This week marks the 150th anniversary of the 1867 Fenian Rising in Ireland. Though the attempt ended in failure, it played an important role in influencing future revolutionaries who undertook the 1916 Rising. East Cork, where I live, was one of the areas of the country where some of the most significant disturbances took place. As part of my role with Rubicon Heritage Services, I recently completed a book for Cork County Council examining the history and archaeology of sites associated with revolution in Cork. Entitled The Heritage Centenary Sites of Rebel County Cork, as part of that I explored some of my work on sites associated with 1867 in the county. With the permission of Cork County Council, I am reproducing the relevant section below. For those with an interest in the American Civil War, what becomes immediately apparent is the importance placed on returned veterans in the plans for the Rising- some of whom had not even been born in Ireland.
In 1866, the British administration suspended habeas corpus, which allowed for detention without trial. That same year, Fenians in the United States who hoped to spark a border dispute between the U.S. and Britain launched a raid into Canada, which came to grief at the Battle of Ridgeway. Plans moved ahead for a Rising in Ireland, and a number of American Civil War veterans made their way to the country in the hope of providing assistance. In addition, the American Fenians dispatched the vessel Erin’s Hope to Ireland on 13 April 1867 with a supply of arms to support the effort (1) (You can read more about the Erin’s Hope story here and here). But by the time the ship arrived, the attempted Rising was already over. It had taken the form of a series of disjointed and largely abortive actions at different locations around the country, beginning in Kerry in February (2). The major effort was in March, and was introduced by the issuance of a proclamation of the Irish republic that can be seen as a precursor for what was to be delivered at the GPO in 1916:
I.R.– Proclamation:– The Irish People to the World. We have suffered centuries of outrage, enforced poverty and bitter misery. Our rights and liberties have been trampled on by an alien aristocracy, who, treating us as foes, usurped our lands and drew away from our unfortunate country all material riches. The real owners of the soil were removed to make room for cattle, and driven across the ocean to seek the means of living, and the political rights denied to them at home; while our men of thought and action were condemned to loss of life and liberty. But we never lost the memory and hope of a national existence. We appealed in vain to the reason and sense of justice of the dominant powers. Our mildest remonstrances were met with sneers and contempt. Our appeals to arms were always unsuccessful. To-day, having no honourable alternative left, we again appeal to force as our last resource. We accept the conditions of appeal, manfully deeming it better to die in the struggle for freedom than to continue an existence of utter serfdom. All men are born with equal rights, and in associating together to protect one another and share public burdens, justice demands that such associations should rest upon a basis which maintain equality instead of destroying it. We therefore declare that unable longer to endure the curse of monarchical government we aim at founding a republic based on universal suffrage which shall secure to all the intrinsic value of their labour. The soil of Ireland, at present in the possession of an oligarchy, belongs to us, the Irish people, and to us it must be restored. We declare also in favor of absolute liberty of conscience, and the complete separation of Church and State. We appeal to the Highest Tribunal for evidence of the justice of our cause. History bears testimony to the intensity of our sufferings, and we declare, in the face of our brethren, that we intend no war against the people of England–our war is against the aristocratic locusts, whether English or Irish, who have eaten the verdure of our fields– against the aristocratic leeches, who drain alike our blood and theirs. Republicans of the entire world, our cause is your cause. Our enemy is your enemy. Let your hearts be with us. As for you workmen of England, it is not only your hearts we wish, but your arms. Remember the starvation and degredation brought to your firesides by the oppression of labour. Remember the past, look well to the future, and avenge yourselves by giving liberty to your children in the coming struggle for human freedom. Herewith we proclaim the Irish Republic.
THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT (3)
The 5 March was set as the date for the main Rising, but poor-coordination and the efficiency with which the Government had targeted the movement’s leaders meant that it ended in failure. The largest engagement in the country took place in Tallaght, but there was also notable activity in Cork. Police barracks such as that at Ballyknockane were attacked in order to obtain arms and railway tracks were targeted to disrupt communications (4). One of the major incidents involving the Fenians in the county was that led by Timothy Daly. The actions of he and his followers, which began in Midleton, were later described in the London Times:
The Fenians collected on the fair green to the number of about 50, and marched through the town in military order. They were all armed, and had haversacks of provisions. At the end of the town, near Copinger’s-bridge, they were met by an armed police patrol of four men. The Fenian leader called on the patrol to surrender, and the demand was followed up by a volley, by which one of the four constables were killed and another slightly wounded. The uninjured men returned the fire, with what effect is not known, and made their escape hastily into an adjoining house, whence they afterwards regained the barracks. The Fenians marched from Midleton to Castlemartyr, leaving the police barrack in the former town unmolested. On the route they were joined by several parties of armed men, and arrived in Castlemartyr with a force about 200 strong. Daly, the Fenian leader, drew up his men in front of the police-barrack, which had been closed and barricaded on their approach, and called on its occupants to surrender. The policemen, who did not exceed six or seven in number, replied by a well-directed fire, killing Daly and wounding several of his band. The remainder then retired in the direction of Killeagh, to which place small parties of men were seen making their way from Cloyne, Youghal and several other places during the night. (5)
It is interesting to note the role played by American Civil War veterans in the county. Patrick J. Condon had served as a Captain in the 63rd New York Infantry, Irish Brigade, fighting at battles such as Antietam and Fredericksburg (6). Condon had been assigned to take military command in Cork, but was arrested on 2 March, before the Rising began (7). Some of these Fenian veterans were American by birth. John William Mackey Lomasney, who had participated in the attack on Ballyknockane barracks and who later in the year launched a raid against Monning Martello Tower at Fota– supposedly the only Martello Tower ever taken– has variously had his place of birth recorded as Maryland, Ohio and Fermoy (8). He is likely to have served in the 179th New York Infantry during the Civil War (9). Another was John McClure, who had been born in Dobbs Ferry, New York in 1846 to Irish parents (10). During the Civil War he had served as a Quartermaster Sergeant in the 11th New York Cavalry, but in March 1867 he found himself creeping towards a coast guard station in East Cork at the head of a group of Fenians (11). Due to his military experience, McClure had been assigned to command of the Midleton District (12). Their action at Knockadoon Coastguard Station was later described by John Devoy:
…at the outset they had only one rifle…a few old shotguns, and McClure’s Colt’s revolver. There were a few pikes, and some of the men had sharpened rasps, fastened to rake handles with waxed hemp. With that paltry armament very little could be expected of them, but they did a very creditable piece of work. On three sides of the Coastguard Station there was a sort of platform made of planks, and on the one in front a sentry paced up and down…After carefully examining the surroundings, Crowley’s men took up a position in the rear of the station and McClure and Crowley crept silently along the plans on one of the dark sides, stood up close to the front and waited. When the sentry reached the corner McClure gripped him by the collar of his coat, put the revolver to his breast, and whispered to him that if he said a word he would be shoot. They then took his rifle and went to the door, which was not locked, the men following silently, opened it and went in quietly. The Coastguards were all lying down and most of them were asleep. The arms rack was beside the door and the rifles were secured at once. The Coastguards were made prisoners and marched toward Mogeely, a station on the Youghal Railway ten or twelve miles away, where they were set at liberty. (13)
It quickly became apparent that the Rising was a failure. Among those with John McClure at Knockadoon was Peter O’Neill Crowley, who led the Ballymacoda Fenians and Edward Kelly from Youghal (14). When they realised no aid was coming and that the Rising had failed they moved off northwards, with police and troops on their trail. Kelly could not keep up the pace and was arrested, but McClure and Crowley made it as far as Kilclooney Wood near Mitchelstown (15). There they were surrounded on 31 March:
[They] were soon confronted by a soldier, who shouted to them to halt and give the countersign. Crowley levelled his rifle and fired at him, saying: “There’s the countersign for you.” The bullet did not hit the soldier and they were fired on from several points at once. The wood was filled with soldiers, evidently searching for them. The two men turned in other directions several times, but every time they turned they found soldiers in front of them, not in military formation, but scattered singly. Every soldier who saw them fired, and at last Crowley was hit and severely wounded. Evidently several bullets struck him, but not one hit McClure. They could have escaped the bullets in the beginning of the running fight by surrendering, but neither had the slightest thought of doing so. Shortly after Crowley was hit they reached the edge of the wood where they attempted to cross the Ahaphooca stream which skirted it. Crowley was weak from loss of blood, and in the stream McClure had to put his left arm around him, as his legs were fast weakening. He was six feet two in height, broad-shouldered, deep-chested, and very powerfully built, and in his efforts to hold him up McClure, who was only five feet seven, but strongly built, had to stoop, so that the revolver in his right hand dipped into the water and the old-fashioned paper cartridges with which it was loaded got wet. But McClure, in his excitement, didn’t know it. Soldiers and policemen came running up on the outer bank of the stream, with a magistrate at their head, and the magistrate, who wore top boots, stepped into the water and called on McClure to surrender. McClure pointed his revolver at him and pulled the trigger, but, of course, it didn’t go off, because the ammunition was wet. He was speedily overpowered and dragged up on the bank. Crowley was lifted up and placed lying on the bank, and it was at once seen that his wounds were mortal. (16)
The spot where Peter O’Neill Crowley gave his life in Kilclooney remains well remembered to this day. There were individuals from all over the county closely associated with the events of 1867. A number of memorials to them are dotted around Cork, such as that to Timothy Deasy in Millstreet. Originally from Clonakilty, Deasy served as an officer in the 9th Massachusetts Infantry during the American Civil War (17). Another is to Ricard O’Sullivan Burke, who had served in the 15th New York Engineers during the American Civil War and who is mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses (18). He is remembered with a memorial in his native Kenneigh.
The 1867 Fenian Rising had further echoes beyond Ireland’s shores that involved both Deasy and O’Sullivan Burke. In September 1867 Timothy Deasy and fellow Fenian leader Thomas Kelly (a veteran of the 10th Ohio Infantry) were arrested in Manchester (19). It was decided to try and break them out, and on 18 September, while the prisoners were being transferred in a prison van, a rescue was staged, coordinated by O’Sullivan Burke. Though Deasy and Kelly were freed, a policeman was accidentally killed during the action. Among those participants in the breakout subsequently arrested were William Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O’Brien. William Allen and Michael O’Brien were both from Cork– Allen from Bandon and O’Brien from near Ballymacoda. Like so many others, O’Brien was a Civil War veteran, having served in the 5th New Jersey Light Artillery (20). The three were tried and executed for their role in the events, and subsequently became known as the Manchester Martyrs. Today a memorial commemorates them in the village of Ladysbridge, near where O’Brien was from.
(1) Ó Concubhair, Pádraig 2011. ‘The Fenians Were Dreadful Men’: The 1867 Rising. Mercier Press, Cork, 167.
(2) Ibid., 58.
(3) The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser 16 May 1867
(4) Ó Concubhair, Op. Cit., 139.
(5) The London Times 8 March 1867.
(6) Savage, John 1868. Fenian Heroes and Martyrs. Patrick Donahoe, Boston, 255.
(7) Ibid., 153, 259.
(8) Kane, Michael 2002. ‘American Soldiers in Ireland, 1865-67’ in The Irish Sword: The Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland Volume 23, No. 91, 103-140, 125; Dictionary of Irish Biography. “Lomasney, William Francis Mackey” by Desmond McCabe and Owen McGee at http://dib.cambridge.org/viewReadPage.do;jsessionid=4DF08581ACAA223F4CBE7A3AC95621FD?articleId=a4877 Accessed 16 September 2016.
(9) Kane, Op. Cit.
(12) Savage, Op. Cit., 273.
(13) Devoy, John 1929. Recollections of An Irish Rebel. Chase D. Young, New York, 213-4.
(14) Ó Concubhair, Op. Cit., 139-40.
(15) Devoy Op. Cit., 215.
(16) Ibid., 215-6.
(17) Kane, Op. Cit., 119.
(18) Ibid., 116.
(19) Ó Concubhair, Op. Cit., 146; Kane, Op. Cit., 124.
(20) Kane, Op. Cit., 130.