Remembering Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa – Irish Revolutionaries
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Remembering Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa

Remembering Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa

Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa was born on September 4th 1831 in a small village called Reenascreena near Rosscarbery, County Cork.

Rossa was the son of a tenant farmer, Denis O'Donovan and his wife, Nellie O'Driscoll. His father died in 1847 of an illness related to severe malnutrition due to the great hunger so Rossa now a teenager moved to Skibbereen to work in his cousin's shop in the town.

Rossa became a shopkeeper in Skibbereen, where, in 1856, he established the Phoenix National and Literary Society, the aim of which was "the liberation of Ireland by force of arms".

This organisation would later merge with the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), founded two years later in Dublin and Rossa would become a leading member and became manager of a Nationalist newspaper called the Irish people.

In December 1858, he was arrested and jailed without trial until July 1859. He was charged with plotting a Fenian rising in 1865, put on trial for high treason and sentenced to penal servitude for life due to his previous convictions.

Rossa served his time in Pentonville, Portland, Millbank and Chatham Gaols in England.

Rossa was a defiant prisoner, manacled for 35 straight days for throwing a chamber pot at the prison's warden and thrown into solitary confinement on a bread-and-water diet for three days for refusing to take off his cap in front of the prison's doctor.

In an 1869 by-election, he was returned to the British House of Commons for the Tipperary constituency, in which he defeated the Liberal Catholic Denis Caulfield Heron by 1054 to 898 votes.

The election was declared invalid because Rossa was declared an imprisoned felon.

After giving an understanding that he would not return to Ireland, in effect his exile, O'Donovan Rossa was released as part of the Fenian Amnesty of 1870.

Boarding the ship SS Cuba, he left for the United States with his friend John Devoy and three other exiles. Together they were dubbed "The Cuba Five".

Rossa moved to New York City with his now third wife, Mary Irwin from Clonakilty in West Cork, whom he had married in 1864. They were to have thirteen children together.

Rossa ran the Chatham Hotel, in Chatham Square in Manhattan in subsequent years in the notorious "Five Points" district which now is in the heart of modern-day Chinatown.

Rossa ran for office in New York city immediately upon his arrival, against the infamous "Boss" Tweed of Tammany Hall fame. Although ultimately unsuccessful, him running for office got massive publicity for the Irish Republican cause.

While in New York he joined Clan na Gael and the Fenian Brotherhood. Rossa also founded a newspaper called the United Irishmen.

The paper was used to raise a so-called "resources for civilisation fund," presumably for the purchase of dynamite and other armaments for the Irish Republican struggle.

Rossa organised the first ever bombings by Irish republicans of English cities in what was called the "dynamite campaign". The campaign lasted through the 1880s and made him infamous in Britain. The British government demanded his extradition from America, but without success.

On February 2nd 1885, Rossa was shot outside his office near Broadway by an Englishwoman, Lucille Yseult Dudley.

Rossa was admitted to the Chamers Street Hospital with gunshot wounds to the back. Even though they were not life-threatening, a ball was to remain embedded there for the rest of his life.

Although the British denied involvement, it was suspected that Dudley was a British agent sent to kill Rossa because he was funding a bombing campaign in Britain.

Rossa was finally released from banishment by the British government in 1891 and travelled to Ireland in 1894 and again in 1904. On the latter visit, he was made a "Freeman of the City of Cork."

Rossa was seriously ill in his later years and was finally confined to a hospital bed in St. Vincent's Hospital, Staten Island, where he died at the age of 83 on June 29th 1915.

Republicans in Ireland saw an opportunity to use the death of O'Donovan Rossa as a propaganda outlet and requested their comrades in the United States send his remains home for burial in Ireland.

Rossa was given a public funeral which attracted a massive attendance from throughout Ireland and the eulogy at his graveside in Glasnevin cemetery was given by Padraig Pearse.

"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."


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