What's in a name?
At seventeen Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa took up a shovel to help bury the starved mother of a neighbouring family in Rosscarbery, Co. Cork. It was 1848 and in the previous year he had shouldered his own malnourished father to his grave. The Great Famine had broken his young man’s heart. In return he embraced the spirit of the warrior Fianna in Irish mythology, and gave his soul to the Fenian cause.
Fired by his belief that Ireland could be liberated by ‘force of arms’, he formed the Phoenix National and Literary Society in 1856. Later, on meeting the energetic James Stephens, he merged his society with the Irish Republican Brotherhood and his rebel career began in earnest. Taking up the hat of the United Irishmen of 1798 and the Young Irelanders of 1848, the secretive brotherhood spread to the Irish diaspora worldwide and was roundly condemned by the British government.
‘How oft in dreams that burial scene appears,
Through death, eviction, prison, exile, home,
Through all the suns and moons of twenty years.’
While working on the Irish People newspaper, O’Donovan Rossa was arrested and charged with treason felony. He was 34, had already buried two young wives and had married 18 year old Mary Jane Irwin, fellow poet, the year before.
‘And her image was fixed in my mind and nursed,
And now it is woven with all my schemes,
And it rules the realms of all my dreams.’
The father of a large, growing family was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1865, but given a ticket to leave release in 1871. He sailed for New York, where he resumed his republican work.
The dynamite campaign of the 1880s made O’Donovan Rossa infamous throughout Britain and republican sympathy dropped as casualties rose. An attempt was made on his life in 1885 by Englishwoman, Yseult Dudley. Some thought her a British government agent. America offered the father of eighteen shelter but little prosperity and he eked out a living while working tirelessly for the Irish cause. Two last visits home were made possible when he was released from banishment in 1891.
He died in August 1915 and his body was returned to Ireland. It was at his graveside that Patrick Pearse, secretly tending the seeds of 1916, uttered the immortal words:
‘Ireland unfree shall never be at peace’.
The Ormonde Bridge
James Butler, First Duke of Ormonde, was a man of his times. He was a soldier, eager to serve his king and country and a statesman who protected the interests of the English, Protestant establishment in Ireland but also a visionary leader who set about rejuvenating Dublin - in the early 17th century a ramshackle, medieval city which spilled untidily from within its walls.
Born in London in 1610, he moved, with his parents, to his ancestral Irish home soon after. His family, a powerful, land owning dynasty, could trace its lineage back to Richard I and its Irish links back to the time of Strongbow. His father drowned at sea when he was ten years old and the wishes of his Catholic mother were overturned in favour of bringing him up in the Protestant faith. He was handed over to the care of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who took little interest in his education. His drive and ambition were evident when, even as he indulged in theatre attendance, party going and romantic dalliances, he deemed it prudent to learn Irish. When he married his cousin Elizabeth he did so for love and to further cement the family powerbase by settling a long running dispute. During his honeymoon he began to learn Latin.
By age 23, Ormond was tasting power in Dublin but these were difficult times. The Irish rebelled against land confiscations in 1641, the Catholic Confederacy emerged in 1642 and Ormonde fought against his own family. Civil War broke out in England in 1642, an Irish truce failed and Ormonde had no option but to concede Dublin to the English parliamentarians. A final rally by Ormonde on the Irish front was crushed by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.
Then came exile until the restoration of Charles ll in 1660 and Ormonde was dutifully repaid for his loyalty in honours and titles. He served many times as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and oversaw much needed change - the building of bridges, the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, the Royal College of Physicians, the expansion and retention of the Phoenix Park and many quaysides of the Liffey. Having proclaimed James ll King in 1685, Ormonde left Dublin to retire to England where he died in 1688.
The Richmond Bridge
According to lore, Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond, was born in a Scottish barn, arriving unexpectedly during a fishing trip in 1764. Descended from Charles ll and his mistress Louise De Keroualle, Lennox grew up in the family traditions of service to king and country. His career as soldier and parliamentarian led him, in 1807, to the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. On hearing of his appointment, he kissed the hands of all around him and sailed for Dublin with the ‘No Popery’ cry of the recent British election ringing in his ear.
In Ireland, as King’s representative and the governor of the people, he made no concessions, declaring at one point that he would only stay in Ireland ‘so long as nothing was done for the Catholics’. What he lacked in political largesse, he made up for socially. The Vice Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park was lavishly decorated for balls and dinners - coloured lights adorned the outside, flowers and plants were in abundance and the polished tables groaned with the weight of exotic foods and expensive wines. Once, on being expected as a guest in Londonderry, his hosts sent a fast ship to Liverpool for a turtle for his entertainment.
His sons later wrote of their fond memories of Ireland, visiting from their English public schools during holiday time, arriving by yacht, to be conveyed by state coach to the lodge and enjoying hunting and shooting in their exclusive demesne, the Phoenix Park.
He had family connections In Ireland - his paternal aunts were the famous Lennox sisters whose romantic liaisons had scandalised society. Two aunts, Emily and Louisa, had married into established Irish families, the Fitzgeralds and the Connollys. Emily’s palatial residence, Leinster House on Kildare Street, would, one day become Dáil Eireann.
Lennox left Ireland in 1813 just as he had arrived - with pomp and ceremony, but now a confirmed bigot in the eyes of the Irish people. He suffered an agonising death from rabies while, as Governor General of British North America, he toured the colony’s defences. He departed this world in 1819 in the style of his arrival - from a barn near Richmond, Ontario.