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The Politics of Irish Literature
by Malcolm Brown

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The Politics of Irish Literature
From Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats

by Malcolm Brown

Chapter Twelve
O'Leary and the Irish People

THE MAIN TRUNK of Stephens' revolutionary tree was his secret Irish army, awaiting the issuance of arms. At the peak of Fenian power, this army numbered about eighty thousand civilians, plus fifteen thousand soldiers in the British army, half of them in the Irish garrison regiments and half in northern England. The principal graft upon the trunk was the American brotherhood, an open, legal organization with about forty-five thousand members. To the main stem he had also grafted another branch, an open, agitational, home-soil mass organization called the Brotherhood of St. Patrick. It required no secret oath, hoping to circumvent the Church ban on Carbonaritype organizations, but Cullen simply listed it among the other forbidden fruits and it instantly blighted and dropped off the tree.

The last of Stephens' structural additions to Fenianism was a weekly newspaper, the Irish People. Ever since the original quarrel with A. M. Sullivan in 1858, the Fenians had been working closely with a newspaper called the Irishman, the Nation's rival weekly. Judging from the abruptness with which it dropped its anti-Fenian stance to take up the terms "felonsetter" and "A. M. Sullivan-Goulah," one can only infer that Stephens had subsidized its publication. This working arrangement was upset by the Fenians' urgent need for money. Luby's arithmetic had led him to imagine that a Fenian newspaper could earn a profit of a thousand pounds a month. Although Stephens believed that a conspiracy ought not to have any newspaper, he was won over by the lure of cash, and on November 28, 1863, the first issue appeared.

Stephens rounded up John O'Leary to help him with the editing; and O'Donovan Rossa, Luby, and Kickham were also added to the staff. Each week after the paper had gone to press, the editors met to relax, like the Young Irelanders in Davis' time. Usually they made their supper of bread and tea, but Kickham remembered a feast that had been sent in as a gift to Rossa by a west Cork patriot:

After the wild duck and snipe, which had come all the way from Cape Clear . . . there came walnuts and oranges. It is fair to admit that there was also a decanter of what seemed to be the very best Irish whisky, as Luby and O'Leary appreciated a stiff tumbler of whiskey punch. . . . The "Chief Organizer" did not affect the more national beverage, but seemed to have a decided relish for a glass of Guinness's porter. Methinks I see him now-Shakespearian head, flowing auburn beard, lady hand, and all - as he takes his meerschaum from his lips, and pointing with the amber-tipped cherrywood tube to the table, says "If some people saw that now, what noise there would be about our luxurious habits!"

In three weeks O'Leary was left in full command of the paper. Stephens produced three weighty leading articles and fell back exhausted. With his retirement the paper became O'Leary's entire responsibility, and remained so for the rest of its existence. O'Leary ordinarily wrote only a single article each week, identified as he explained by the scattering of his "perhapses" as contrasted with the "indubitablys" of the other staff contributors. Yet the paper as a whole was really his, since after all he was the editor in chief. If there is a referent for Yeats's epithet "romantic" to describe O'Leary in that well-worn phrase, one should find it in the files of the Irish People.

As a money-maker, the Irish People was a disappointment. The Nation had pre-empted all the more substantial nationalists, so that "there was no public, at least no vocal or literary public, in the least prepared to receive us," O'Leary said. Most of the "talking and writing people" were violently opposed to physical force, and were not absolutely sure of their desire for national independence even if it were free gratis . The Irish People thus had very little success in raiding the new Nation's private preserve, and it was T. D. Sullivan's pleasant revenge to be able to say of it in his memoirs, "-- and it never paid."

II

As a follower of Davis' teaching, O'Leary felt a special obligation to resurrect Irish cultural nationalism and be once more "racy of the soil." An incorrigible bibliophile, he took up Young Ireland's poetic production at the exact point where it had been interrupted by Davis' death almost twenty years before. Volume one, number one, opened up the literary front with a professional poem by Robert Dwyer Joyce, author of "The Boys of Wexford":

A stricken plain is good to see,
When victory crowns the patriot's sword,
And the gory field seemed fair to me
Won by our arms at Manning Ford.

This no-nonsense start was approved by the public, for the Irish People was immediately deluged with a flood of unsolicited martial verse. O'Leary remarked that "patriotism seems to take a peculiar delight in the manufacture of bad verse, while those who make a good article in this kind are too often not over patriotic." His first editorial job, like Gavan Duffy's on the old Nation, was to try to turn back the tide. He cultivated a caustic style, and in the twelfth issue he wrote: "We have received this week such a pile of verses that, though very tired we are tempted to give what we were going to call our poetical contributors a few hints. We confess we do this chiefly to save our own time; for though we are usually told that the authors are hard worked, and only write in the intervals of labor, we are afraid they must have too much time to spare, or rather to waste."' There followed a serialized public controversy between O'Leary and the wounded amateur poets. In its course he quoted selections from their works in self-defense, and thus compiled a little anthology of bad patriotic verse along the lines of:

Table of Contents
The Politics of Irish Literature by Malcolm Brown

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The Politics of
Irish Literature

From Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats
by Malcolm Brown
Part I: The Peculiar Irish Setting
1. History and Poetry: Some Irish Paradoxes
2. Thomas Davis' Ireland
Part II: Young Ireland
3. O'Connell and Davis in Partnership
4. The Nation's First Year
5. The Retreat from Clontarf
6. Black '47
7. '48 and Insurrection
8. Beside the Sickbed: Carlyle, Duffy, Dr. Cullen
9. John Mitchel after '48
Part III: Fenianism
10. Mr. Shook
11. Fenianism Mobilizes
12. O'Leary and the Irish People
13. "The Year for Action"
14. The Agony of Fenianism
Part IV: Home Rule
15. The Ballot Box Once More: Isaac Butt
16. Parnell and Davitt
17. The Land War in Mayo
18. After Kilmainham: Bakhuninism in Phoenix Park
19. After Kilmainham: Davitt and Standish O'Grady Take Stock
20. The Irish Party in Maneuver
21. Enter: W. B. Yeats
22. Catastrophe
23. Poetry Defends the Gap: Yeats and Hyde
24. Literary Parnellism

Praise for
The Politics of Irish Literature
cover thumbnail for "The Politics of Irish Literature" by Malcolm Brown

"This brilliant study of the intersection of politics and literature in Ireland amounts to a dazzling portrait gallery. Reading it one feels about one the breath, warmth, and passions of the dead all come alive again."
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"Mr. Brown's masterpiece has made me want to hire a nearby housetop and recite whole chunks to every passerby..."
-- Michael Foote in the London Evening Standard

"The author of the best book on George Moore now gives us what is in all likelihood the best book on the politics of modern Irish literature."
-- Virginia Quarterly Review

Professor Malcolm J. Brown with his son, Bruce Brown, Sumas, WA, July 1988

University of Washington Professor Malcolm J. Brown (1910 - 1992) with his son, Bruce Brown, in Sumas, WA, July 1988.

Additional reading -- Malcolm Brown's George Moore: A Reconsideration. Also see Bruce Brown's commentary on The History of the Corporation for Malcolm Brown's contribution to that work.

Sir Hugh O'Neill, a valiant knight,
Marched toward Armagh with all his might.

Meanwhile he solicited contributions from a number of poets bearing weighty reputations. Many had been original members of Davis' own poetical chorus. Many were women: his sister Ellen, his cousin "Eva of the Nation," Parnell's teen-age sister Fanny, Mrs. O'Donovan Rossa, and "Mary of the Nation." Besides R. D. Joyce, two more of his poets, T. C. Irwin and John Francis O'Donnell, are remembered in all Irish anthologies. His subeditor Kickham was also a professional, already famous for a song on the emigration theme, which Yeats later anthologized, the tearful "She Lived beside the Anner," and for a popular ballad, "Rory of the Hill":

"That rake up near the rafters
Why leave it there so long?
The handle of the best of ash,
Is smooth, and straight, and strong;
And, mother, will you tell me
Why did my father frown,
When, to make the hay in summer-time,
I climbed to take it down?"
She looked into her husband's eyes,
While her own with light did fill -
"You'll shortly know the reason, boy!"
Said Rory of the Hill.

Back in the 1840s it was noted that when Mangan joined the staff' of the old Nation or Mitchel's United Irishman, his poetic inventiveness did not always respond when needed. The Irish People's entire staff of professional poets were a similar disappointment. On assignment, the best Kickham or Irwin could offer was very nearly feeble-minded. In fact, the professional poets were considerably less interesting than the scrappy amateurs. Before the paper was a year old, O'Leary discovered that there was more vitality in naivete than in talents that were supposed to be proven out. Like Davis, he began to admire the anonymous ballads of the fairs and the casual efforts of a nonpoet, his subeditor O'Donovan Rossa, on the evils of "taking the Queen's shilling":

I helped to plunder and to slay
Those tribes of India's sons,
And I spent many a sultry day
Blowing Sepoys from our guns.

Although the Fenians, like Young Ireland, put enormous emphasis upon cultural nationalism, they were not very inventive. The single word "Fenian" turned out to be their most striking cultural contribution. (Archbishop Cullen, ignorant of Irish ethnology, guessed that the word must be a corruption of "Phoenician," though it actually referred to the "Fianna," mythical soldiers of Finn MacCumhail, the Gaelic counterpart of British King Arthur.) Even this discovery did not belong to O'Leary's Irish People, but to John O'Mahony, interchangeably a Gaelic antiquarian and a Fenian organizer, labors he thought equally important to Irish nationalism. In the patriots' songbook the Fenians made only the one memorable addition, John Casey's "Rising of the Moon," though in their demise they inspired a number of songs and ballads, being, as Plato said, happily more often the subject of encomiums than the authors thereof.

O'Leary meditated on his failure for a long time. In 1886, the year in which he first met Yeats, he was still puzzling over his problem in this fashion: "'Speranza' is certainly not entitled to the first place among the delightful warblers of her own sex. `Mary [of the Nation]' is entitled to the first place, 'Eva [of the Nation]' to the second. . . ." Eventually he surrendered to reality, and his last statement on the matter was that "the Fenian poets [were] a smaller and weaker band of litterateurs than the poets of the Nation, but one which accomplished something of note in the domain of practical affairs." We visualize a struggle when O'Leary finally wrote off his poetical auxiliary. In the history of literature, though, his little comedy takes on some significance. Pain had taught him that genuine poetry is somewhat rarer than one would like to suppose. In later times, when this issue became the nub of a controversy between Yeats and Gavan Duffy, his experience on the Irish People had readied him to come to Yeats's defense.

III

An essential borrowing from Davis was the Irish People's ferocious nonsectarianism. Its demand for no priests in politics was so insistent as to become at times its sole message. The religious war was conducted mostly by Kickham, the one devout member on O'Leary's staff. His weekly leading article normally took off from a citation of some fresh sally by Cullen, Moriarty, or one of the more ardently loyalist priests, such as a certain Father Burke of Clonmel, who was reported to have made a denunciation from the altar as follows: "The Irish People he described as a Government organ, employed to put down the priests first and to sell their dupes after for Government gold. He reminded his hearers that any one reading that paper was excommunicated, and that heads of families allowing it into their houses, or those over whom they had control to read it, were damned. As for the Fenians, they were the scruff of the earth-a wretched rabble; he would ask but two peelers to drive one hundred of them before them, like chaff before the wind."

Well primed by provocation, Kickham's weekly article then turned to Davis' nonsectarian rule: an Irishman was to be judged strictly according to his political behavior, never by his religion. Catholicism and nationality, he reiterated, must never be considered interchangeable terms. A wellknown Yeatsian debating point was often asserted, that "nine-tenths of the leading patriots for the last century have been Protestants." But the watchful O'Leary was not satisfied with that formulation. He took pains to correct the simplistic two-way classification, observing that there were not two religious categories in Ireland, but three, the "Protestant patriots" being merely so-called from courtesy, having actually no religion at all. O'Leary's third category clarified a confusion that Yeats never resolved but that Joyce understood well and exploited humorously in the character of Mr. Deasy, his burlesque Orangeman in Ulysses, who paradoxically claimed that by being the more bigoted Protestant he was the more genuine patriot.

What must be the feelings in a decent Christian's heart, Kickham asked, when he learns that "the dignitaries of his church, who know not want and nakedness themselves," are the friends of his oppressors? The priests and bishops had slandered devout and unselfish patriots and denied them the sacraments of the Church, he said, but they toadied to every odious impostor; so that "those who would prepare to grapple with the despoiler, and save a suffering people from destruction, are vilified and denounced" while "the base recreant, the place-beggar, the political mountebank, the ermined perjurer [the inevitable Sadleir and Keogh], the very exterminator-all these are courted and smiled upon and blessed." He quoted the seventeenth-century Franciscan, Luke Wadding: "Time was when we had wooden chalices and golden priests, but now we have golden chalices and wooden priests."

The effectiveness of the Fenians' campaign against priests in politics was long debated. T. D. Sullivan thought it had "alarmed and shocked not merely `the priest'; but multitudes of Catholics in every station in life." O'Leary conceded that the "poison" of Cullen's pastorals was "diffused through a thousand channels through which the refutation can never enter," and that when a parish priest denounced the Fenians from the altar, many parishioners would certainly take him seriously. With his characteristic caution presumably intact, though, he estimated that for each person so influenced, five others turned away from the denouncer in disgust. "We meant to kill clerical dictation," he said in summary, "and we did kill it. If it has come to life again in another generation [i.e., in Parnell's midcareer and fall], the fault is not ours."

IV

But the Irish People was not published merely to print martial verses and to exchange insults with the Sullivans and the clergy. Its purpose was to make a revolution. T. D. Sullivan criticized it for letting out the secret every Saturday that an Irish military effort was in preparation. It "ruined the Fenian movement," he said. And O'Leary had to grant that the paper did expose the organization. But necessarily so. It could hardly broadcast the approach of "the day" to unknown Irish friends without the government's buying a paper and eavesdropping. Assuming that the government was bound to know approximately the state of the conspiracy in any case, O'Leary made no secret of the Fenians' generalized methods and objectives. But on timing he offered only enigmas. His battle talk was always stated as innuendo, as though he knew all but would tell nothing. In reality he did not know any more than his readers. And Stephens himself did not know any more than anybody else.

For, when the supposed optimum instant to strike the Fenian blow drew near, Stephens was discovered by his lieutenants to be in deep trouble. His war machine was assembled and poised, but he had neglected to provide it with weapons. There were "no sinews of war," as his enemies wrote in mockery of his prose style. The American branch, suspecting him of lying about his strength, sent their own agents over to Ireland on an inspection. They found the muster and spirit exactly as high as he had claimed -but there were no arms to strike with.

Stephens had some justification for this oversight. For six years he had had no money, and when the money finally arrived from overseas, it could not readily be turned into armament. In 1865 pikes were worse than useless in military combat, as his veteran Civil War advisers explained to him. But pikes were the poetic weapons of Irish insurrection, and lacking anything better, Stephens opened up a pike factory in Dublin with branches in blacksmith shops throughout the country. By midsummer after Appomattox, these constituted the full extent of his armory. As for rifles, he could supply one for each five hundred men. When John Devoy told him the Fenians could not fight without rifles and asked where he proposed to get them, he "received `The Captain's' assurance that we'd get all we wanted from America," as though the problem of procuring, shipping, landing, and distributing a hundred thousand contraband rifles was too simple to require discussion.

It is not clear just what Stephens had in mind to do. On the face of it, his talk of American arms already on their way sounded like Father Maher's comical sea gulls. It is likely, though, that he was gambling on the chance that American animosity against England might explode into a diplomatic break, or perhaps that the United States might recognize the Fenians as belligerents, as England had recognized the Confederacy. His thought was not fantasy; in 1865 the relations between the United States and England were very tense over the Alabama claims, an American demand to be compensated for the wartime destruction of its merchant marine by the Alabama and the other Confederate raiders, in actuality British-built and Britishmanned warships flying the Confederate flag. Had a break between the two countries occurred, all of Stephens' problems would naturally have vanished. But if he was calculating on such a stroke of luck, he failed like Mitchel to take into account the fact that the existence of his revolutionary organization had made that very contingency unthinkable.

Under Irish-American pressure, as we have seen, Stephens fixed the year 1865 as positively "the year of action." Since his predicament demanded the maximum of delay, the month he chose was December. If, as seemed virtually certain, the midnight bells rang December 31 on a Dublin still at peace, he would have to worry about that when the time came and talk his way out of his embarrassment if he could. But before that time arrived, the initiative passed out of his hands. The government concluded that if 1865 was to be the year of action, it had better take action of its own.

V

A spy had found his way into O'Leary's editorial office. There was in Dublin a Fenian schoolteacher, Pierce Nagle by name, who felt his sensibilities bruised by Stephens' domineering manner. He sailed to New York and called on the British consulate officials to offer his services as a spy. A business arrangement was agreed upon, beginning with the payment of his fare back to Dublin, where he was hired by the Irish People as a wrapper in the mail room. He found very little to report to the police for some time, but in September 1865 his opportunity presented itself. A Fenian from Clonmel came to the editorial office bearing a message for "the Captain." Stephens read the message, then entrusted to him an order for the Clonmel centers, warning them to make ready for action. "There is no time to be lost," the message said. "This year must be the year of action. I speak with a knowledge and authority to which no other man could pretend, and I repeat the flag of Ireland-of the Irish Republic-must this year be raised." Stephens also gave the courier some money for a treat. Later in the day the courier returned drunk. Nagle put him to bed on a pressroom bench, and as he did so he removed Stephens' letter from the man's pocket. He took it to the police on the morning of September 15, 1865. That same evening the Dublin detective force appeared at the Irish People offices, seized the files, and arrested everybody found there. Luby and Rossa and eight others were picked up before morning. O'Leary returned to his lodging at nine o'clock after supper with a lady and found two detectives waiting for him. While he asked them to please be seated, he poured himself a tumbler of whisky and filled his pipe, and when they were consumed, the three left together for the police station.

The spy Nagle, planted in the Irish People's mail room, represented the third of his kind to surface into Irish history since 1803. The first two, already met along the way, were Kirwan, the Orange provocateur of 1848, and Sullivan-Goulah, the Phoenix informer. Nagle was by far the most damaging spy yet to appear, and he made a model for the secret police. Their work made a deep impression on the Irish mind, arousing such resentment that if exposed, few of the spies lived to die a natural death. (Nagle himself was attacked on the street in London many years afterward and died in a hospital from the beating.) But Castle spies aroused a good deal of fear, too, an attitude formulated for literature most notably by Joyce. All readers of A Portrait of the Artist remember that one of Stephen Dedalus' prime sources of disenchantment with Ireland was his foreknowledge that every Irish "hurley-stick rebellion" would produce its "indispensable informer." The most distinguished of all the victims of the Castle's informer system was John O'Leary; hence his considered thoughts about the subject carry a sort of authority. "There are something like periodical panics in Ireland on this subject of informers," he said, "but happily the panic is mostly confined to people little likely to risk life or liberty in her cause; neither pressmen nor priests [i.e., the chief disseminators of spy scares], as far as I could ever make out, have succeeded in striking terror into the popular heart."

O'Leary was caught by the spy Nagle but not actually convicted by him. Stephens' message to alert the Clonmel centers did not constitute sufficient evidence against the Irish People's staff, so the attorney general had to fish for what he could catch in wastebaskets and closets. Luby possessed as a common human failing a distaste against throwing anything away. Realizing the danger of this quirk to a practicing revolutionary, he had made up a bundle of all his incriminating papers so that they could be destroyed easily, and a short time before his arrest he took the bundle to the fireplace and burned it. Or so he thought; but as it turned out he had by mistake burned his wife's love letters instead. When the police searched his house, they found a prize.

It was a strange letter to the editor written by a journalist, not a Fenian, named Christopher O'Keeffe. Luby and O'Leary both understood that O'Keeffe was half-cracked, and they laughed at an obsession he nursed, that England could be beaten into the dust by a boycott in New York against Belfast linens. But he was a journeyman journalist whose pieces the Irish People often bought and printed, after severe editing, under the pen name "Ollamh Fodhla." The letter found in Luby's house was so wild that the Irish People would never have printed it, even in part, and Luby had kept it only "as a curiosity." It said: "The French exterminated their aristocracy, and every honest revolution must imitate that of France. We must do the same. But you ask me, `How are we to get at these men?' My reply is, `How did the French get at them?' They first wrote them down by the pens of their Voltaires, and then slew them by the hands of the sansculottes. We can do as much. . . . the Irish aristocracy must be hounded down by the liberal press and slain afterwards by the hands of an aroused and infuriate people."

VI

Two judges were assigned to the trial-one an ordinary party placeman, the other, judge William Keogh of the political fellowship of Sadleir and Keogh, a placeman of more note. For the prosecution, the crown was represented by C. R. Barry, Q.C. Resting his case on O'Keeffe's crazy letter, he charged that "the operations of this revolution, as it is called, were to be commenced by an indiscriminate massacre-by the assassination of all those above the lower classes, including the Roman Catholic clergy, against whom their animosity appears, from their writings, to be especially directed." For the defense, the Fenians retained Isaac Butt.

Luby was the first of the prisoners to be convicted. For fear of prejudicing the later cases, he denied himself the luxury of expressing his feelings about the personalities of the court, and confined himself instead to generalities and first principles, stated with exemplary demeanor. "Well, my lords and gentlemen," he said to the court, "I don't think any person present here is surprised at the verdict found against me." But as for the imputation that he had desired to assassinate the priests and landlords, that charge he must declare to be false. Anyone who held such an opinion could never have read the Irish People. It had consistently taught reverence for the clergy in their strictly "sacerdotal function," though it had criticized them, vigorously too, when they took unpatriotic political positions not related to their religious vocation. As for the charge of disloyalty at issue, he believed, to be sure, that "nothing can ever save Ireland except Independence." He was naturally unhappy to find himself a victim of British law, but he was pleased to know that the news of his conviction would prove to the world that Ireland could never be lost as long as it contained men prepared "to expose themselves to every difficulty and danger in its service," not excluding, if need be, death itself. Thereupon he was sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude.

O'Leary was the next to be convicted. A. M. Sullivan was present in the courtroom to cover the trial for the Nation. "Sad thing, terrible things," he wrote, "have since his arrest and imprisonment been written, uttered, and published of him, and of a brother now no more, by personages whose position forbids much comment at my hands. . . . I pass these statements by." To print a charge so nebulous against one forbidden to reply seemed unforgivable to O'Leary, although the scandal itself was apparently nothing more than that he and his dead brother had left off going to Mass. All the rest of the Nation's news story was on the fulsome side. "His hair is dark, long, and thick," Sullivan's eyewitness description continued, "his moustache and beard are of the same color, the latter flowing profusely over his breast, his prominent Roman nose and deep piercing eye, set beneath fine eyebrows and a noble forehead, gave an air of great command and determination to his countenance. And he not only seems, but is a gentleman, in mind, in manner, in education, and in social position. He belongs to one of the most worthy, amiable, and respectable families in Tipperary."" Several years later the Sullivan brothers published a lucrative volume called Speeches from the Dock, in which O'Leary's heroic colors were still more heightened: "He stepped boldly to the front with a flash of fire in his dark eyes, and a scowl on his features, looking hatred and defiance on judges, lawyers, jurymen, and all the rest of them." The high-flown prose struck O'Leary as being somehow very comical, in spite of his dreadful predicament, and long afterward he liked to quote it for the amusement of his friends.

O'Leary's speech to the court was less courteous than Luby's. Since he was obviously slated for the same sentence, he proposed to speak his mind. He denounced the "foul charge" of plotting assassinations made against him by the prosecutor, "that miserable man Barry." So he had been found guilty of treason? It was a loathsome crime; Dante put traitors in the ninth circle of hell. But between himself and the court, who was the traitor? "England is not my country," he said to judge Keogh. "[Algernon] Sidney and Emmet were legal traitors. Jeffreys was a loyal man, and so was Norbury. I leave the matter there." Thereupon he too was sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude.

The court relaxed with a couple of seven- and ten-year-sentence cases, then Rossa was next. His position was hopeless, for in addition to the treason charges arising from his work on the Irish People, he also had the old suspended sentence from the Tralee assizes of 1859 hanging over him. He decided to make his downfall as sensational as he could. To save Butt from professional embarrassment, Rossa announced that he would be his own advocate. He had brought into court voluminous files as pertinent evidence, and he opened his defense by reading the printed minutes of the Chicago convention, followed by the files of the Irish People. Hours passed, and still he was reading the interminable satires on the "solo trombone of the Pope's Brass Band," the "second Norbury," the "renegade ruffian" and "ermined perjurer." As Rossa's voice and energy began to fail, he suggested several times a brief court recess; Keogh replied, "Proceed, sir." After eight and a half hours he collapsed and surrendered, saying, "There, let the dirty law now take its course." The next day he was found guilty and sentenced to penal servitude for life.

VII

So O'Leary gave up the Bohemian life of a journalist and litterateur to pick oakum in Pentonville prison, from which he later graduated to rock-breaking at Portland. The treatment of the Irish felon had changed greatly since Mitchel used to take coffee and cigars with the lieutenant of the guard at sea and hunt the kangaroo through the Tasmanian bush. The English penal colonies overseas had been dismantled since the days of Young Ireland because of protests from the Australian and South African residents. Now the grim choice of evils was only between hanging and imprisonment. The latter was normally to be preferred, but not greatly. Complaints against "pampering" of criminals had been pressed forward by all of Carlyle's followers, including Mitchel himself, until they were heeded in Whitehall and "pampering" had ceased. After 1865 complaints continued, but they were now directed more against prison sadism, with the Fenian prisoners cited as the most spectacular victims. O'Leary had to bear a systematized cruelty in English prisons, though less than Rossa and many other Fenians experienced. As Yeats often told us, he did not afterward like to relive his prison life and would ordinarily refuse to discuss the subject. "I was in the hands of my enemy," he said. He put aside his reticence only once, to recount, as an instance of British taste, a jail visit from Lady Peel, who opened the flap in his cell door to stare reprovingly at the sinner inside.

Beginning with the Irish People trials, the Dublin criminal court became a familiar stage for nationalist dramatic effects. There would be little contrition displayed in the hope of gentlemen's agreements in judges' chambers. The prisoner might be courteous, or he might not, but he would not be repentant. Isaac Butt's final conversion from the Dublin University Magazine's Orangeism followed from his admiration for the astonishing earnestness and self-effacement of Luby, O'Leary, Rossa, and their comrades in the dock. Even the Sullivans were about to revise their opinion of these "Punch-and-Judy Jacobins." The Fenians might in fact be "priest hunters" and "priest burners" and "bad men guided by bad principles." Let that be as it might, said the Nation, the phoenix was still, of all the birds that fly, the least likely to be cajoled or blarneyed or "caught with chaff"; and it was ready to confess that it was the Fenians alone who "forget not Israel."

O'Leary's arrest removed him from the Dublin scene just when the excitement commenced. In absolute time the Fenian movement lasted nine years, from 1858 to 1867. He had been in the game through seven innings, so to speak. But the main impact of Fenianism was concentrated in the last two years. O'Leary missed all that and had no special knowledge of it. The events that happened after his arrest are covered in a couple of footnotes to his book on the Fenian movement. Since Yeats was dependent on O'Leary's lead, he lost the Fenian thread at the same point, severing contact with a very lively body of historical folklore. But where he dropped out, other writers came in - especially Joyce, O'Casey, and Brendan Behan.

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