The legacy of O’Donovan Rossa

Posted on: 8th September, 2014

Category: The History Corner

Contributor: Samuel Kingston

hisJeremiah O'Donovan RossaWest Cork is blessed to have many iconic freedom fighting heroes. Michael Collins is the obvious example, along with the men of the flying column. One man not so widely acknowledged is Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. People are aware of the name and have an idea that he is important yet don’t realise why. In his time, he was a leading figure in the fight for freedom. Through his actions, he became a source of encouragement for later generations especially Padraig Pearse and others involved in the Easter Rising.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa was born in the village of Reenascreena in 1831. His father passed away in 1847 due to malnutrition caused by the Famine and as a result Jeremiah was sent to live with cousins in Skibbereen. His cousins there had a shop and eventually he himself ran a shop. At the age of just 25 he set up the Phoenix National and Literary Society, the aim of which was ‘the liberation of Ireland by force of arms’. This organisation later merged with the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), founded two years later in Dublin.

O’Donovan Rossa soon became a scourge to the British authorities. He was constantly plotting and attempting to overthrow British rule in Ireland. O’Donovan Rossa was regarded as one of the more extreme Fenians. He was a defiant man, and a strong believer in a Gaelic Ireland.  In 1865, he was charged with plotting a Fenian rising that year. He was put on trial for high treason and sentenced to penal servitude for life due to his previous convictions. He served his time in Pentonville, Portland and Chatham prisons in England. His time in prison was not easy and he continually looked to cause difficulty for the prison authorities. In 1869, he won a by-election in Tipperary but afterwards the vote was deemed void as O’Donovan Rossa was a convicted felon. His experiences in prison formed the basis of a book he released later in life called – ‘Irish Rebels in English Prisons: A Record of Prison Life’.

In 1870 he was released from prison as part of a Fenian amnesty after a campaign highlighted their appalling conditions. These released Fenians were not allowed to return to Ireland though and instead left for the USA. They were ‘The Cuba Five’ in honour of the boat they set sail in. Among them was John Devoy who would go on to become the leading Fenian in the United States through the Clan na Gael organisation. The move to New York did not dampen O’Donovan Rossa’s spirit. He set up a newspaper called the ‘The United Irishman’ advocating a bombing campaign in Britain. Throughout the 1880s, the Fenians set about following these instructions and waged a campaign called the ‘dynamite campaign’ in major British cities, most prominently London but also Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. This was the first ever time a bombing campaign by Irish republicans targeted Britain directly. He became infamous in Britain but attempts to have him extradited back to Britain failed.

In 1885, in an attempted assassination, he was shot by an English woman Yseult Dudley. His injuries were not life threatening but the incident raised alarm; many of O’Donovan Rossa’s supporters claimed that she was working on behalf of the British government who in turn claimed she was mentally unstable

His personal life had its fair share of tragedy, as mentioned, his father died when Jeremiah was just a teenager and unfortunately for him, his first two wife’s Anna Eager and Ellen Buckley both passed away. Anna had four children and Ellen Buckley had one. His third wife was Mary Jane Irwin from Clonakilty, she came from a prominent Republican background. Together they had thirteen children. In New York, O’Donovan Rossa ran the Chatham Hotel in what was the notorious ‘Five Points’ area of New York.

In 1894 and 1904 he was allowed to visit Ireland and on the second occasion he received the freedom of Cork City. By now he was an old man and after his return to New York his health started to decline and he eventually was confined to a hospital bed in St. Vincent’s hospital on Staten Island. He died on June 29, 1915. His body was returned to Ireland to be buried at Glasnevin cemetery.

Perhaps his greatest legacy is how he inspired the younger generations of Republicans. His death in 1915 awoke strong nationalistic feelings that were summed up in Pearse’s famous graveside oration at Glasnevin – ‘The Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and, while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.’ This fiery speech less than a year before the Easter Rising awoke strong feelings in nationalists and was an important step on the road to rebellion.

Today he is remembered through the numerous GAA clubs named in his honour, locally in Skibbereen and in Northern Ireland where his name lends itself to a number of clubs who were drawn no doubt to the Republican spirit of O’Donovan Rossa. Yet, in the general Irish consciousness, he is a man overlooked. If alive today, his staunch Republicanism would probably be frowned upon by many, but to the heroes of 1916, he was regarded as an icon in the struggle for freedom and an inspiration to them.

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Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.
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20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
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Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
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