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                                               19th Century Ireland - Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa (1831-1915)


Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa was born in Rosscarbery, County Cork. He became a shopkeeper in Skibbereen where, in 1856, he founded the Phoenix National and Literary Society 'for the liberation of Ireland by force of arms'. In December, 1858 the Society held a public demonstration and O'Donovan Rossa was interned without trial on Conspiracy charges for eight months until July, 1859. He began contributing letters to The Irish People in 1863 after which James Stephens invited him to become business manager of the paper.
O'Donovan Rossa was accused of plotting a Fenian Rising in 1865, tried for High-Treason and sentenced to penal servitude for life. He was imprisoned in Pentonville, Portland and Chatham Prisons in England where, for eight years, he suffered inhumane and cruel treatment at the hands of the prison authorities. In 1869 he was elected to Parliament for Tipperary but his election was declared void because he was imprisoned. O'Donovan Rossa was released in 1871 and exiled to America where he edited the New York edition of United Irishman and published Prison Life (1874); Irish Rebels in English Prisons (1882) and Recollection 1838-1898 (1898). O'Donovan Rossa raised 40,000 for the Fenian movement and funded the Holland submarine project. He died in New York in 1915 and his body was returned to Ireland for a hero's burial with Padraig Pearse reciting his famous oration at the graveside. This extract is from O'Donovan Rossa's letter to the editor of The Irish People, November 28th, 1863.©



O'Donovan Rossa
Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa
(1831-1915)
Numbers do not constitute strength, better the few who conquered at Marathon, than the vast host led to oppose them. A house divided within itself must fall, a small serrid column confident in its strength, knowing the devotedness of each within it, and carried along as one man by a settled purpose can break through the advance ranks of a wavering unsteady soldiery, obeying various impulses and distrustful of each other.
Again and again it has been said to us, 'Beware how you attempt to attack class interests. The victory won by the worker must be for all.'
For me I must say, No! A hundred times, No! I know no class but that of man. With the triumph of his cause we are changed, not with that of the worship of the unreal.
Aristocracy, respectability, any form underwhich the shadow is worshipped for the substance, trace these or all that branch from them to their logical consequences, you will find them to end in materialism, in atheism. I can't forget that the characteristic of the age we live in is a tendency towards materialism, that to be successful we must appeal to this, and work with it and through it; but none believes less that happiness, so called, is an end worth the aspiration of men, or that it should be made the aim of any worthy endeavour.
In it is to be seen too a powerful means - a means by which God carries the world forward. To succeed I hold, we too, must advance through it, never forgetting the real value, or dreaming that, having arrived at it or at what we now consider to be it, we have attained all.
Indeed, even here, often when appealing directly to a man's material interest, we are appealing indirectly to a higher feeling, to his love of justice, his sense of self-respect. You do not say 'This Irish people should have this land, because having it they would live easier and better.' You say rather, 'This land is theirs as a matter of right; to possess it is to have the power of acquiring knowledge and a proper decent pride, of freeing ourselves from this slavery to the soil and of rising to an acquaintance with love and friendship, and all the generous feelings that rise man above the beast'.
Our cause and that of aristocracy are as different from light as darkness. Never dream of leading the people by any number of round about ways to sacrifice at an altar where so many noble hearts have been offered up to the demons of self and crime. With these certainly not at all. They would be to us a drag-chain to the end. Educate the people, let them know what their rights are, and the skill with which these men have endeavoured to blind them to the truth, and they will be totally useless to you - indeed totally useless to any.
'Oh people,' They cry 'for so many centuries to make us what we have been and are, you have known vice and misery, and shame, have been brutalised and whipped, and ridden over, deprived of knowledge, and shut out from the blessed light of heaven. For us you have poured out blood and sweat. Now that we are old and dotage approaches again, shed your blood to place us on our old pedestal, that again we may grind your face, and give you gall and wormwood to drink.'
Men who understand this are shocked and can only wonder at the effrontery that dictates it. Not so, however many to whom it is addressed, from this plain reason, that the language in which it is couched, is as yet unintelligible to them. To understand it they must see past and present events more clearly, its meaning will not be read by them till then.
You [the The Irish People newspaper] will reach many, and can effect great things, the expectation that you can, and will dare to speak the truth, and that you have the ability to do so, will account for a great deal of the hope indulged in by many in this new era, which justly or unjustly, it is believed your newspaper assures us in Ireland.
Searc's Web Guide 1997-2008

19th Century Ireland
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