The 1916 centenary commemorations are cooling off. The 1916 Proclamation has been read and reread, yet an oft forgotten anniversary of another proclamation has just slipped by, unnoticed again.
This year in Covietown we wallow in 250 years of the new town, bending us from 1767. Yet, 100 years after Nenagh’s William Leeson laid out the plans for Westport town there was another stirring in Ireland – the 1867 Fenian Uprising. It too had a proclamation, much more class conscious than its 1916 descendant.
“We therefore declare that, unable longer to endure the curse of Monarchical Government, we aim at founding a Republic based on universal suffrage, which shall secure to all the intrinsic value of their labour. The soil of Ireland, at present in the possession of an oligarchy, belongs to us, the Irish people, and to us it must be restored. We declare, also, in favour of absolute liberty of conscience, and complete separation of Church and State…
Republicans of the entire world, our cause is your cause. Our enemy is your enemy. Let your hearts be with us. As for you, workmen of England, it is not only your hearts we wish, but your arms. Remember the starvation and degradation brought to your firesides by the oppression of labour.”
This proclamation was international in tone, more so than its 1916 counterpart, because the Fenians, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, were steeped in European politics thanks to founder James Stephens.
Ronan Burtenshaw and Donal Fallon, writing in the Jacobin Magazine (Ireland’s Other Proclamation) state: “Exiled to France after the failed Young Ireland uprising he (James Stephens) witnessed the 1848 Revolution and moved among what one contemporary described as ‘the ablest masters of revolutionary science.’ So taken was he by their politics that nationalist publication The Irishman wrote at the time:
‘He saw that the Irish question was no longer a question of religion; his common sense was too large to permit him to consider it a question of race even; he felt it was the old struggle which agitated France at the end of last century, transferred to new ground; the opposing forces were the same, with this difference, that in Ireland the people had not the consolation in all cases of saluting their tyrants as their countrymen.’”
James Stephens was in exile in Paris at the time of the 1867 Fenian Uprising. The Fenian army was estimated to be tens of thousands strong. The influence of the American Civil War was evident and it is believed by some that the author of the 1867 Proclamation was Colonel Thomas J Kelly, a Union civil war veteran who had emigrated to America as an 18 year old from Galway. “As a printer in Tennessee when the war broke out he had been ‘the last man to fly the starry flag in Nashville’ before leaving to join the 10th Ohio, an Irish regiment, as a private.”
Almost 8,000 of the 26,000 (British) troops in Ireland were IRB members. Through betrayal and the removal of units with Irish members abroad the Fenian numbers were greatly reduced. Col Kelly eventually usurped James Stephens and the Uprising was set for March 1867.
“The Ireland he aimed to liberate was less than twenty years removed from the devastating Great Famine. Its population was largely disenfranchised…the Fenian movement was largely drawn from the popular classes: rank-and-file artisans and urban workers.”
The Uprising, with about 10,000 men, was mainly in Leinster and Munster. ‘A wretched conspiracy’ is how the papers reported the defeat the following day. Some members also launched raids from the USA into Canada. “The largest of the so-called ‘Fenian Raids’ resulted in the Battle of Ridgeway, when a force of approximately 850 Canadian soldiers engaged Fenian forces. It was notable as the first time the name Irish Republican Army (IRA) was carried into battle.”
Col Kelly was arrested twice during 1867. His (second) jail escape in Manchester, resulted in the death of a local policeman. Three Fenians were arrested and executed, becoming the legendary Manchester Martyrs.
In 1867, some Covies commemorated the town’s centenary, others probably lamented the forced removal of their ancestors, with more ready for an Uprising. It’s life and life only…