICLE OCR TRANSCRIBED
August 16, 1885
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Brooklyn Eagle web Page:
THE FENIAN MOVEMENT
An Account of its Origin, Progress
and Temporary Collapse.
By Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa
Breaking Down at sea—Organizing Throughout England—A Honeymoon Conspiracy TOUR. meeting John Nolan, A. 0. H., Manchester. Saying My Prayers — Edward McCloskey, Brooklyn ; Mike McLaughlin, Glasgow. American Officers Coming to Ireland—Council Meetings in Wicklow—Dick Harry. of Hoboken—Trip to Halifa x—America—D'Arcy McGee on Hoard — God save the Queen. Fourth of .July—Council Meetings at William R. Robert's—P. J. Meehan—P. W. Dunne. The Lost Documents — Corydon — Captain James Murphy, of Clerkenwell—Seizure of the Irish People Paper—Arrest and Escape Of JaMes Stephens—Captain John Kirwan's Account of the. Escape—John Kearney—John McClure — Tom Kelly — General Millen. Frightening the Irish Out of Ircland—The Cause of the Temporary Failure of Fenianism—Thanks to the Eagle for its Manliness.
In October, 1884, I went on board a steamer In Cork that was setting out for Liverpool. She was put at sea five or six hours; her machinery broke down and she put back to port for repairs, next day she set out on her journey and again broke down anld put back to Cork. I did not go on her a third time. T took the train for Dublin, and from Dublin I went to Liverpool. I spent a month in England and Scotland, visiting the men of the organization in the different towns and cities. A week tithe month Ives spent in London and ha suburbs. Incidents of that month's travel and association remain bright in my memory, but as I have to finish up my story with this letter I must leave thorn unrecorded; two of them, however, I will notice.
I got into the town of Blackburn at about eleven or twelve o'clock one night. The St. Patrick's Brotherhood met at the Golden Star Hotel, and for that hotel I faced. When I got to it I found none of the Members of the society had been there, and there was no room disengaged in which I could live during the night; there was no other hotel convenient, and no car or carriage could ho engaged anywhere around. There was an Irishman living convenient in whose house perhaps I could get lodging. His name was Peter Kelly, and being directed to the house I went and knocked at the door. The woman of the house opened the door, and to my inquiry for lodgings said she did not keep a lodging house, but her husband often brought home a belated traveler, who could not find shelter anywhere else; but she had no place fit to receive me. "No matter, Mrs. Kelly," said I, "we'll stay with you during the night; better have the shelter you can give than no shelter at all." I satisfied her that the lady with me was my wedded wife; that I know some Irishmen who had their meetings over the way, and that I knew some of her old neighbors in Ireland around where she was born. Next morning Mrs. Kelly had a nice little breakfast for us of tea and coffee and toast and eggs, and had it brought into the little bedroom. When we were about to take our departure I asked her what her bill was. She said ten pence. I gave her a two shilling piece; she gave me backs fourteen pence and I gave it to the little children.
Another incident in the honeymoon life of an Irish traveling conspirator is this: John Nolan is now in Now York; he is one of the head men of one of the societies of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He lived in Manchester One time I was going through England. I united at his house and he told me if I was traveling by Darlington to stop there and call to see a friend of his who had influence among the Irishmen of the place. The train stopped at Darlington one evening, about seven o'clock; trains passed every hour that way toward Edinburgh; we came off our train. My wife sat in the waiting room while I went to find John Nolan's friend; I thought I'd be back in half an hour. I was not able to be back before eleven or twelve o'clock. Mr. Nolan's friend used about a mile from the railway station, and when I arrived at his house he had other friends with him. I knew they all belonged to the same society and I explained my mission to them, and they very plainly told mo they should look upon me as a spy on bad purposes intent. They asked mo to say may prayers, to say "Our Father," and then "Hail Mary" and the Apostles' Creed. I said to them; I had them by heart, because when I was young I was, as sinners go, a pretty good Catholic and learned my prayers. But I could make no hand of the men 1 met that night. One of them said he would do the right thing if he went out and brought In a policemen and gave me up to him, and I told him that doing that would be doing the very wrong thing. entirely, and a thing that would brand him and the society he belonged to with everlasting infamy. They threatened me, but I spoke stiff to them; they vexed me. When I was bidding them goodby the man of the house, shaking hands with me, left a half crownpiece in my hand. I gave it back to him again, telling him I had as much money as would pay my way to the end of my journey. He said it was possible I was a true man, and if I was he would like to help to pay my way to the next town.
Edinburgh—about the handsomest burgh in England, Ireland and Scotland—was my next stopping place, and from Edinburgh I went to Glasgow, where I spent two or three days with the two principal organizers of that city—Edward McCloskey, now of 570 Fulton Ayenue, Brooklyn, and Michael McLoughlin, of San Francisco.
From Glasgow Mike and I went to Dumbarton one day, and from Dumbarton to Greenock; we had to travel in a fourth class train; it had no seats, and the passengers had to stand up during the journey. I ended my month s trip by crossing over to Belfast and going straight from Belfast to Dublin.
In the spring of 1865 some of the military Irishmen of America came to Ireland. One of the first who came was a cavalry officer, Captain George Spearman, now of New York. I remember hint coming to my house in Camden street, one morning, with a letter of introduction from John O’Mahony. General F. F. Millen next came, and then Colonel Thomas Kelly, at present in the Custom House, New York. This is the Colonel Kelly who accompanied James Stephens to Scotland after Stephens' escape from prison; the same Colonel Kelly who was subsequently arrested in Manchester and rescued from the police.
1865 was to be the year of fight, as promised by Mr. Stephens, and all through the mouths of that year the American officers kept coming in. As they came they were detailed to different parts of the country. Colonel Michael Kirwan (Now of the New York Tablet) came early in summer, General Denis F. Burke came in September, the month the English made the seizure of them and of all the "suspects" they could catch. General Millen and Colonel Kelly came over more as commissioners to examine into the state of the organization and report themselves back in New York with the information than as officers to remain in Ireland to take part in the fight, but when they saw the spirit of "the men at home" they threw in their lot with those men, though they well knew they were not in command of the necessary military means to fight. A council meeting was called at Ashford in the County of Wicklow; we got there about noon; dinner was ordered at the hotel for four o'clock for a party of seven or eight, and then the seven or eight met at an appointed place in the Devil's Glen, the entrance gate to which is quite convenient to the hotel. On the side of the hill, in view of the waterfalls, this council meeting was hold. James Stephens, John 0 Leary, Charles J. Kickharn, and General Millen were present. Another council meeting was held afterward in the month of July, on the mountainside back of the Wooden Bridge Hotel in Wicklow. Colonel Tom Kelly, Thomas Clarke Luby, David Bell, and General William G. Halpin, now of Cincinnati, were at one of the meetings I speak of. I cannot remember if they were at both. It was at the second meeting on the Wooden Bridge Mountain that the resolution was passed approving of the issuing of bonds of the Irish Republic, redeemable six months after the establishment of that republic.
Up to this Mr. Stephens had no council, but John O'Mahony in America, had boon asking that a council be organized in Ireland such as in America, as if anything happened to Mr. Stephens there was no security that the work in Ireland would not fall asunder, and the aid given from America to the work of organization in Ireland would be gone for nothing. Mr. Stephens acceded to this request made to him from America to form a council, and the men on that council were Messrs. O'Leary, Kickham, Luby, Bell, Millen and O'Donovan. In June Mr. Stephens told me he wanted to send dispatches to America and he thought I would be the best man to go with them if I could go; I offered to go, and he told me be ready to take the steamer from the Cove of Cork the following Sunday. That Sunday I was in Cork, and going from Cork down to Cove who should I see as engine driver on the train but Dick Barry, who is now Commissioner of Streets in Hoboken, N. J. "Dick," said I, when the train reached Cove, "there is a trunk of mine among the baggage. I want it put on board the steamer, but I don't want to be near it for fear of accident." "I understand," said Dick, "I'll make it my business to see that trunk is put aboard the steamer." I pointed out the trunk to him. It contained dispatches from James Stephens, from General Millen and from Colonel Kelly to John O'Mahony. I was known to the detectives and might be arrested, but I did not want the trunk to be arrested. And the detectives were on my track that day, because when I was on my trial in Dublin one of then came forward to swear he saw me buy my ticket in Queenstown, and saw me go aboard the ship and saw me landing in Queenstown from another ship a month afterward. The ship I went out in was the Cuba, of the Cunard line. My ticket was a second cabin one. I suppose there would be no necessity to tell what sort of a ticket I had only that I am going to tell a story in connection with the class of it which is an incident of my life in connection with the progress of the Fenian movement.
Thomas D'Arcy McGee was a passenger on board the ship; so was Mr. McDonnell, who was one time Premier of Canada. That time they were over to the Dublin Exhibition as commissioners from the Dominion Government. D'Arcy McGee had been down in Wexford and had been entertained at a banquet there at which he made some speeches extolling England to the skies and proclaiming himself to have been a big fool in his early days when ho took it into his head in Ireland to be rebelliously disposed toward England. I was in Wexford the week after he made the speech, and talking to the men there I expressed surprise there was no shindy at that banquet. They said they thought it better
to remain quiet and not bring the notice of the authorities upon them too much. But here was I now on board the same ship with this Thomas D'Arcy McGee, who wrote:
Ireland of the holy islands,
Circled round with mystic highlands,
Highlands of the valleys verdant,
Valleys of the torrent argent,
If I ever cease to love thee,
If I over fail to serve thee,
May I fall, and foulness cover
All my hopes and homestead over,
Die a dog’s death—outcast, hurried
Into earth as doge are buried.
And sad it is that D'Arcy McGee did desert that isle, and did die the death he prayed for. But here was I now on board the one ship with him.
The Cuba put into Halifax and remained there four or five hours unloading iron rails. I strolled up the mountain side, and as I was approaching the fortifications to have a look at them an armed sentinel warned me away. I came back into the town. I saw the name Donovan on the sign board of a store: went in and asked the man of the house, "What sort of a Donovan are you?" He looked puzzled at my question. "You need not be surprised," said I, "at my asking you the question; I have just came from Ireland in this ship back of your store here I know all the Donovans of Ireland. Some of them are black and some of them white; some of them are English and some of them Irish; I am a white Irish Donovan, but all my people were robbed and exterminated from Ireland by the English. You may be one of my Donovans, and that is why I ask the question?" He told me who he was and where his family lived, and, when I showed him that I know people belonging to him, he would not allow me leave the house till he opened a bottle of champagne.
Our ship set sail from Halifax and next day was the Fourth of July. The Americans had a Fourth of July celebration on board, and all the passengers in the second class cabin were invited into the first class one. I didn't go in, but, by and by, a New York man, named Sullivan, came looking for me; he pressed me to go in and I gave him my reasons for not desiring to be there. "Come and be my guest," said he; "sit at my table; I will pay out of my own pocket for what comes on that table and you'll partake of none of their banquet." I went with him, his table was about the middle of the saloon. The captain of the ship was chairman, at his right sat McDonald and at his left, McGee. The first toast on the list at this Fourth of July celebration was “The Queen,” and Thomas D'Arcy McGee was called upon to respond. He got up and commenced lauding the Queen and the Queen's government. and speaking in that strain about five minutes. I got up, walked toward the door, and as I was passing the chairman and McGee, I said; "If this is the way you celebrate the Fourth of July you'll celebrate it without my company."
Next day I was up on deck reading a book, sitting where I used to sit every sunny day since the ship left the Cove of Cork; the purser came up to me, saying: "You'll have to leave this and take your proper place in tile ship; this is for first class passengers only, and you're a second class passenger." "I sat in this place every day since the ship left Ireland, why can't I sit there now?" "You can't sit there any more; you'll have to go back of that funnel there; you know what you did last night" Back I went. I suppose it was foolish for me to act as I did at the Fourth of July celebration, but I cannot help doing foolish things sometimes.
The Cuba having arrived in Boston I sought out the depot for New York. I arrived there two or three hours before a train would start, and during those two or three hours I met a number of men whom I know in Ireland. The depot was full of soldiers coming home from the war, (July, 1865,) —you'd think it was an Irish war they were in, and there they were, comrades in fight, bidding good by to each other as every local train took some of them away.
Next day I delivered my dispatches to John O'Mahony in New York, and a few days after a council meeting was hold at the house of Colonel William R. Roberts, in Bloomingdale. I think at that meeting were Doody, of Massachusetts, Bannon, of Kentucky, Gibbons, of Philadelphia, John O'Mahony, Colonel Roberts, P. J. Meehan, P. W. Dunne, Michael Scanlan and Patrick O'Rourke. The dispatches were read, I answered all questions put to me, everything was satisfactory and supplies were voted to the Irish movement. Colonel Tom Kelly said in his dispatch that in the regular line of his duty he should come back and report personally, but so attached had he grown to the men he met in Ireland, so willing were they to engage in fight with the enemy, though they were not properly armed to fight, that he ventured to disobey his orders to come back, and would remain over to share with them the fortunes of the fight. General Millen's dispatch spoke a similar spirit.
John O'Mahony wanted me to stay in America: he said so many people came to Fenian head quarters and asked him so many questions about the organization in Ireland which he could not answer that he was often puzzled, but with me in the office who could satisfactorily answer all such questions everything would go on smoothly. I told him and the council that I could not stay and that I would not stay, that if I remained in America and a fight took place in Ireland all the water between here and Ireland would not wash me from the stain of cowardice. P. J. Meehan and P. W. Dunne had had preparations made to go to Ireland before I reached America. O'Mahony said he would send by them a message to James Stephens that would got him to send me back again as soon as I got over. I said he could do what he liked that way. He did send a note to Mr. Stephens asking him to send "O'Donnell" back immediately; it was one of the papers Mr. Meehan lost, it was produced in evidence against me at my trial, it was a nail in my coffin; the shipping clerk and the detective in Queenstown were brought up to Dublin to swear that I took my passage ticket in the Cuba in the name of O'Donnell.
Much has been said by Fenians in connection with Mr. Meehan and "those lost documents" this is what I have said many a time and what I have to say today on that subject:
Going into the Cove of Cork I told Mr. Meehan that as I left Ireland in a troublous state, and not knowing but there may be a rigorous search on landing, it would be well for him to give those papers he hail to his sister or Mrs. Dunne, who accompanied us. He told me they were all right, that he had sewed them up between the soles of one of his carpet slippers. Next day he lost these papers in Kingstown, where he went to deliver them to James Stephens. Pursuant to the caution given him and his own promptings, he thought it better not to have those papers in any pocket of his, and he fastened them with a pin, as ho told us, inside the waist of his drawers. The pin slipped out and the letters slipped away unknown to him. The charge has been made against him that he lost these documents intentionally. All I say is that the matter was discussed at a council meeting in Dublin, that I gave it as my opinion he lost them honestly, and I have no evidence since to warrant me in changing that opinion.
Twenty years have passed by since the occurrence. When the English authorities in Ireland got possession of these papers that were lost by Mr. Meehan they got possession of evidence of the conspiracy—evidence on which they could go before a jury and ask for a conviction of the conspirators. Bet let me not be mistaken on this head: England can get a jury to convict Irishmen any time she likes, and if the documents Mr. Meehan lost were never in existence we would be convicted all the same. When England considers it expedient to imprison men in Ireland, the expediency is sufficient warrant for their arrest and imprisonment That was demonstrated within the past four or five years.
In September 65 I was under orders from James Stephens to be off to America again. I was to sail from the Cove of Cork on Sunday the 16th. On Friday evening my wife was packing my trunk, preparing for my start next morning, but a more sudden start than that came, for on that same Friday evening about 8 o'clock the police broke into the Irish People newspaper building in Parliament street and took full possession of everything that was in the house. They carted off to Dublin castle the type, the furniture, the books, the papers and everything else that was portable. A half au hour before the arrests I was at Carey's Hotel, in Bridge street, in company with Corydon, who afterward in the capacity of informer appeared on the witness table swearing against the Fenian prisoners. At the moment of the seizure of the Irish People office I was at the corner of Dame street, a little below Parliament street, a block or so away from the office. Patrick Kearney ran up to me, whispering "Rossa, the office is seized; the door is broken in, the police are all around keeping guard: can't we fight? "There are no orders for fight, Paddy," said I —"but I’ll go up to the office and see what it's all about." The words were not out of my mouth when four or five detectives laid hold of me and hurried me through the Lower Castle Yard into a police station. I was about the first man in, but I was not long without company. Captain James Murphy, now in charge of the National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey, was ushered in after me; then Came Mr. Luby, the registered proprietor of the paper, Mr. O'Leary, the editor, and nearly all the employees —printers as well as others. Many men not connected with our office wore also brought in. Captain James Murphy wanted to know why he was arrested — he, a "citizen of Boston, with no charge made against him, or no warrant of arrest." I kept poking fun at him about his Boston citizenship: he was under British jurisdiction now, and he'd see the beauties of it, and see how little England regarded his American citizenship. Captain Murphy was released from prison after ten days, then James Stephens sent him with dispatches to the Philadelphia convention; he returned to Ireland again, was imprisoned again for about ten months, was then released, and before he left England had some satisfaction out of his enemy in the blowing up of Clerkenwell prison in London. It was he conducted that work.
About fifty men were arrested in Dublin the night Captain Murphy was arrested; arrests were made the same night in other towns and cities throughout the land. There was no law, but what was contained in England's will and wish; but, to make this arrest and imprisonment of the people legal, the London parliament voted the suspension of the habeas corpus act in Ireland. "Habeas corpus" substantially says, "You may have possession of your own body," but when you are not doing what England likes with your body, then England turns to and takes possession of it and manages it for you. Some days after our arrest we were brought from Richmond prison to the Castle Yard and put through the form of a mock preliminary trial. We were indicted for treason felony and sent to jail—without bail—till the ensuing assizes in December. A week after the preliminary trial, the stipendiary magistrate, the governor of the jail and one of the Attorney General's assistants came to us in Richmond prison, and read some papers for us to the effect that the charge of treason felony was withdrawn, and for it was substituted the charge of high treason. That was a hanging matter, and I actually hanged myself in imagination that day, preparing myself for the worst. I felt bad at being hanged, but I made up my mind I would die game and tight and defy them to the bitter end.
Counsel was employed for our defense, but I made up my mind I would have no counsel; I would defend myself. Their trial by English law of an Irish political offender In Ireland is a farce, and I said to myself I would take a part in playing the farce with them. I did it too; I kept playing with Judge and jury, provoking thorn for five days.
James Stephens was not arrested the night of the general arrests in September; he escaped arrest until the 22rd of November, and then escaped from jail two weeks after. I may as well state how this escape was effected; I have heard many ignorant men say James Stephens was taken out of jail with the connivance of the English Government; they say what I know to be a lie; the manner and means of his escape were these:
A center of a circle of the organization stands in the position of a colonel of a regiment; he has his nine captains, each of whom has nine sergeants, each of which sergeants has his nine privates; the whole circle numbers 820 men with its center or colonel. John Kirwan, who is now in New York, employed as collector for one of the gas companies, was center of a circle in Dublin; he had been a captain in the Pope's Brigade In Italy, and it happened that five of the men of his circle were employed in Richmond Prison, in which James Stephens and myself and Others were confined.
When Stephens had been put in prison Captain Tom Kelly had been organizing a signal service corps, of which Edmond O'Donovan, who was killed in the Soudan last year, was one of the engineers. Some of Captain Kirwan's men were in that corps. Captain Kirwan communicated with Captain Kelly and informed him he could get Stephens taken out of prison, and on that communication action was taken. To be accurate on this matter I went to the residence of Captain Kelly a short time ago, and had a long talk with him. "Rossa," said he, "I have seen credit given to this man and that man for the taking of James Stephens out of prison, hut the man to whom credit is due has been never spoken of in connection tvith the affair; that man is Captain John Kirwan, of the Pope's Brigade; it was he first told me the thing could be done, and it was on his plans action was taken. I then wrote to Captain Kirwan who lives in Tompkins street, New York, and received this letter from him:
June 5, 1885. J. O'Donovan Rossa:
MY DEAR Friend—In reply to your letter asking for information about the Stephens escape and other matters in '67, I desire to have it well understood that the first suggestion for such escape came from me. I reported as a Dublin center to Mr. S. in 16 Great Brunswick street that I had sworn in a Mr. O’Byrne and had given him the metal permission to spread the organization. O'Byrne was then a warden in Richmond Bridewell; he had been a corporal in my company of the Pope’s Brigade. I gave him the form of oath with orders to destroy it when committed to memory; unfortunately he failed to do so and this was the document found in O'Byrne's trunk when arrested. The police attempted to arrest me on Monday, time 18th of September, '65, on the Grand Canal, near James Street. I resisted arrest. I left Smith, Giles and King, the detectives, sprawling on the ground, leaped into the canal and swam across it then went to Shannon Harbor, Limerick, Athlone and other places. I returned to Dublin in October and was staying in the house of a Mrs. Duffy, in New Bride Street. John Ryan, of Liverpool was there at the same time. My name was on the hue and cry. Stephens was arrested soon after and went to jail without a fight, although he had a strong house, easily defended, well provisioned and armed, and had stout comrades to aid him.
I had then seven sworn warders in the prison in which Stephens was confined, and I said I could let Stephens out. I asked Ryan to go and bring Tom Kelly to me; he came to Mrs. Duffs and we discussed the matter. I then agreed to send for O’Byrne and order him to act with Captain Kelly, as I could not travel the city myself. I sent my wife to the prison for O'Byrne, he came to me next evening, and I introduced him and Kelly to each other. We then proceeded to a house at the corner of Pleasant and Heytesbury Streets, where we met several American officers—among them General Denis F. Burke and Colonel Michael Kirwan.
The business was discussed, some one said the English offered £200 for the arrest of James Stephens, but he offered O’Byrne £100 if he would let him go. O'Byrne scoffed the offer as an insult, said he was a soldier of Ireland, and pointed to me as his officer he would do as I bade him. "They can only hang me,” he said "but I will face death for Ireland." I make the claim that to myself, to O’Byrne and to John Breslin, who, though not a member of the organization, rendered material help from first to last belongs the work of taking James Stephens out of England's hands.
I attended several meetings to complete details, but it was decided it would be better I should not be present at the final act, because of my person being well known to the police, and if overhauled would fight, and perhaps ruin the whole affair There were twelve men posted around the prison walls as coverers, but they had no more to do with Stephens' escape than the man in the moon, although they say they helped; but their services were not needed.
I will be at your office on Saturday and give you particulars of the lighten the canal, also particulars of a hostile landing on the Irish coast one time, led by me; interesting, but never yet printed; then my arrest; wounded on Bishop street; charged with high treason; escape from the Meath hospital; the "rising;" forming up the columns; march; whole account of the affair In the County Dublin; Aylward; Halpin; cause of failure, etc.
Sincerely yours, John Kirwan.
The day proceeding the night that James Stephens was taken out of prison John Breslin came into my cell and told me Stephens was to be taken away that night. I tried to keep awake all night, but I didn't keep awake. I fell asleep and was roused up in the morning early by the slamming of doors and the usual noise made in a prison when it is known that a prisoner has escaped. The escape was effected by 'having impressions on wax taken of the keys of the doors that locked in the prisoner; one of our mechanics in the city made new keys from those impressions, the new keys were tried on the doors, and were found to be perfect. O'Byrne and Breslin inside the prison did the work of bringing Stephens from his cell to the prison wall the confederates outside the wall had a rope thrown in, but the end of it did not reach the men inside. Two tables were brought from one of the prison rooms, one was put on top of the other, and from the top one Stephens reached the rope and was thus got over the wall. The tables were left on the ground.
James Stephens was taken to a friend's house and remained there for some time. £2,000 reward was offered for his arrest, but no one took the bribe, though many knew where he was. It was arranged that he was to leave the country in a schooner that was to wait for him in the Harbor of Skerries, but when he and his escort were at Skerries they found that an English gunboat was cruising around the place; they put back to Dublin again, and from Dublin they set sail, and made land at Ardrossan, in Scotland; from Ardrossan they made their way to London, by rail from London to Dover, and from Dover to France. The escort were Captain Tom Kelly and John —somebody; I will not tell his name as he is still in British waters. I had the honor of a slight acquaintanceship with him, and from the character Captain Kelly gives of him in connection with the rescue of James Stephens, a cooler or a braver Irishman is not on Irish ground. At the French pier in Dover there are flights of stairs descending from the quay to the steamer: as the passengers were going toward the ship and passing the scrutiny of the detectives and police who were on the watch. It was arranged that John would stop and knock against the police in some accidental manner, and while he was apologizing to them Kelly and Stephens were to slip into the ship. The plan succeeded according to that arrangement, and they got to France safely.
THE TEMPORARY COLLAPSE OF THE FENIAN
Many things contributed to the temporary failure or collapse of the Fenian rnovement; I will just glance them by and let the reader gather his own conclusions from them. Justin McCarthy, Member of Parliament, is now writing in the Dublin Freeman about the men of '48 and the cause of the failure of that movement, and I find a passage in the last letter he has written that exactly answers my case. He Says:
The Young Irelanders were not ready for rebellion when their plans wore made known to the Government; and the Government struck at them before they could do anything. Mitchel was arrested, tried and transported to Bermuda. That was the tuning point of the Revolution. The Mitchelites wished to rise in rescue. They urged and rightly urged, that if revolution was meant at all then was the time. But the less extreme men held back. An autumnal rising had been decided upon, and they were unwilling to anticipate the struggle. They carried their point. Mitchel was sentenced to fourteen years' transportation. When the verdict was delivered he declared that, like the Roman Scaevola, he could promise hundreds who would follow his example, and as he spoke he pointed to Meagher, John Martin and others of the association who were thronging the galleries of the court. A wild cry came up from all his friends, "Promise for me, Mitchel—promise for me!" With that cry ringing in his ears he was hurried from the court, heavily chained and encircled by a little array of dragoons, to the war sloop Shearwater that had been waiting for the verdict and the man. As the war ship steamed out of Dublin harbor the hopes of the Young Irelanders went with her, vain and evanescent, from that hour forth as the smoke that floated in the steamer s wake. There is a pathetic little story which records Mitchel's looking out of the prison van that drove him from the court, and seeing a great crowd, and asking where they were going, and being told that they were going to a flower show. There wore plenty of men in the movement who would have gladly risked everything to try and rescue Mitchel. But nothing could have been done without unanimity, and the too great caution of the leaders prevented the effort at the moment when it could have had the faintest hope of success.
You see that expression there which I have italicized, "the too great caution of the leaders prevented the effort at the moment when it could have had the faintest hope of success." 1865, the time promised, was the time to make the fight and the night of the arrests as good a night as any. I am not saying there was any certainty of having a successful fight or a successful revolution that time, but it was the time when it could have some hope of success; soldiers were still in the country who would give up the barracks and forts to the men of the organization and would then fight side by side with them; the men of the organization were ready and willing to they orders to fight even though they had not suitable arms and ammunition. A dashing, daring commander who would take chances and take odds against the enemy at that time could do something great with the thousands of men who were ready to face death for Ireland's freedom. James Stephens was the leader; the responsibility no doubt was great; he probably felt it, but had he given the orders to fight and had the fight failed, his reputation and Ireland's reputation would have been no worse than they are to-day. Twenty thousand of the men who would fight that day are this day lying in their graves without striking a blow.
There were "risings" of the people in 1866 and 1867. Captain John Kirwan, already spoken of, was in a rising in Dublin. The party took some police barracks and made prisoners of some police, Captain Kirwan having been wounded in the attack. Captain John McClure, now in New York, was at the fight in Kilclooney Wood, where Peter O'Neill Crowley was killed, and was sentenced to be hanged for it, but his sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. He worked at penal servitude in Chatham Prison with me. John Kearney, now in New York, with his Millstreet men, and Captain Timothy Deasy, of Lawrence, one of the men rescued in Manchester, made a raid upon the Castle of Mount Leader, near Kanturk, and took what arms were in it. Colonel O'Connor led a rising in Kerry, but there was no general uprising of the people. The people depended too much upon "foreign aid," the aid from America. The arms promised them from America had not come and the hopes they had cherished were withered.
When James Stephens was arrested and put to prison the centers of Dublin held a meeting, and they chose General F. F. Millen as provisional chief of the organization during Mr. Stephens’ incarceration. General Millen set to work to prepare for fight, but when Mr. Stephens heard this news in prison he sent out word that he could conduct the organization from prison, and he sent General Millen to America Then Mr. Stephens escaped from prison, escaped from Ireland, and never went back there since. Colonel Tom Kelly acted for a time as chief of the organization. and Edward Duffy acted for a time as chief, but England this time was acting her own part; she was putting in prison all the American officers she could catch, and all the spirited Irishmen she suspected of treasonable designs and seditious doings, and she obliged the people who were not imprisoned to turn their attention to the providing of funds for the defense of the prisoners and for the support of their families. She played another favorite game of hers. She had her police and detectives and the wives of her police and detectives going around to the wives and mothers of disaffected Irishmen, giving them private friendly hints or "tips' that informations were sworn against the men, and that their arrest was only a matter of a day or two's delay the men would then go "on the run" to England, to America or Australia, and thus England was rid of them without any more trouble —all England wanted, and all she wants all times—to root the Irish out of Ireland. This trick of frightening them away was very generally played during the late Land League imprisonments in Ireland. Many of the men arrested were released on condition of leaving the country, and were escorted from prison to the emigrant ship: how much pleasanter it is for England when she can get rid of her unruly subjects without being put to the ugly trouble of filling her jails with them first. The men who are frightened out of Ireland by English fairy stories such as I have alluded to are not the men to win Ireland's freedom. One thing James Stephens did in ‘64, and ‘65, he made it be understood that any man who left Ireland those years without permission would be looted upon as a deserter—as a coward who would be running away from the fight, and in consequence of that very few men of the organization left Ireland those years, but when Stephens himself left Ireland there was general demoralization and a general skedaddle. However, the men who were sent to carry on the work of revolution did not remain idle. A plan was formed to make a raid on Chester Castle and capture the arms that were in nation capture the Chester train and Holyhead steamer. Men flocked toward Chester from different towns in England, but when they got to the appointed place they found it strongly garrisoned, and many of them were arrested and put to prison. Corydon had been in the plot, and had turned informer; he had "sold the pass." Captain James Murphy, who blew up Clerkenwell, is in the room with me as I am writing these lines; I am after asking him, "Was Corydon bad from the commencement?" His answer, "No, because if he was bad from the commencement, he would have prevented the escape of Stephens from Richmond prison, he had a knowledge of that plan, too. Massy was another of the American soldiers who turned informer; it seems he was not bad at first either, but he weakened when he saw himself hemmed in by the English enemy.
"James, what would you say was the principal cause of the collapse of the movement that time?" That is a question I have asked of Captain Murphy just now, and his reply is one that thoroughly accords with my own opinion on the subject. It is this:
"The principal cause of the collapse that time was that the organization in America split; it had promised its whole aid to the men in Ireland to fight in Ireland; now half of it turned its assistance away from Ireland and directed it to the fighting of England in Canada. That diversion of half the organization in the wrong direction at the time paralyzed the efforts of the other half in the right direction; the men in Ireland could get little help from America, despondency set in and England worked her will upon the dispirited and disarmed people in Ireland."
For the present I will conclude this sketch of the Fenian movement here. At another time I may gather the old O'Mahony Fenian correspondence I have at Fenian headquarters, and publish some letters from organizers and centers and secretaries of Fenian circles, who swore eternal fidelity to the Fenian cause and the Fenian principles, but who very soon turned tail to their pledges and their oaths, and ran after the will o the wisp of agitation that promised popularity, and promised Ireland's freedom without the trouble or pain of shedding a drop of blood for it. Those Irish patriotic soupers in America are as much to be blamed as anything else for the temporary failure of Fenianism.
I am done for the present; the BROOKLYN EAGLE does not agree with me in many things I have said, in many opinions I have expressed; and I now thank its editor, and compliment him for being BO free minded and independent as to have allowed me to express myself as I feel and as I think upon the Fenian movement.