Peter O’Neill Crowley and the 1867 Fenian Rising

The Fenian rising of March 1867 was yet another attempt to remove the shackles of foreign oppression. After the 1798, 1803, and 1848 rebellions, it was the fourth failed rebellion in 70 years. In this post, we’ll focus on the events of 1867 as they relate to Ballymacoda, and one of its most famous sons – the Fenian leader and Irish patriot Peter O’Neill Crowley.

Peter O’Neill Crowley was born in Ballymacoda on May 23rd, 1832 into a respectable farming family. Through his mother, he was a grand-nephew of Fr. Peter O’Neill, the Ballymacoda parish priest flogged at Youghal in 1798 and later deported to Botany Bay. After his father died when he was still quite young, Peter O’Neill Crowley came under the influence of his grand-uncle, and acknowledged later in life that his involvement with the Fenian’s was inspired by his grand-uncle. The young O’Neill Crowley was well known and respected in Fenian circles, and was known to be a man of principle and a strict pioneer. In time, he became the leader of the reportedly 100-strong group of Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) members in the Ballymacoda area.

On Tuesday March 5th, the day of the rebellion, O’Neill Crowley and John McClure, an American born veteran of the Civil War, led a party to raid the coastguard station at Knockadoon, with the objective being to secure the cache of weapons located there. Among the raiding party were Thomas ‘Bowler’ Cullinane, Jerry Aher, David Joyce and Thomas Walsh. The raid was successful, with the weapons being secured and the coastguards disarmed without a single shot being fired. Taking the coastguards hostage, the group then marched towards Killeagh with the prisoners, expecting to join up with other units from Youghal and Midleton. However, this didn’t materialize as planned, with only a handful of men being present at the meeting place when the party from Ballymacoda arrived. The group of rebels from Midleton had earlier been involved in a battle with the police in Castlemartyr while attempting to raid the barracks there, where the leader of the group, Timothy Daly had been shot and killed.

McClure made the decision to disband all unarmed men, and march with the remaining men and prisoners towards Castlemartyr, where the prisoners were released. Having observed a large group of crown forces at Mogeely about to commence a search of the area, O’Neill Crowley, McClure and others decided to march north in an attempt to merge with other pockets of fighters in the Munster region. While the raid on the coastguard station at Knockadoon was successful – John Devoy called it ‘the neatest job done by the Fenians in the Rising‘ – the wider rising was a failure, and soon the party from Ballymacoda was on the run, eventually reaching Kilclooney wood near Mitchelstown. The group spent a few weeks taking refuge in the wood until being engaged by the British on the morning of Sunday March 31st, 1867, three weeks after the rising. The British had reportedly received information that the group was hiding there, and that same problem that always plagued rebellions and rebel groups throughout Irish history – informers – was to cause the death of O’Neill Crowley.

On the morning of the 31st, Kilclooney wood was surrounded by an estimated 120+ British soldiers, made up of members of the Sixth Carbineers, two companies of the Sixth Warwickshire infantry and a company of Royal Engineers. The men were commanded by Major Bell. A gun battle ensued, with the Fenian group hopelessly outnumbered. O’Neill Crowley was initially badly wounded when he was hit by a bullet which broke a finger on one hand. A group of soldiers began to advance towards the wood, while the rest kept it surrounded from all sides to prevent escape of the group of rebels. McClure and O’Neill Crowley were captured together, attempting to cross a river, O’Neill Crowley was shot and fatally wounded as he attempted to cross. He was attended to by an army surgeon, and a priest was sent for to administer last rites before he died. He was aged just 34, a few months shy of 35.

The priest who administered the last rites, Rev. T. O’Connell, at the time curate in nearby Kildorrery, described the scene he witnessed that morning in 1867 in The Irish Standard 20 years later:

A few particulars in connection with the last moments of Peter O’Neill Crowley may not be uninteresting to your numerous readers at the present moment. I can well recall the memorable morning in March, ’67, when I was hastily summoned to administer to the patriot the last rites of that church which he loved so well. On my arrival at Kilclooney Wood, I found Dr. Segrave, surgeon to the flying column, busily engaged in staunching the wound with one hand, whilst from a prayer book in the other he read aloud – at the young man’s request – the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus. I was greatly touched by the scene, and especially by the exclamation – ‘Thank God – all is right now’, and then turning to the doctor he said ‘Thank you very much, the priest is come, leave me to him’. I saw at once the critical condition of the brave soul, whose heart’s blood was ebbing fast away. I saw that there was no time to lose, and having made him as comfortable as circumstances would permit, by means of the soldiers knapsacks, I then and there, surrounded by the military and police, administered the last sacraments. The fervor and devotion for which he prepared for death – though suffering very much – were most striking, and made on me an indelible impression. His lively faith and firm hope coupled with, if I might so write, his true heroism, so affected me that I could have wished myself in his place. It was whilst kneeling by his side and whispering to him words of consolation that he gave expression with his dying lips to that noble sentiment – one well worthy of Saint Lawrence O’Toole – ‘Father, I have two loves in my heart – one for my religion, the other for my country. I am dying today for the fatherland. I could die as cheerfully for faith’.

Rev. T. O’Connell, by then P.P. in Castlemartyr, describes administering the last rites to O’Neill Crowley, The Irish Standard, May 28th 1887
Depiction of the death of O’Neill Crowley, from the monument in Kilclooney

Peter O’Neill Crowley’s body was removed to a workhouse in nearby Mitchelstown, and a short inquest followed which found ‘The deceased was shot by troops whilst in the execution of their duty‘. His body was released to his sister, and brought to Ballymacoda for burial beside his grand-uncle Fr. Peter O’Neill in the churchyard. His funeral cortege was reported to be comprised of thousands of mourners, but it is impossible to get accurate figures. Numerous sources also indicate that his coffin was shouldered all the way from Mitchelstown to Ballymacoda, stopping overnight to rest in Killeagh.

O’Neill Crowley’s Grave in the churchyard in Ballymacoda, marked by a large Celtic Cross

Over the years numerous commemorations have taken place at Kilclooney, notably in 1898 when a memorial was erected (re-erected in 1960), at the 100 anniversary of the battle in 1967 and in the year 2000 when Derek Warfield, historian and ex-leader of the Wolfe Tones group was the guest speaker. A new viewing station was unveiled at Kilclooney Wood in 2013, in advance of the commemoration held in 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary. Peter O’Neill Crowley is also commemorated in numerous parts of Cork and further afield:

  • O’Neill Crowley Terraces in Ballymacoda, in Castlemartyr, and in Mitchelstown.
  • Peter O’Neill Crowley Bridge (formerly George IV Bridge) on the Carrigrohane road in Cork city.
  • O’Neill Crowley statue at the National Monument on Grand Parade in Cork city, erected to commemorate the Irish patriots who died during the period 1798 – 1867.
  • O’Neill Crowley Street in Youghal.
  • O’Neill Crowley Quay in Fermoy.
  • Peter O’Neill Crowley Gaelic Athletic Club formed in the Clonard area of Belfast in 1902 – they went on to win two Antrim Senior Hurling titles in 1903 and 1907.
Plaque at the viewing station in Kilclooney, erected 2013

The memory of O’Neill Crowley is also captured in the folk songs ‘Erin’s Lovely Lee‘, and ‘Peter Crowley‘, recordings of which are available in the collection of the Clare County Library (see references for links).

Peter O’Neill Crowley memorial on the National Monument on Grand Parade.

The Fenian leader John Devoy said of O’Neill Crowley: “Peter O’Neill Crowley was one of the best men in the Fenian Movement, and Ireland never gave birth to a truer or more devoted son. His devotion to the cause of Irish liberty was sublime and his courage dauntless“. It would be difficult to disagree with this opinion.

Peter O’Neill Crowley’s Gaelic Athletic Club, Belfast 1902

In a future post, we’ll look at the aftermath of the 1867 rebellion, in particular what became of the other protagonists from the Ballymacoda area who took part in the rebellion.

References and Further Information

Historical Remains of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge, Ballymacoda / Ladysbridge Community Council Historical Society

Fenian Heroes & Martyrs, John Savage, Published by Patrick Donahoe, 1868

The Irish Standard, May 28th 1887

Recollections of an Irish Rebel, A Personal Narrative, By John Devoy.

Erin’s Lovely Lee, recording captured in the Carroll Mackenzie Collection at Clare County Library collection

Peter Crowley, recording captured in the Carroll Mackenzie Collection at Clare County Library collection

Kilclooney Wood and Peter O’Neill-Crowley, Micheál Ó’h0Aonghusa, 2012

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s Visit to Ballymacoda

The name Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa should need no introduction. A lifelong Fenian born in West Cork in 1831, and a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), O’Donovan Rossa was arrested in 1865 due to his involvement with the Fenian newspaper ‘The Irish People‘. He was sentenced to penal servitude for life, taking into account his previous convictions such as his arrest in 1858. He served his time in a few different English prisons such as Pentonville, Portland, Millbank, and Chatham. As part of the Fenian Amnesty of 1871, he was released. As a condition of this, he was forced to emigrate, and he chose to take up residence in New York. He was also required to give a commitment never to return to Ireland.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

However, he was allowed to visit Ireland in 1894, and again in 1904. During the 1894 visit, he conducted a lecture tour of towns and villages across the country. Arriving in Queenstown (Cobh) on May 19th, he was met by large crowds, including armed IRB volunteers in the event the authorities tried to arrest him.

On June 19th 1894, O’Donovan Rossa visited Ballymacoda. The following text comprises the welcome address on his visit to the grave of Ballymacoda patriot Peter O’Neill Crowley at the churchyard in Ballymacoda village. This was published in ‘The United Irishman‘ in New York, on July 7th 1894. This newspaper was published and edited by O’Donovan Rossa between 1881 and 1910, with his wife Mary Jane taking over the responsibilities as he toured Ireland.

The United Irishman, July 7th 1894

Address of the welcome to J. O’Donovan Rossa, Esq., on his visit to the grave of O’Neill Crowley, June 19th, 1894.

Illustrious exile of Erin – we, on behalf of the Reception Committee, and the people of Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge, welcome you with a hearty ‘cead mille failte’ to historic Ballymacoda – to the parish where O’Neill Crowley was born – where he spent his boyhood in Christian piety, and his manhood in disseminating the principles of true Nationality; and wherein is laid his mortal remains, over which a grateful people erected a noble Celtic Cross – an emblem of Faith and Fatherland – to testify their admiration of the heroic man, who in compliance with the principles he himself inculcated, met the hereditary enemies of this country face to face, with his rifle in his hand, on that bleak morning of the 31st March 1867 in Kilclooney wood, and fell fighting for the independence of his native land.

What finer epitaph can possibly be engraved to perpetuate the memory of anyone, be he king, lord, or peasant, that is inscribed on the O’Neil Crowley monument, describing the manner of his death: ‘Tra do bhi se ag troideadh go trunmhar son a thire’ – ‘At a time when he was fighting bravely for his country’s cause’.

In this same parish was born Michael O’Brien, one of the Manchester Martyrs, to whose memory, as well as to his compatriots, will shortly be erected, with God’s blessing, a memorial to show future generations that the men who dared to suffer and to die for the fatherland were not forgotten. Neither is the name of O’Donovan Rossa forgotten – a name that has been as a talisman in true Nationality, and as a household word for thirty years past amongst the peasantry of Munster.

We have not forgotten the indignities which you were subjected and the imprisonment meted out to you, and the enforced exile for thirty years which you were compelled to submit to for the crime of daring to love your country – the crime for which Michael O’Brien expiated his life on the scaffold, with the cry of ‘God Save Ireland’ on his lips, and for which O’Neill Crowley shed his blood on the battlefield, with his face to the foe.

We remember you also as a lover of the grand old tongue of the Gaodhal, as it is on record that more than thirty years ago you caused to be placed over your door in Gaelic characters your name – Diarmaid O’Donn-o-bhain Rossa – and defied the authorities of the day.

We recognize in you from that circumstance a specially true patriot, as any man who loves his country’s language as he does his country cannot be otherwise a true patriot.

All who have died or suffered for the sacred cause of Nationality shall never be forgotten by the Irish people, and their names handed down to future ages; but among them shall no name be more conspicuous that the name of ‘Rossa’.

This address cannot be more appropriately concluded than in the words of the poet, when he says:

Go la deighionach dubhach a saoghal,
Beigh glas-cuimhu’ ag clanna Goadhal

I have been unable to find any sources of local information on the visit of O’Donovan Rossa to Ballymacoda in 1894. The background of the visit may be the source of a future post here, if I can find suitable sources of information. I have been unable to determine the members of the reception committee, or who gave the welcome address, or indeed what O’Donovan Rossa himself said on the day. I am sure that there are some very interesting stories to be told here.

Peter O’Neill Crowley and Michael O’Brien will also be topics for future posts, no history of the locality would be complete without their inclusion.

References and Further Information

Speech at the official opening of the O’Donovan Rossa Memorial Park, President of Ireland, June 11th 2015

Houses of the Oireachtas, Library and Research Service, The United Irishman: New York, week ending July 7, 1894, Page 3