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Searc's Web Guide to 19th Century Ireland - John Devoy (1842-1928)
John Devoy was born near Kill, County Kildare but grew up in Dublin where he was educated at O'Connell's Christian Brothers' School.
Devoy joined T.D. Sullivan's National Petition Movement and in 1861 he travelled to France with an introduction from Sullivan to John Mitchel. Devoy joined the French Foreign Legion and served in Algeria for a year before returning to Ireland to become a Fenian organiser in Naas, County Kildare. In 1865 when many Fenian leaders were arrested James Stephens appointed Devoy Chief Organiser of the Fenians in the British Army in Ireland. In November, 1865 it was Devoy who orchestrated Stephens' escape from Richmond Prison, Dublin. In February, 1866 an IRB Council of War called for an immediate Rising but Stephens refused, much to Devoy's annoyance as he calculated the Fenian force in the British Army to number 80,000. Devoy was arrested in February, 1866 and interned in Mountjoy Gaol before being tried for Treason and sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude. In Portland Prison Devoy organised prison strikes and was moved to Millbank Prison. In January, 1871 Devoy was released and exiled to America where he received an Address of welcome from the United States House of Representatives. Devoy became a journalist with the New York Herald and was active in Clan na Gael. In 1875 Devoy and John Boyle O'Reily organised the escape of six Fenians from Freemantle Prison, Australia aboard the Catalpa. In 1879 Devoy returned to Ireland to inspect Fenian centres and met Charles Kickham, John O'Leary and Michael Davitt on route in Paris. In 1882 Devoy published The Land of Erin from which the extract below is taken.
In 1914 Padraig Pearse visited Devoy in America and in 1919 Devoy addressed Dáil Éireann and later supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Devoy was editor of the Gaelic American from 1903 until his death in New York in 1928. Devoy's Recollections of an Irish Rebel was published posthumously in 1929.©
John Devoy (1842-1928)
The chief influence of Fenianism was in giving the people the habits of organisation and
of acting together, developing qualities of leadership and breaking down sectarian
prejudice. It found Ireland disorganized, the people standing still and having no
confidence whatever in themselves. It gave organised shape to the national idea, set the
people moving in the direction of nationality and filled them with a spirit of
self-reliance that has never since deserted them. It gave the young men an object to work
for, an ambition, a desire to do and dare and sacrifice for the common good, and it brought
men from all parts of Ireland together. Crude and incomplete as it was, ill-directed as
were most of its operations, it gave a stimulus to national life that cannot be denied
or ignored. It failed; but, for the first time in Irish history, the organisation lived
through the failure, wrung important political measures from the English Government, and
supplied Ireland with a living, active, permanent political force which must be counted
with in all questions affecting the national welfare. Moreover, it trained a number of
zealous, active, intelligent workers, filled with a restless activity and a burning desire
to place their country among the nations.
It prepared the way for a combination of the forces of the Irish race at home and abroad,
and received among England's enemies the habit of watching the course of Irish affairs. It
also prepared the way for the Land League and supplied it with its founder, Michael Davitt,
and the audiences that first listened to his doctrines.|
The lull which followed the abortive 'rising' of 1867 was very different from that produced by the failure of any previous insurrection attempt. It was temporary and transient. The strength of the country had not been put forth, and the failure was too plainly traceable to mismanagement, imperfect armament, and the demoralization consequent on bad leadership and divided counsels, to produce a permanently discouraging effect on the people. No striking event had occurred in connection with the attempt, and only a portion of the organised Nationalist element had taken part in it.
The bold rescue of two of the insurrectionary leaders, in the streets of Manchester, and the disastrous explosion at Clerkenwell, in the attempt to liberate a third, before the close of the same year, gave ample proof that the revolutionary spirit was at work, and that the English Government was still face to face with a disaffected people. Four men gave their lives for Ireland on the scaffold; and the indignation aroused by the incidents of their trial and execution gave a fresh stimulus to the hatred of foreign rule. The Disestablishment of the Irish Protestant Church, and the Land Act of 1870, were, on the authority of Mr Gladstone himself, the result of the 'intensity of Fenianism'; and Issac Butt's languid Home Rule movement was an attempt to compromise the national question suggested by a similar experience. Both failed to conciliate the majority of the Irish people, and the influence of Fenianism remained.
Although most of the leaders were sent to convict prisons, and many thousands of the most intelligent Nationalists were obliged to fly the country, the movement remained, to a certain extent, intact, and its local centres of work were, in many cases, undisturbed.
The less sanguine spirits fell away, both in Ireland and in America, but an organisation remained; the broken links were repaired, and, in the course of a few years disaffection to British rule was in a more effective condition than when its organised adherents were much more numerous, a few years before. Those of the more active spirits, who had escaped imprisonment, found refuge in the United States, and their better and fresher knowledge of the actual condition of Ireland enabled the American branch of the Irish National movement to avoid many of the mistakes which had brought Fenianism to shipwreck. Many of them, too, were brought into contact with John Mitchel, and became more deeply imbued with his ideas.
The influence of these refugees - supported as it was by continual accessions from home - has been felt in Irish politics ever since, and the relations between the Irish at home and their countrymen in America became closer than ever before. Learning by dearly-bought experience, the Nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic made a more careful estimate of the task they had undertaken, and altered their plans accordingly. Their principles and objects remained the same, but, instead of hatching projects of petty insurrections doomed to end in defeat, their policy became to organise slowly and carefully, wait for England's difficulty, and strike with the concentrated force and resources of the Irish race the world over. © Searc's Web Guide 1997-2008