Tag Archives: John O’Leary

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Dinner guests

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited

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“We were five at table … “
–William Henry Hurlbert

Rolleston

In late June 1888, Hurlbert sat down for dinner with four other men who made their mark on Irish history to greater and lesser degrees. T. W. Rolleston, a writer and editor whom Hurlbert described as “an uncompromising Protestant Home Ruler,” hosted the evening meal at his home in Delgany, County Wickow.

Also gathered around the table:

  • John O’Leary, the “Fenian patriot … whose name is held in honor for his courage and his honesty for all who know anything of the story of Ireland in our times,” according to the American.

    Sigerson

  • Dr. George Sigerson, a physician, scientist, supporter of the Irish literary revival, and “an authority on the complicated question of Irish Land Tenures,” Hurlbert wrote.
  • John F. Taylor, “a leading barrister of Dublin, an ally on the Land Question of Mr. Davitt, and an outspoken Repealer of the Union of 1800,” as well as a journalist and friend of Alice Stopford Green.

Hurlbert admitted that he “had long wished to meet” O’Leary, especially since 1886, when the Fenian sent him “one of the most thoughtful and well-considered papers I have ever read on the possibilities and impossibilities of Home Rule for Ireland.”

The American devoted several pages to O’Leary’s biography, from his Tipperary birth to his early nationalist activity with the Young Ireland movement at Trinity College Dublin in the “battle summer, 1848,” and his 1865 arrest and trial for treason felony.

O’Leary

O’Leary’s speech from the dock “made a profound impression upon the public mind in America,” Hurlbert wrote. “It was the speech not of a conspirator, but of a patriot.” The convicted Fenian spent five years in an English prison and 15 years exiled in Paris and America.

Of the contemporary agrarian agitation, Hurlbert reported that O’Leary “has so far preserved an attitude of neutrality.” Later accounts suggest O’Leary was more hostile to the Land League and its activities.

Historian Owen McGee noted that O’Leary made clear that he opposed the Irish Republican Brotherhood becoming directly, or indirectly, engaged in agrarian violence. If so, “he would immediately resign from the [IRB] movement in protest; an action, it might be noted, that he never felt it necessary to take.”

O’Leary, while still exiled, met with Charles Stewart Parnell as the Land  War was getting started in 1879, but he balked at becoming engaged in the effort. He generally frowned on the constitutional nationalist efforts of Parnell and other Irish M.P.s to secure Home Rule.

At the dinner, Hurlbert quoted O’Leary as saying:

What certain Parnellites object to in Mr. Rolleston, and in Mr. Taylor, and in me, is that we can’t go out gathering grapes of thorns or figs of thistles. Some of them expect to found an Irish republic on robbery, and to administer it by falsehood. We don’t.”

Hurlbert

The passage appeared on page 291 of Vol. 2 of Ireland Under Coercion. In the later consolidated edition of the book, page 389, the three identifying pronouns were removed from the quote and the attribution changed to “one of the [dinner] company.” This was due to O’Leary’s complaint to Hurlbert in a 9 September 1888, letter, included in the appendix of the consolidated edition.

“I am giving more bother about what you make me say in your book than the thing is probably worth,” O’Leary wrote. He continued:

Most certainly I do not expect to found anything on robbery, or administer anything by falsehood, but I do not in the least believe that the National League [Parnellites] either expects or desires to found an Irish republic at all! Neither do I believe that the Leaguers will long retain the admiration of such small measure of Home Rule, as I now believe we are going to get. My fault with the present people is not that they are looking, or mean to look, for too much, but that they may be induced … to be content with too little.

Home Rule never happened in Parnell’s or O’Leary’s lifetimes, which ended in 1891 and 1907, respectively. A year after the dinner party, O’Leary’s “means were considerably reduced by the fall in the value of his houses in Tipperary, brought about by the Plan of Campaign movement—which he never ceased to condemn,” The Times of London said in its obituary.

As for Rolleston, he edited Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland in 1888, including his contribution of a poem about O’Leary. Hurlbert wrote about the collection in his book.

Rolleston soon moved to Killiney, closer to Dublin city, where he “was part of almost every vital ‘happening’ of the literary and cultural revival scene,” the Independent reported in a 2016 story. But he “was written out of popular Irish history because his views piqued the nationalist rump of the literati.”

Rolleston’s former house in Killiney, Co Dublin.

NOTES: From pages 383-390, and 466-67 (Appendix) of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American.  … “He would immediately resign…” From page 79-80 of The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood from the Land League to Sinn Fein, by Owen McGee, Four Couts Press, Dublin, 2005.  … “His means were reduced…” from The Times‘ of London obituary of O’Leary, 18 March, 1907, page 6.

NEXT: Irish America

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Nationalist poetry

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited

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“I have to-day been looking through a small and beautifully-printed volume of poems just issued here.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

In Dublin, Hurlbert picked up a copy of Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland. It was dedicated to Irish separatist John O’Leary and the Young Ireland Societies. Hurlbert noted “the spirit of all the poems it contains is the spirit of [the Young Ireland rebellion of 18]48, or of that earlier Ireland of Robert Emmett.

In 1888, O’Leary had only been back in Ireland a few years following a five-year imprisonment in England and 15-year exile in Paris and America that resulted from his conviction for treason. The new book’s dedication poem, “To John O’Leary,” included the stanzas:

Because you loved the nobler part / Of Erin; so we bring you here

Words such as once the nation’s heart / On patriot lips rejoiced to hear.

O’Leary

Scholar John Turpin attributed the poem, which is unsigned in the book, to William Butler Yeats. According to Susan O’Keeffe, director of the Yeats Society Sligo, it was written by T.W. Rolleston, who edited Poems and Ballads.

There is no dispute that O’Leary influenced Yeats. They met in 1885, when O’Leary was 55 and Yeats was 20. It was a year before the failure of the first Home Rule bill and the widening of the Catholic nationalist and Protestant unionist divide in Ireland. As historian Owen McGee wrote in a History Ireland piece:

O’Leary maintained a lifelong conviction that a non-confessional Irish nationalist political élite could emerge, even when this possibility had seemingly evaporated after 1886. His tenacious hold on this belief, which Yeats found inspiring and essentially inherited, virtually defined ‘Romantic Ireland’ to the young poet, for whom O’Leary acted as a patron.

O’Leary died in 1907. Six years later, in his poem “September 1913” at the start of Ireland’s revolutionary period, Yeats penned the memorable stanza:

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone / It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Yeats

Four poems in the 1888 collection are signed by Yeats: “The Stolen Child” , 1886, which Hurlbert described as “an exquisite ballad” ; “The Meditation of the Old Fisherman” , 1886; “The Madness of King Goll” ,1887; and “Love Song” , year unknown.

Hurlbert also commented on the poem, “Marching Song of the Gaelic Athletes,” attributed to An Craoibhín Aoibhinn (translated from Irish as, The Pleasant Little Branch), the pseudonym of Irish nationalist Douglas Hyde. It became the anthem of the Gaelic Athletic Association, or GAA, which was founded in 1884.

“These Athletes are numbered now, I am assured, not by thousands, but by myriads, and their organization covers all parts of Ireland,” Hurlbert wrote. “It the spirit of [18]48 and of [the Rebellion of 17]98 is really moving among them, I should say they are likely to be at least as troublesome in the end to the ‘uncrowned king’ as to the Crowned Queen of Ireland.”

Parnell

The uncrowned king was a reference to nationalist M.P. Charles Stewart Parnell. Hurlbert seemed to imply that the GAA and other Irish republicans would overwhelm Parnell’s second attempt at securing constitutional Home Rule. (More about Hurlbert’s views of Parnell in the next post.)

The 33 poems collected in the 80-page Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland were published by M. H. Gill and Son of Dublin. Hurlbert described the firm as “Nationalist publishers … who have the courage of their convictions, since their books bear the imprint of O’Connell, and not Sackville Street.”

Four years earlier, “in a rash of apparent nationalism,” Dublin Corporation opted to rename the street after Daniel O’Connell, the early 19th centurty “Liberator” of Catholic Ireland. Some unionist residents challenged the effort in court, preferring to remember the former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The street name wasn’t officially changed until after independence in the early 20th century.

Inside title page of the digitized copy of the book, linked at top.

NOTES: From pages 391-392 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. Other sources are linked. UPDATE: This post was updated on 13 May 2018, to include information about the O’Leary poem from the Yeats Society Sligo.

NEXT: Uncrowned king

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan