Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa: Unrepentant Fenian
Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa is best remembered by most modern Republicans for his funeral. It is at this funeral that Padraic Pearse gave one of the most memorable and rousing speeches in the oratory history of the Irish. The truth is that Rossa did much for the Republican movement and this needs to be heard.
Rossa was born Jerry Donovan in Clonakilty, Co. Cork in 1831. He lived through the Great Famine and witnessed its massive devastation and his people's suffering. He tried to help alleviate this suffering by working for some time as a relief worker.
In 1856, Jeremiah 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'. His society held public demonstrations at which speeches were given and literature handed out. It was at one of these rallies that Rossa was arrested by the British and interred without trial for eight months.
In 1863, Rossa began contributing letters to James Stephens' paper, The Irish People
. After a few months, Stephens invited him to join the papers staff as the business manager.
Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa was accused of plotting a Fenian rising in the spring of 1865 and put on trial for high treason. He was found guilty and sentenced to penal servitude for life. He took advantage of his right to deliver a lengthy speech in defence of himself. This speech from the docks lasted a full eight hours and assailed everything from British tyranny and injustice to the incompetence of his sentencing judge, William Keogh. In 1869, he was elected as a member of Parliament for the Tipperary district in a by-election. The British stripped the election win from him, claiming that his crimes voided his success.
Released in 1871, Rossa sailed for New York City, where he was greeted with the open arms of fellow ex-patriate patriots. He became an editor of the New York edition of the United Irishmen
and a figure within Clann na Gael. After some disagreements with the "moderatism" of John Devoy, Rossa split with CnG in 1880 and organised a fund to support the arming of those still willing to fight the British with force. This so called "Skirmishing Fund" caused a Ms. Yseult Dudley, a furious Englishwoman, to shoot Rossa in front of his office in the winter of 1887.
Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa released a number of books during his lifetime. They include: Rossa's Recollections
, Irish Rebels in English Prisons
, My Years in English Jails
, A Record of Prison Life
, and A Story of Ireland In Our Day.
Rossa died on the 29th of June, 1915 and his body was sent back to Ireland and received with a hero's welcome. His funeral was held at Glasnevin Cemetery on the 1st of August. This funeral featured a number of high profile speakers of the revived Irish Republican Brotherhood, but the graveside oration of Padraic Pearse
is the most remembered and repeated.
It was Rossa's funeral and the speeches it prompted that inspired a whole generation of Republicans.