11 August 2005 Edition
Remembering the Past - The Funeral of O'Donovan Rossa
By Shane Mac Thomais
Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa died in the USA on 29 June 1915 an unrepentant Fenian to the last. His widow, a Fenian herself, was determined that he should lie in Irish soil, and obtained, after a short struggle, permission for him to be taken back.
When Tom Clarke received news from John Devoy in America concerning the passing of O'Donovan Rossa he saw the potential support that could be aroused in the Irish people for republicanism and replied by telegram to Devoy
"SEND HIS BODY HOME AT ONCE"
Tom Clarke immediately set about organising a funeral committee that was to include some of the men and women who were to become household names in the coming struggle for Irish Independence. Chief Marshall for the funeral was Tomás MacDonagh, who was to work very closely with Tom Clarke on the plans for the procession to Glasnevin. The Labour Movement was represented by James Connolly, William O'Brien and Richard O'Carroll. Sinn Féin founder Arthur Griffith sat on the Committee alongside Joe McGuinness, Constance Markievicz, Major John Macbride, Cathal Bugha, Sceilig, Edward Daly, Brian O'Higgins and Eamon DeValera.
The committee had a tragic but glorious destiny. Of the members who, within less than a year, would no longer be around — MacDonagh, Connolly, Clarke, MacBride, Daly were all executed by the British in Kilmainham Jail. Councillor Richard O'Carroll was brutally murdered by British soldiers who shot him on the streets of Dublin after he had surrendered during the Rising. In 1922 two more Rossa Committee members would pass, Arthur Griffith and Cathal Brugha.
The remains of O'Donovan Rossa arrived in Dublin a few days before the funeral and lay in state at City Hall next to Dublin Castle, the symbol of British imperial interests in Ireland. A Guard of Honour of Irish Volunteers surrounded the coffin, and thousands came to pay their respects
On the day of the funeral, special trains came to Dublin from all over the country and the funeral cortege was a grand affair with pipe bands and armed units of the Irish Volunteers and the Citizen Army following the hearse and the mourning coach.
Crowds thronged the streets. At Glasnevin it is reported that some 70,000 managed to get within earshot. After the Funeral Mass said by the republican priest Father O'Flanagan, the only speaker was Pádraig Mac Piarais, dressed in the uniform of the Irish Volunteers. Pearse took the opportunity to develop a sense of identification with the Fenian and explained why he was chosen to speak:
"If there is anything that makes it fitting that I rather than another, I rather than one of the gray-haired men who were young with him and shared in his labour and in his suffering, should speak here, it is perhaps that I may be taken as speaking on behalf of a new generation that has been re-baptised in the Fenian faith and that has accepted the responsibility of carrying out the Fenian programme."
He praised Rossa and his fellow Fenians buried at Glasnevin. The following are the famous closing words from that great speech:
"Our foes are strong and wise and wary; but, strong and wise and wary as they are, they cannot undo the miracles of God who ripens in the hearts of young men the seeds sown by the young men of a former generation. And the seeds sown by the young men of '65 and '67 are coming to their miraculous ripening today. Rulers and Defenders of the Realm had need to be wary if they would guard against such processes. Life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations. The Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace."
As the old Fenian was laid to rest in the country of his birth, a country he had spent his life fighting for, a new dawn had risen on a fresh generation of the Fenian tradition.