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